Saturday, July 21, 2012

Reducing Violence in Our Public Places

“Coming soon to a theater near you” has taken on a macabre meaning after the shooting in Aurora, Colo., that has left at least 12 people dead and 59 wounded.

24-year-old James Holmes is only the latest psychopath to spill blood in our public places. Remember Virginia Tech, Arizona, Pennsylvania’s Amish County, and scores of other sites that has made such violence routine? 13 years ago, on April 20, 1999, at the Columbine High School that is only 15 miles from the Century multiplex where Holmes unleashed his havoc, two students slaughtered 12 of their fellow students and a teacher before turning the guns on themselves. Columbine became synonymous with our out-of-control gun culture.

As a nation we had the right to claim that things change after Columbine, only that they haven’t. In fact, it is closer to the truth to say that we have regressed as far as gun control laws are concerned. One of the most feared lobbies in the United States today is the National Rifles Association. Their coercive power of fear is such that Congress has even refused to consider laws that would ban the sale of assault weapons capable of firing 100 bullets without reloading. That’s assault weapons, not your run-of-the-mill handguns!

The Second Amendment states that “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It is futile to expect that the Amendment will be “amended” anytime soon, not in the next 50 years anyway, but there is no question that the right to bear arms by someone does not preclude our right to be safe from that someone wielding his gun to settle scores.

Many of us nurse real or imagined grievances but we wouldn’t dream of acting on them by taking the law in our own hands, even considering the frightening fact that 45 percent of Americans own guns. Not so the psychopaths. Their inner demons lead them to murderous rampages on a society that they believe has let them down. And it is easy to do, because the hugely profitable gun shops throughout America make it disarmingly simple to arm them with killing machines. The system is as porous as it gets. Universal background check on gun buyers is a joke.

So how do we keep our schools, campuses, malls, theaters and other places of gathering safe, given that the right by deranged individuals to own guns is not going away anytime soon?

First, we must continue efforts by citizens like you and me to curb the power of the N.R.A. This is slow and painstaking work and it may take decades to bear fruit but we must trudge on.

Second, we need to raise our internal alert level by a notch, instead of expecting only the police and security personnel to keep us safe in public places. It is not a question of being paranoid; it is more a question of exercising common sense. If we see someone moving aggressively in a crowded area, for instance, clutching their coats or fatigues, we should raise an alarm. A little more watchfulness, a little more keenness in perception, just a little more sense of what is going on around us, can go a long way toward reducing the routine violence that is tearing our nation apart.

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