With every tragedy, like the recent shootings in Tucson, there is always something to be learned to prevent something similar from happening in the future. However, often in our rush to blame, we forget to ask the deeper question of why.
by Bill Quigley Published on Monday, January 10, 2011 by CommonDreams.org
Question: How does a mentally unstable man who was kicked out of school and had run-ins with the law buy such a serious weapon?
The weapon reportedly used in the mass murders in Tucson was a serious weapon - a Glock 19, semi-automatic pistol, with an extended magazine. Some weapons like that were illegal to sell in the US from 1994 to 2004 under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. It is now legal to sell and own them. The National Rifle Association reports there are tens of millions of assault weapons in private hands in the US.
The federal background check for people purchasing such weapons only prohibits selling such weapons to people who have been legally determined to be mentally defective or found insane or convicted of crimes. This man had not been found legally mentally defective or convicted so he was legally entitled to purchase an assault weapon. In Arizona he was legally entitled to carry the weapon in a concealed manner.
The US has well over 250 million guns in private hands according to the National Rifle Association. That is more, according to the BBC, than any country in the world. In one year, guns murdered 17 people in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States according to the Brady Campaign.
Does the US really need tens of millions of assault weapons and hundreds of millions of other guns? We already put more of our people in prison than any country in the world and we spend more on our military than all the rest of the world together. How fearful must we be?
Question: Why is there so little talk of terrorism?
Apparently when a mentally unstable white male is accused, terrorism is not the first thing that comes to mind. White terrorism is not a concept the US takes seriously.
When Clay Duke, a white male, threatened Florida school board members with a gun and shot at them before shooting himself, in December 2010, he was mentally imbalanced.
When Michael Enright, a white male, was arrested for slashing the throat of a Muslim NYC cab driver in August of 2010, his friends said he had a drinking problem.
When Byron Williams, a white male, was arrested after opening fire on police officers and admitted he was on his way to kill people at offices of a liberal foundation and a civil liberties organization, in July 2010, he was an unemployed right wing felon with a drinking problem.
When Joe Stack, a white male, flew his private plane into a federal building in Austin, Texas, in February 2010, he was angry with the IRS.
When a white male is accused of mass murder, white terrorism is not much talked of. Rather the mass murder becomes a terrible tragedy but not one where race or ethnicity or religion need be examined.
Now, if the accused had been Muslim, does anyone doubt whether this mass murder would have been considered an act of terrorism? US Muslims could have expected increased surveillance and harassment at home and the places where they work and worship. They could have expected a Congressional inquiry into the radicalization of their people. Oh, Representative Peter King (R-NY) has already started that one!
Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.