US gun madness itself is the mental health issue - opinion

Anyone in America who wants to see something change this needs to take off the gloves, stop being polite with the manifestly impolite, and yes, politicize the issue.

 US PRESIDENT Joe Biden (blurred in this slow shutter speed photo) walks down a hallway lined with candles representing victims of gun violence, after he spoke about the issue in an address to the nation from the White House, last Thursday (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Joe Biden (blurred in this slow shutter speed photo) walks down a hallway lined with candles representing victims of gun violence, after he spoke about the issue in an address to the nation from the White House, last Thursday
(photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)

The gun madness that Americans seem prepared to accept in perpetuity is unique among developed nations and reflects an incredible paralysis in a country that for decades was a beacon of innovation and democracy to the world. And the most amazing thing is that this most political of issues carries no visible consequences for those responsible, and that means the Republican Party. That is especially damning because it suggests that the United States has ceased to be a rational society.

How else to explain that a politician like former president Donald Trump can continue to be popular and be considered a major contender to return to the presidency in 2024, while reacting to the latest mass murders with repeat nonsense about a mental health problem and dangerous proposals to arm schools more heavily?

The United States, which leads the developed world in gun murders and massacres by shocking magnitudes, has no particular mental health issue. The World Health Organization reports the percentage of Americans with depression is 5.9%, compared to 4.7% in Canada, 5.9% in Australia and 4.5% in the UK. Other mental health metrics show similar results.

America’s schools are not more poorly protected than in most other countries. Indeed, nowhere else where I’ve ever lived – all over Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean – are schools regularly attacked. In the US, guns are now the number one cause of death in children and there have been 27 shootings at schools, as of this writing, in 2022. The amount of school shootings in Israel, which has far more stringent gun ownership laws than America and a genuine terrorism problem, is none.

Even before the recent massacres in Buffalo, at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and over the weekend in my hometown of Philadelphia, a recent FBI study found that US homicides were up 30% in 2020 compared to the previous year, reaching 21,570, more than three-quarters caused by guns being fired, and 2021 was worse. The Gun Violence Archive said 18,900 Americans were killed by guns through December 1, 2021.

 US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden look at a memorial in the wake of a weekend shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, US May 17, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID) US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden look at a memorial in the wake of a weekend shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, US May 17, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)

No country outside the Third World comes even close. The World Population Review ranked the US atop the developed world with 12.2 gun deaths per 100,000 people (almost four times the next-highest, Finland), with only countries like Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Swaziland and Jamaica performing worse. Most European countries suffered under 1.5 deaths per hundred thousand people.

What is the only factor that correlates to the gun violence? The level of gun ownership and the ease of purchasing weapons.

The US ranks number one in the world by far in guns per people, with 120.5 guns per 100 people – double the figure in runners-up Falkland Islands and Yemen and four times the rate in any developed country. It has, incredibly, more guns than people – though only a minority of its people actually own a weapon.

The weapons lobby and its adherents will stick to their proverbial guns no matter what in order to preserve their twisted ideas about freedom, so no arguments or logic will win them over. My aim is to persuade the persuadable – not so much that gun control is needed but that it is possible.

When one speaks to rational people who do not share the gun obsession, other arguments come up. One of them is race: the idea that America’s large black minority is so disenfranchised and that the whites are so racist that nothing can prevent a madness in their interactions. This, too, is belied by the fact that other countries had slavery and other countries have large and potentially restive ethnic and racial minorities, from Britain and France to Brazil and Israel. None suffer gun violence of the sort.

THE LAST argument, that there is nothing to be done, is the most dispiriting. This rests on two ideas: a distorted reading of the Second Amendment and the idea that political change is impossible because of the electoral system being stacked in favor of the Republicans (as one example, reliably Republican Wyoming has the same two senators as California, with 70 times the population).

The much-prized amendment promises a right to “keep and bear arms” but within “a well-regulated militia.” The conservatives’ insistence on interpreting this as an unlimited right assigned to all individuals is just that – an insistence, and one that is political.

That is why one of the last things rational Americans should do is repeat the tired urgings to not “politicize the discussion.” It is an acquiescence that amounts to an abdication of democracy, because it enables the Republicans to continue to pay almost no political price for pursuing policies that harm the country and are opposed by most people. Rest assured that if Democrats were guilty of such a thing, no one would hesitate to politicize it.

The opposition to gun control comes from the Republican Party, beholden to the National Rifle Association, one of their major donors. While millions of its followers are a rather small minority, many and probably most are dependable single-issue voters who therefore punch above their weight.

Most Americans, in fact, want greater gun control, as every survey shows. But this rolling national disaster will not be fixed by timid Democratic attempts to forge bipartisanship, such as President Joe Biden’s Comprehensive Plan released last summer, which targets rogue dealers and offers ATF inspections data to states that might want it.

What is needed is a renewed ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and a massive move to limit new purchases of guns. Criminals or anyone else caught with unlicensed guns should be jailed for long years. There should be a requirement for insurance on guns, the same as cars.

Americans not only are not especially mentally unwell, they are absolutely as rational as others: faced with this new reality, the situation would pretty quickly wind down, as it did in Australia, where gun deaths fell from American to European levels after it banned most guns a few years ago.

The Republicans will never agree to this and the Supreme Court, as currently constituted, would probably strike it down. The Supreme Court is, at this point, a political organization dominated by the Republican Party. This is what happens when the Senate appoints judges – another rarity among developed democracies.

All around the world and across America, people are asking whether something will finally change. The question arises each time there is a spike and the answer is always the same: no, because the Republicans and the NRA will ride out the anger and flood the zone with propaganda. This is debilitating to America’s ability to continue to show leadership in the world; it looks more and more like a failed state. This is especially devastating to Israel, which needs American support to survive.

Anyone in America who wants to see something change this needs to take off the gloves, stop being polite with the manifestly impolite, and yes, politicize the issue. The Republicans are responsible for the continuing gun insanity and anyone voting for them is complicit in continuing the madness that is America’s only mental health issue.

The writer is the former London-based Europe/Africa editor and Cairo-based Middle East editor of the Associated Press, and served as chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem. He is managing partner of the  New York-based communications firm Thunder11 and writes widely on global events. Twitter: @perry_dan