The Plastic Hippo

June 3, 2010

I don`t like Wednesdays

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 10:49 pm

Roy Lichtenstein - The Gun in America - Time Magazine Cover - 1968

Quite why a non-descript and ordinary man should decide to kill 12 people and wound 11 others is beyond the understanding of most rational human beings. The close knit communities in Westmoreland must be asking why such arbitrary horror has been visited upon them and why, in such a peaceful and beautiful part of the world, their friends, neighbours and relatives are lying dead in the gutter after being shot in the face at close range.

Fatal shootings in this country are very, very rare and are usually the result of turf wars between gangs in the conurbations of London, Manchester and the West Midlands. Whitehaven, Egremont and Seascale are not Moss Side, Handsworth or Peckham and the last thing inhabitants of quiet seaside towns and villages would expect is to live and die in the shadow of a gunman.

As the extent of the terror unfolded, the chilling juxtaposition of normality and unimaginable violence has led many eye-witnesses to describe what they saw as being surreal. One man was shot dead as he trimmed his hedge and a woman was killed carrying her shopping home. Perhaps the most disturbing reality of the disaster was hearing the broadcasts from Radio Cumbria which told listeners to find a place of safety and stay indoors. The station informed listeners that a flower show at a village hall had been cancelled and would have more news on the shootings after we have heard “Close to you” by the Carpenters.

A seemingly endless stream of “experts” have flooded the media with theories explaining why Derrick Bird shot his twin brother dead along with the family solicitor before randomly killing another 10 people and then taking his own life. Neighbours and acquaintances have described the man as ordinary and state that his deadly actions were out of character. In small, face-to-face communities, not saying good morning is considered out of character; gunning down neighbours indicates something far more serious.

Although rare, mass murders involving firearms understandably induce massive trauma within communities and the scars left by the so called spree killings in Hungerford and Dunblane are still evident. In those massacres, the perpetrator was found to be a “normal” man who acted out of character. We might never know what made these “normal” men commit brutal murder but they have one thing in common. Michael Ryan, Thomas Hamilton and Derrick Bird had access to legally owned, registered firearms.

In a fracturing society, once described by our new Prime Minister as “broken”, casual violence depicted on film, television and video games passes for entertainment and oozes into the collective subconscious as being “normal” behaviour. School children justify acts of violence by claiming that the victim of a beating displayed “disrespect” and examples of road rage can be expected on even the shortest journey. At long last, the peddlers of sensation seem to be becoming aware of their responsibilities with the producers of Coronation Street postponing two episodes which feature the lethal use of firearms and the writers of Eastenders ordered to change the script involving the murder of a prostitute following the Bradford deaths. But note that these are postponements and cosmetic changes and after a few days we will be back to salacious, sensational and surreal storylines in a blood-lust chase for ratings.

In the face of national shock and revulsion at the Cumbria murders, the government has been cautious regarding a review of licensed gun ownership with Cameron stating that there should not be a “knee-jerk” reaction in terms of new legislation. After Hungerford, semi-automatic and self-loading rifles were outlawed and after Dunblane, handguns went the same way. These restrictions were not enough to stop a “normal” Cumbrian man from legally acquiring and keeping two deadly weapons which, in some crisis event, he decided to use.

The pro-firearm lobby have, of course, crawled out of the gun case to chant the rather bizarre mantra that “guns don`t kill people – people kill people”. Perhaps they should explain this logic to the mother of Derrick and David Bird and, more importantly, to the devastated families of West Cumbria. Astonishingly, within hours of the first shooting, the clearly insane Dr Sean Gabb, director of something called the Libertarian Alliance, issued a press statement calling for the legalisation of civilian gun ownership claiming that this mad idea would stop any future mass shooting. He bases this craziness on the fact that none of the victims of the shootings were in a position to return fire because they were not armed. Here is a guy who should not be allowed access to a sharp pencil, let alone a firearm.

There are those who claim that legitimate licensed ownership of guns is a basic human right for those involved in hunting, sport and vermin control. It might well be that the aristocracy out on the grouse moors would not be able to find their next meal without the aid of a shotgun and so they demand the right to shoot things. Sportsmen and women have alternatives to firearms; ask any kid in an amusement arcade or a competitive dad in a paintball field or laser gun warehouse. As for vermin, the use of lethal weaponry against even the Libertarian Alliance is totally unacceptable.

These attempts to legitimise gun ownership mask the real reason why some people demand the right to bear arms. There is something lacking in their personality and intellect that requires something to compensate for an unsuccessful, unfulfilled and inadequate life. In these strange days, “normal” men like Derrick Bird need guns to be respected and, more alarmingly, live out their Dirty Harry and Rambo fantasies when unknown stress takes them over the edge.

The law is clear on licensed gun ownership. If anyone reports concerns over the actions or mental state of an existing gun owner, the local Chief Constable has to revoke the license and confiscate weapons during an investigation. Regardless of government prevarication and claims that the UK has the most rigorous gun control law in the world, new legislation should be put in place that questions the mental state of existing license holders and any new applications for ownership of a firearm. It is impossible to predict in this turbulent world, which gun owner will crack next.

As for the people of West Cumbria, still to recover from horrendous flooding and the recent loss of three lives in the Keswick bus crash; they must be wondering what they have done to offend all the deities. The events on Wednesday will leave physiological wounds that may never heal. Nothing will ever be “normal” again. We should all think of them and their loss because next time…

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