To truly understand the gun culture in America, Michael Moore’s Academy Award winning documentary ‘Bowling for Columbine’ is a must watch. He made it in the aftermath of the Columbine school killings, which shocked the world and revived the entire gun control debate. Now in the wake of the Northern Illinois University (NIU) tragedy, we see an eerie pattern of history repeating itself and the question everyone seems to be asking is – What are we doing to stop this from happening again?
Many options have been thrown around to explain the reasons of aggression among the youth, but none of them can wholly justify this alarming trend. Violence in video games and television are the easiest target but we’re not entirely right in putting the blame on them. Popular figures among the youth like Marilyn Manson and gangster rappers are also accused but the outrage over their lyrics and music is almost comic. The matter is far more serious and we have to penetrate deep into the very psyche of the people and dictums of society to come up with answers. For starters, institutionalized violence is now the commonly accepted norm to solve a conflict and no one sets the example better than the US government, which has been resorting to guns and violence to settle conflicts since the cold war ended.
Moore’s central theme which can be held true for all student killings, is that the Columbine massacre cannot be attributed to the easy availability of guns in the U.S., but is instead a product of the “climate of fear” which he contends is propagated by the American media. He illustrates this with news clips, each tending to indicate the prominence given to violence and crime in news reports, and often exaggeration on the situation at hand, to instill fear in the minds of people, thus creating the ‘security obsessed’ American public.
Following this is an interview between Moore and Marilyn Manson, in which he shares his ideas with Moore, stating that he believes that the US society is based on ‘fear and consumption’. When Moore asks Manson what he would say to the killers if he could have spoken to them on the day of the shooting, Manson replies, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them; I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”
However, the profile of the latest killer, Steven Phillip Kazmierczak from Northern Illinois seems to be an anomaly. He was an outstanding student, polite and industrious, and had a bright future in the criminal justice field ahead of him. Many have tried to find a common thread between these mass killers – they’re all from different ethnicities, income groups, social strata, peer popularity and studying different subjects. Recent reports, though claim, that a website used to buy gun accessories by Steven Kazmierczak is owned by the same company that operates a site patronized by Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech mass murderer.
This brings back to the limelight the easy accessibility of guns. The gun lobby leans on the second amendment of the U.S. constitution, which protects the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms’. In fact, there has been no legislation passed in the area of gun control in the US since 1996. Unfortunately, the law is looser now than it was 10 years ago when the Clinton administration banned specific models of semi-automatic assault rifles because in 2004 the Republicans allowed the ban to expire. Gun control advocates are lobbying to revive an earlier assault weapons ban, with specific reference to ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets.
Though sad to say, Universities have learnt from earlier episodes; NIU revised its emergency procedures after the Virginia Tech massacre. They had prearranged messages ready to communicate warnings to the rest of the students and staff. Within 30 seconds, two police officers were in the lecture hall and prevented the death toll from mounting even further.
Personally, I don’t foresee this happening in our country, because as a people we are far more tolerant even though, our history has been a violent and war filled one. Yes, mob violence is the far worse on the subcontinent than it is anywhere else in the world, simply because of the density and enormity of the population. Yet I think we should take heart, because we as students are relatively more focused on academics and a career and are by comparison, much happier. I just hope I won’t have to eat my words both for your sake and mine.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ttstam/2211800182/]