ODVV Interview: Mass shooting in the Florida...
The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz, who was the school's former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. An Associated Press report reveals the Broward County Sheriff's Office received a number of tips in 2016 and 2017 about Cruz's threats to carry out a school shooting, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had received information about his threats and concerning behavior in September 2017 and January 2018.
Although this tragedy revived a longstanding debate on gun control in the United States and the intermittent clashes between Congress democrats and NRA activists who persist on the appropriateness of teaching firearm competency and safety, there are still academics who maintain the United States is not accustomed to and tolerant of a culture of violence.
Joyce Lee Malcolm is a distinguished American academic who believes the loss of life is not being condoned and that's why the Florida shooting was a shock.
"Despite the publicity given a mass shooting, and when you think of numbers, do check how mass shooting is defined; gun violence in this country has been declining sharply for more than two decades", she said in an interview with the Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence.
Joyce Lee Malcolm is the Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University School of Law. A fellow of Royal Historical Society, she has received her Ph.D. in history from Brandeis University and has written many books on guns and violence.
In the following interview, Prof Malcolm shares her views on the recent mass shooting in Florida, the U.S. President's response to it and the constitutional approach to gun ownership.
Q: The tragic mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, in which 14 students and three adults were killed, prompted a new debate about the American constitution's approach to "gun ownership". The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the rights of the people to keep and bear arms, and as you know better, there are major federal gun laws on this, as well. However, few people have discussed whether it's wise for a government to give every citizen the right to buy and carry firearms, handgun and assault rifles, regardless of their age, ethnicity or mental health conditions and whether this freedom should be really unlimited? What's your take on that?
A: You are wrong that “few people have discussed whether it’s wise for a government to give every citizen the right to buy and carry firearms, handgun and assault rifles...” See 18 U.S.C. ss 922[g][1-9]) Every citizen does not now have the right to buy and carry firearms. The present laws already prohibit the following persons and others from possessing or receiving any firearm or ammunition. This is a partial list:
Persons convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year; fugitives from justice; unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance; person adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been admitted to a mental institution, among other specified categories. Please check the law.
The freedom to keep and bear arms is not unlimited. Other stipulations are on state statute books for the right to carry a weapon. We have an estimated 20,000 gun laws in America. People intent on committing a violent crime are prepared to disobey the law.
Q: The award-winning American journalist Summer Brennan tweeted shortly after the recent mass shooting in Florida, "America has decided that its children are expendable because of the lobbying power of a single deadly industry. This is disgusting." Figures show 268 people have been killed in school shootings in the U.S. schools since 2010. Why does NRA continue advocating for gun rights and teaching firearm competency?
A: The tweet you cite is itself disgusting. The NRA and other organizations and public groups advocate for gun rights because the Second Amendment of the American Constitution asserts the right “of the people to keep and bear arms.” The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that this is one of our basic rights, for the core purpose of self-defense and for other lawful purposes. The right is, as the great English jurist, William Blackstone, wrote, “for self- preservation and defence.” For the NRA or any other competent organization to teach firearm competency is essential if guns are to be used responsibly and safely. That teaching seems to me a crucial and worthy goal.
Q: Many questions have been asked regarding President Trump's response to the recent tragedy in Florida, mostly surrounding the effectiveness and sufficiency of "thoughts and prayers", and if this is the only thing a chief executive should do under such tense and critical circumstances? Would the President's response have been the same, had the perpetrator been a Muslim, African-American or Hispanic male?
A: Responding quickly to a tragedy with “thoughts and prayers” is entirely appropriate. It is the same response when groups, including a black church, was attacked. It is bizarre and unfair to suggest we allocate our sympathy based on race or ethnicity. The president and Congress have since been considering measures to tighten background checks for buying guns. Also, as you may now know, it appears that the local police and FBI were well aware of the danger of the shooter, especially the police who despite over 30 visits to his home summoned by frantic neighbors and others never reported him to the background check list or even disarmed him. The gun was not to blame, the inept security system failed everyone. Even when alerted to the shooting in the school the local police who arrived first hid behind vehicles.
Q: As an American academic, you might disfavour my argument. But, don't you agree that the United States has become accustomed to a culture of violence, which is normalised with the occurrence of so many mass shootings, especially in the Southern states, and the loss of human life being condoned?
A: Americans are not accustomed to a culture of violence, which is why the
Florida school shooting was a shock. Despite the publicity given a mass shooting, and when you think of numbers, do check how mass shooting is defined, gun violence in this country has been declining sharply for more than two decades. This is despite, or maybe because of, the greater number of law-abiding people owning and carrying weapons. You are wrong about the Southern states having or accepting more mass shootings. That is an unfair bias on your part. No one is condoning the loss of life. I don’t know where you are getting your information from but it is highly skewed and inaccurate.
Q: In your 2004 book "Guns and Violence: The English Experience", you questioned the validity of the assumption that "more guns in private hands means higher rates of armed crime" and compared the contemporary English and American experiences, noting that although there are not as many British citizens who own handguns and arms, the rate of violent crime in the UK had increased comparatively significantly in a certain period of time. Is it safe to conclude that you're promoting the idea of more handguns for people who use them responsibly?
A: I think law-abiding people need to be able to defend themselves. Great Britain has deprived individuals of nearly all means to do that, even with non-lethal devices such as chemical sprays. The UK had virtually no restrictions on ownership of firearms until after 1920 and during that period without gun restrictions the use of firearms in crime was extraordinarily low. The current British restrictions on the use of any weapons for defense have not made the British people safer, but instead made them more vulnerable.
By: Kourosh Ziabari