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Arizona shootings: The Song Remains the Same... Deadly

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Message Dominique Lord

The enormous tragedy that happened on January 8 in Tucson, AZ, has once again thrown an entire nation into grief and anger. The latest information shows that the primary suspect, 22-year old Jared Lee Loughner (who may have had an accomplice), gunned down 20 people, killing 6 and injuring 14 others, many of whom are in critical condition. Among the people killed was an innocent 9-year old girl (who was born on 9/11 no less). The prime target appeared to be U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a conservative Democrat, who was well-liked both professionally and personally.

Emotions are currently running high, and many people are trying to put the blame on something or somebody. The somebody being Sarah Palin with her cross-haired map, and the something being the despicable rhetoric of right-wing personalities like Michael Savage and Glenn Beck (among others--see the post by this author about how appalling and dangerous these people can be), and the mental condition of Jared Lee, an individual who may have been persuaded to assassinate Ms. Giffords by the vitriolic messages of these media personalities and wannabe politicians.

But the massacre in Tucson is not an isolated case. Here is just a small sample of mass murders that have happened since I moved to the US in 2001:

  • 2002 Appalachian School of Law shooting: 3 dead; culprit Peter Odighizuwa using a handgun.
  • 2005 Red Lake Massacre: 10 dead; culprit Jeffrey Weise using a 40 caliber Glock 23 pistol, a Ruger .22 caliber pistol and a Remington 12 gauge shotgun.
  • 2006 Amish school shooting: 6 dead; culprit Charles Carl Roberts IV using a shotgun and handgun.
  • 2006 Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle: 1 dead; culprit Naveed Afzal Haq using an unspecified firearm.
  • 2006 Party Massacre: 7 dead; culprit Aaron Kyle Huff using a 12-gauge pistol-grip shotgun and a handgun.
  • 2006 USPS Postal Distribution Center in Goleta, California: 7 dead; culprit Jennifer San Marco using a handgun.
  • 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre: 33 dead; culprit Seung-Hui Cho using a Glock 19 and a Walther P22.
  • 2008 Northern Illinois University shooting: 6 dead; culprit Steven Kazmierczak using a Remington 870 shotgun, a 9 mm Glock, a 9 mm Sig Sauer and a .380 Hi-Point.
  • 2010 University of Alabama in Huntsville shooting: 3 dead; culprit Amy Bishop using a 9 mm handgun.
  • 2010 University of Texas at Austin shooting: 1 dead (self inflicted); culprit was Colton Tooley using an AK-47 (he shot at many people, but missed).

And these ten occurrences are just a very small sample of all the mass murders in the US over the same time period (see here, here and here for a more exhaustive list). Of course, there are also the less spectacular: 15,000+ people who are also murdered by firearms every year, just not en masse. Among these less media-friendly deaths are the numerous women and men who fall under a hail of bullets at the hands of their significant others and acquaintances.

It goes on and on and on; yet every time this kind of massacre happens, the entire US population is shocked and surprised by the magnitude of the carnage, especially where the slaughtered include children. People get angry, distressed, and demand swift justice if the murderer survives. The President makes a heartfelt speech saying how this great tragedy affects not only the family of the deceased but the entire nation, and asks everyone to come together and support each other.

And in every one of these mass killings, the discussion always comes down to the mental state of the culprit and how did he or she get access to legal (and sometimes illegal) firearms in the first place? Why didn't the system flag this person? It seems like almost no one ever asks the right question: Would this same 'emotionally disturbed' person have mowed down the same number of people with his or her bare hands, or with a knife?Â

Because the wrong questions are asked, after the grieving and the rhetoric, nothing actually happens to prevent the next mass killings. A few laws are tweaked, maybe, but there's never any real impact on society.

We all know the best and most effective solution is impossible to implement, thanks to the US Constitution. No one would really dare to take away our guns.

In a few months, another massacre will happen. People will be traumatized. The President and law-makers will make their typical speeches about the tragedy. They and the rest of the population will all point to mental illness and how terrible it is, once again, that they had access to firearms. Work stress or people spewing hate commentaries will be touted as the exclusive causal factors for the murders, not the fact that anyone can pretty much walk into a gun shop and get whatever kind of weapon of mass destruction they want. Then shortly thereafter, everything will come back to normal. Life goes on. For most of us, anyway.

The song will remain the same... Just a new group of people will be gunned down.


This article was cross-posted at Open Salon.

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Dominique is an Associate Professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University. His research work aims at reducing the negative effects associated with motor vehicle crashes. When he's not developing mathematical and (more...)
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