Paris, Sandy Hook & The Second Amendment

Minutes before mid-day on Thursday 16th May, 2013, with the Eiffel Tower just over a kilometer away, a middle-aged man strolled into a Parisian nursery school on rue Cler and, in the school’s hall in front of twelve children, pulled the trigger of the sawn-off shotgun that he had removed from a bag and directed deliberately towards his face, instantly killing himself. Most of us, luckily, can only ever imagine the sort of wild-minded chaos that immediately ensues after such nightmarish moments, and how devastating the subsequent mental trauma can be to individuals, families and, at its worst (in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, for example), to entire communities. However, though there were no fatalities during the shooting at La Rochefoucault nursery, these sort of incidents have become increasingly prevalent in recent years across Western society, particularly in the United States. Indeed, when I first read the headline ‘Man shoots himself dead in front of schoolchildren’, I instantly presumed, as I am confident most of us would nowadays, that the incident took place in America, a country that boasts 89 guns for every 100 of its 316 million citizens.

Firmly founded on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, specifically on the ‘need for a well-regulated militia’, America is very much the arms capital of the world. However, since it was adopted on 15th December, 1791, when state-authorised police forces were very much still in their infancy, the world has changed significantly. Now the United States, on a federal level alone, possesses a plethora of them: the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Bureau of Pensions, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Secret Service, the United States Coast Guard and, finally, the Transport Security Administration. Unless American citizens themselves need protecting from them, such an exetensive list of law-enforcing authorities questions the assertion that guns are needed, such as a semi-automatic shotgun, for civilian self-defence. London’s Metropolitan Police say that ‘by carrying a knife, you are far more likely to get stabbed yourself’, and the exact same principle, whether in the United States or in the United Kingdom, applies to guns. The very possession of arms, regardless of their intended use, dramatically increases the risk of gun violence, slowly creating a fear-filled culture that, if sustained for long enough, becomes the very reason for civilian gun-possession being justified.

Despite the ongoing global recession, the United States is still the world’s most powerful country, meaning that its currency is used, officially and unofficially, across most continents. It also means that it receives an unparalleled amount of attention from the international press, and it may be due to this attention, with school shootings becoming an increasingly pertinent issue in American society, that the middle-aged man decided to shoot himself in the nursery school in Paris, a city without any previous incidents of a similar nature. Though this may not actually be the case, the information about guns that we encounter, as with any other subject, certainly effects our attitudes towards them, a notion the American author Stephen King suggests in an article for The Guardian, written in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting:

 ‘During my junior and senior years in high school, I wrote my first novel, then titled Getting It On…Ten years later, after the first half-dozen of my books had become bestsellers, I revisited Getting It On, rewrote it, and submitted it to my paperback publisher under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. It was published as Rage, sold a few thousand copies and disappeared from view. Or so I thought.

 In February 1996, a boy named Barry Loukaitis walked into his algebra class in Washington, with a .22-caliber revolver and a high-powered hunting rifle. He used the rifle to kill instructor Leona Caires and two students. Then, waving the pistol in the air, he declared, “This sure beats algebra, doesn’t it?” The quote is from Rage’.

What Barry Loukaitis read in ‘Rage’ planted a seed into his mind, a rotten one, instigating the deaths of six American citizens, and it is no different with regard to the articles we read about such school shootings: they are just as much a source of inspiration for gun-violence as ‘Rage’ – perhaps even more so, in fact, with their non-fictional genre. Consequently, as much as Americans who advocate civilian gun-ownership are responsible for sustaining an environment in which 68% of murders are caused by firearms – an eye-widening figure when it is compared to the 1.6% rate of the UK (although the US, interestingly, does have a lower rate of per-capita violent crime than the UK) – the international media must also hold some degree of responsibility for the high number of school shootings in America, predominantly with regard to the extensive publicity that it often gives to the shooters. In a Google News search for Adam Lanza, for example, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter, there are nearly as many articles on him (over 8,600) as on his 27 victims (nearly 9,200), identifying a patent imbalance of news coverage, one that priorities a pre-mediated murderer over their innocent victims – twenty of which were between the age of six and seven. Sadly, this bias is a common trend in the international media’s coverage of these incidents, yet the most shameful aspect of such prejudiced coverage is that we, its readers, with our strange obsessions with the psychologically disturbed, or at least those who seem to be, hardly seem bothered by it at all. Most of us, if we are completely honest with ourselves, probably enjoy reading about the cruel, callous actions of notorious serial murderers. Indeed, how else has the case of Jack the Ripper, the first serial-killer to incite an international media frenzy, endured so strongly in popular and academic culture over the past century?

Although many of us may indeed have an interest in the unstable-minded, which may explain the prejudice of the international press, that does not justify the insufficient reportage that school shootings victims receive. Therefore, as Republicans and Democrats continue to bow obediently to the collective wills of gun-supporting groups (such as the NRA) in Congress, causing any legislation that limits gun-possession of American citizens to be repeatedly blocked, the international press could consider the following in the meantime: during its coverage of the next school shooting in America (for there will be another one), it might consider paying particular attention to the victims because, as the incident in La Rochefoucault nursery might suggest, giving the sick-minded violence of school shootings such widespread international press might risk making it more of an international problem.

This article was published originally in The Student Journals.


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