Wednesday, February 28, 2018

School shootings are a reflection of militaristic police state

The recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which seventeen were killed and fourteen injured, is the latest in a long series of such incidents in American schools. There have been killings in American schools since before the founding of the United States (the first was the Enoch Brown School massacre in 1764), but the incidence of such crimes only gathered pace after the Columbine killings in 1999. They have become so common that Americans seemed to become quite blasé about them - at least until the latest massacre, which has brought strident calls for stronger gun control.

The primary function of the state is to protect life and liberty. We give the government a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in order that it can fulfill this function. Many people in the United States believe that the state cannot adequately carry out this role and that they should have the right to possess and carry firearms for the express purpose of defending themselves. The Second Amendment to the Constitution enshrines this right, although (as I have written before) personal self-defence is not actually the purpose of the Second Amendment at all. 

The right to possess and carry firearms for self-defence does not exist in most other countries. There are limited rights to own firearms for sporting, hunting and pest-control purposes in most countries but even these are usually strictly controlled. In New Zealand, for example, gun owners are licensed through an onerous vetting process and those who do have them are subject to regular checks and inspections to ensure they continue to be safe owners.

The sharp rise in school shooting incidents in the United States over the past 20 years is paradoxical because it comes against a background of significantly decreased homicide rates over the same period. Many states have tightened the rules and background checks for purchases of firearms in recent years and the percentage of the population owning guns has remained static, which begs the question that if there is no obvious correlation between access to guns and the increase in school shootings, what is the cause?

I touched on a problem in my last post that I believe explains at least in part the phenomenon of school shootings - the disaffection of young men in Western society. Mass killings are almost always committed by young men and it seems the more we tell our young men that they are a menace to society, the more certain individuals are likely to act out the role in which we cast them.

Another possible explanation is the increasing resort to violence by the state. Police in the United States killed more than 1100 people in 2015, a rate that surely must exceed any other nation's law enforcement services. Many of these killings are unjustified (such as the case of Australian Justine Damond) and the officers involved are seldom held to account. The increasing militarisation of the police in America, which is increasing under President Trump, will undoubtedly mean more police killings of the people they are meant to serve. Violence begets violence and an escalation on one side of a conflict inevitably leads to a matching escalation on the other side.

The right wing in America has a hypocritical attitude to guns, supporting an unfettered right to bear arms while at the same time supporting a highly militaristic law and order state. I believe that a capable but restrained police force that protects the rights of its citizens should obviate the need for people to carry weapons for their own defence. We have a civilian police force to ensure we don't live in constant fear of attack by criminals but the problem in America is that it has become a place where people fear the police as much as the criminals.

There is evidence from other countries that America would be a safer place, with fewer mass killings, if gun ownership was significantly reduced. However, Americans won't agree to give up their guns while the police are armed like the 82nd Airborne. Any attempt to unilaterally confiscate guns in America would risk civil war. The de-escalation has to start with the government and it needs to be accompanied by policies such as the decriminalisation of recreational drugs that reduce the number of Americans who are targets of the police. But that would require a braver cohort of politicians than currently inhabit that country's halls of power.


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Lolitas brother said...

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