The fatal Dec. 14 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut which claimed the lives of 28 people, including 20 innocent children under 10 once again brought to light the dilemma of gun ownership in the United States and despite the fact that it received no response from the gun rights advocates but a deafening silence, laid emphasis on the necessity for the United States to revise its gun policies.
The shooting rampage, in which a mentally disordered, heavily-armed 20-year-old boy named Adam Peter Lanza opened fire on the innocent schoolchildren and school staff was so tragic and heartbreaking that even the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t hesitate to issue a message of condolence and sympathy with the families of the victims and the whole American nation that was indescribably shocked at this appalling massacre.
The incident is said to be the second-deadliest school shooting in the United States history after the 2007 Virginia tech massacre in which 33 students and professors, including the perpetrator himself, were killed. It stirred a wave of terror and trepidation as well as anger among the Americans who demand a limit to the freedom of gun ownership and don’t want to see such bitter experiences repeated again and again.
Gun violence is nothing new in the United States and dates back to more than one century ago, when the anarchist Steel worker Leon Czolgosz assassinated the U.S. President William McKinley with a .32 caliber Iver Johnson revolver on September 6, 1901. Of course we don’t forget the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and in the recent years, the Columbine High School massacre, Aurora Theater shooting and shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin earlier this year.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 66.9% of all homicides in the United States in 2009 were perpetrated using a firearm. The same organization reports that about 270 million Americans possess a handgun or a rifle. The American politicians, despite their different initiatives for restricting gun access and putting limitation on the selling of handguns and firearms to youths or “at-risk” populations, have so far failed to design a legal framework by which gun ownership issue can be solved once and for all. They fear that the democratic values which are stipulated by the U.S. Constitution and especially the Second Amendment may be undermined and the U.S. public image in the world be tarnished as a result.
However, contrary to what many American politicians and policy-makers think, what seems to be practically tainting the public image of the United States is the conviction that it has provided its people with so much unrestricted and unbridled freedoms that it’s now unable to ensure their security and safety, and thus the life of the children and students, as well as other groups of the society, is at stake.
However, it seems that some strong advocates of gun ownership in the U.S. Congress and House of Representatives have retreated from their previous positions and are calling for a revision of gun policies. On December 17, New York Times reported that the Congress Democrats showed a more “aggressive” stance on gun control in the wake of the Newtown killings, while the Republicans and conservatives who constitute the majority of the advocates of gun rights remained largely silent.
Even Joe Manchin III, a pro-gun-rights West Virginia senator who sparked controversy in 2010 after running a TV commercial which depicted him while shooting with a rifle at an environmental bill said that “everything should be on the table” with regards to possible alterations of the gun policies.
In the Middle East countries, the governments usually prefer to set strict rules and regulations for the possession of arms. The ownership of handguns and rifles is mostly forbidden in the regional countries. In a 2007 book titled “Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City” published by the Cambridge University Press, it was indicated that only 3,500,000 Iranian civilians possess guns and the rate of private gun ownership in Iran is 7.32 firearms per 100 people. Iran has a population of about 75 million people. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the annual homicides by any means, including firearms totaled 2,215 in 2009. The same figure for the United States was 15,241 in 2009.
According to the 2007 Small Arms Survey, the United States is the first country in the world in the ranking of guns per 100 residents. Of the Middle East nations, Yemen is the third country, Saudi Arabia is 6th, Iraq is 7th, Oman is 17th, Bahrain and Kuwait share the 18th place, United Arab Emirates is 24th, Qatar is 31st, Iran is 79th and Egypt is 115th. Tunisia is the 178th nation and it’s said that the imposition of strict rules of gun ownership by the deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had immensely restricted the civilians’ access to arms. The 2007 survey reported that only 9,000 Tunisian citizens possessed guns.
It seems that the most logical and reasonable option for the United States to control and hinder gun violence is to ratify laws and regulations which would necessitate the issuance of certain permits and certificates for those who want to have firearms and handguns. The United States can use the successful experience of the Middle East nations that have maintained a relative public security by controlling gun ownership as a model. To lavishly sell arms to everybody regardless of their age and mental health as well as other determining factors is not a rational practice, even for a country that intends to feature itself as a beacon of freedom. Freedom can be attained, but it should be noted that freedom is not always free, and the lives of innocent children should not be forfeited for the sake of political games.
(Kourosh Ziabari is an award- winning Iranian journalist, peace activist and media correspondent)