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Home » Columns » The Ghosts of Columbine

The Ghosts of Columbine

Publishing Date : 10 October, 2017

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White

Undoubtedly the biggest news story of the week is the shooting deaths of over 50 members of the audience at a Country & Western concert in Las Vegas, a massacre perpetrated by a lone, middle-aged gunman, Stephen Paddock. 


It is now officially America’s worst random mass murder episode, narrowly eclipsing the shooting in an Orlando, Florida nightclub in June 2016 where 49 patrons were killed by Omar Mateen. Mateen was eventually killed by police after they stormed the nightclub to rescue surviving patrons.  It later transpired that his name had been known to the FBI who had previously interviewed him and concluded that he posed no real threat. 


Two years later it turned out they couldn’t have been more wrong.  He claimed allegiance to ISIS and seemingly deliberately targeted the venue because it was frequented by members of the Florida gay community and that incident was thus categorised as terrorist-related. Paddock, however chose to take his own life before police could storm the hotel room he was using to spray the unsuspecting concert-goers with machine gun fire. 


His motive is a complete mystery and it may eventually transpire that he took his reason with him to the grave.  Certainly so far his close family members seem utterly baffled as to how this man in his sixties with no criminal record would suddenly decide to commit such an atrocity.  As details emerge, it was clearly well planned and even dress-rehearsed, his arsenal of lethal weapons collected over time and modified to make them even more deadly, his hotel room chosen meticulously for its proximity and birds-eye view of the concert arena and a plethora of surveillance equipment installed in the room to monitor an approach from members of law enforcement.


The only predictable element of this still unfolding tragedy is the inevitable clarion call for a review to the country’s liberal gun laws which always follows closely on the heels of any such incident.  This is unlikely to have any effect on the status quo, given the considerable political influence on Capitol Hill wielded by the powerful pro-gun National Rifle Association (NRA) which is the self-proclaimed champion of the 5th Amendment to the Constitution where the right to bear arms is enshrined in law.  They further argue that ‘guns don’t kill people, people do’; though as British comedian Eddie Izzard rightly adds ‘the guns do help quite a bit’.


The problem is that the thinking on both sides of the gun-owning argument are deeply flawed. First off, the right to bear arms was written into the Constitution by the nation’s founding fathers not to ensure that every deer hunter in the country had more than enough rifles to kill a large herd, no less than it was a free licence for anyone to arm themselves to the teeth and cause murder and mayhem, not even simple self defence.  The clause was put there for the sole purpose of ensuring that citizens could never be downtrodden by a repressive government and therefore should always have the right to take up arms against the oppressors.


On the other side,  there are so many millions, possibly billions,  of weapons in the USA right now that restricting sales wouldn’t have much effect and anyway, those with criminal intentions somehow will find a way to source the weaponry they need by fair means or foul or simply choose another method for their mass killing such as a bomb or chemical gas.  


But neither side of that argument addresses the fundamental issue of why so many similar atrocities continue to happen in the USA time after time, mostly for no apparent logical reason or justification.  In his 2002 documentary ‘Bowling For Columbine’, a reference to the original schools massacre committed by 2 seemingly straight-up students at Columbine High School in Colorado, filmmaker Michael Moore explores in depth the issues of gun sales and gun ownership in the USA and compares it to its northern neighbour, that of Canada. 


Canadians love hunting as much, if not more, than the average American.  Inside every rural Canadian is a wild woodsman just waiting to get out and go and hunt a bear or a wolf or a moose and they too keep arsenals of weapons in their homesteads for just that purpose.  The only difference is that that’s all they use their weaponry for.  Of course there is gun crime north of the border but the figures are infinitesimal in comparison to that of its southern neighbour and as for those random massacres which happen in America on an all too regular basis, they’re practically unheard of in Canada.


Moore’s conclusion therefore is that there is something very skewed at the core of the American psyche.  Not all Americans, of course, but an appreciable enough percentage of them to cause this aberrant behaviour that leaves law enforcement, politicians and even psychiatrists scratching their collective heads and wondering what causes it.


What worm crawls inside the brain of a high school or college student or a middle-aged man, from relatively affluent backgrounds and with no known links to fanatical groups or history of insanity,  to wake up one morning and decide to commit mass murder?  In the case of the Columbine teenagers, they looked into the eyes of their classmates and teachers before they pulled the trigger; in Paddock’s case he committed the act from a remote distance; but in both cases, as with so many others, the result was a bloodbath, a body count in double figures, families and lives torn apart, grief and tragedy to haunt all concerned for the rest of their days and for what reason?  None that any sane person could fathom or comprehend.


It’s easy to buy guns in America but it’s just as easy to buy guns in Canada so on that level you would have to agree with the NRA about it not being the gun that kills but the hand on the trigger:  Rather, to misquote Shakespeare, something is very rotten in the state of the United States and until that disease is eradicated, all the gun controls in the world won’t put an end to these tragedies.  And how ironic that hundreds of thousands of people flock to Las Vegas every year to gamble in the city’s casinos but little did this week’s victims know that they would end up losing at a very sick game of Russian Roulette…..

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