By Rob Burgess
Friday saw a pair of horrific attacks perpetrated by young men on elementary school students living in villages, but with two distinctly different outcomes.
It was just after 8 a.m. in the village of Chengping, Henan Province, China, when a 36-year-old man was subdued by security guards after he stabbed 22 children arriving for school with a knife, according to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, about 12 hours before and some 6,700 miles away, a 20-year-old man shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in the village of Sandy Hook, Newtown, Conn., carrying a SIG Sauer 9-mm handgun, a Glock 10-mm handgun and a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle.
In one of the incidents, the victims suffered only minor injuries. No one died.
In the other, 20 kids and eight adults, including the culprit, were slaughtered.
Care to hazard a guess as to which one is which?
Before I go any further let me stop and say this: I like guns. I really do. I grew up in southern Indiana where I shot rifles, handguns and shotguns. In college, my roommate and I had many an exchange about our zombie apocalypse plans while admiring his 9-mm handgun. When I lived in Northern California, some of the most fun I’ve ever had happened on top of a mountain in Mendocino County while target shooting with .22-caliber rifles. I’ve even shot black powder and antique flintlock guns while on assignment as a reporter.
I get it.
But you know the saying, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”? Well, as comedian Eddie Izzard once said, “I think the gun helps.”
2012 has proven particularly gruesome. The Nation’s George Zornick has tallied at least 16 mass shootings in the United States this year, leaving 88 dead.
Fear not, lovers of firearms: what gun control advocates think doesn’t really seem to matter. It’s one of those so-called “third rails” that no politician usually wants to touch. Candidates generally think of this as political suicide. In fact, polling conducted over the last 20 years by the Pew Research Center has consistently shown a sharp decrease in support for gun control legislation following mass shootings. In fact, those numbers presented a noticeable increase in support for gun rights following such incidents.
At present, no other country even comes close to touching America’s rate of gun ownership.
“Americans don’t just have more guns that anyone else – 270 million privately held firearms. They also have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world, with an average of about nine guns for every 10 Americans,” wrote Max Fisher of The Washington Post. “The second highest gun ownership rate in the world is Yemen.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told David Gregory, host of NBC’s “Meet The Press,” on Sunday she intended to introduce legislation banning assault weapons on the first day of the new legislative session. That may be true, but I’ll be extremely surprised if this actually goes through. The National Rifle Association is roundly considered the most influential lobbying organization in Washington. The most recent legislation in the U.S. regarding firearms only expanded concealed carrying laws: Trained Michiganders can now carry these deadly weapons in schools, day care centers, stadiums and churches, reported Slate's David Weigel.
Was this bloodiness of the massacre in Sandy Hook significantly high enough to spur change? Was the body count high enough? Were the victims young and innocent enough? Can we finally engage in a realistic conversation about this issue? What about greater availability for mental health services? Might we add that to the agenda too while we’re at it?
The parents of those poor children in rural China were no doubt shaken to their cores by the attack on their loved ones, but at least they all made it home that night. Twenty 6- and 7-year-olds in New England weren’t so lucky.
I don’t claim to know what the answer is, but that might be because we aren’t even allowed to have the conversation.
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.