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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Holy Innocents 2012

Loving Jesus, let the tears of Rachel express our desolation,
let her weep for battered babies and clinical deformity,
weep for human cruelty and ignorance and arrogance.
Loving Jesus, may we weep with her,
may we see what we are doing,
what is happening to us;
help us repair it soon.
In your Precious Name.  Amen.
A Collect for the day of The Holy Innocents
A New Zealand Prayer Book, page 678.

This prayer pretty much says it all, doesn't it?  This year, the holy day for the Holy Innocents, on the calendar for December 28, actually occurred two weeks early, on December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut.  Since then there has been much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over how to "repair" "what happened" with Adam Lanza and the Sandy Hook children.  How do we more quickly recognize and better treat mental illness?  And perhaps more controversially, what on earth do we do with gun control?

As ever, Ways of the World is good at asking questions, but we have few good answers.  We have not worked lately on the mental illness issue, but we did scout out commentaries on gun laws and gun ownership.  What follows is not thorough, but perhaps it will help some discussion.

Japan has strict gun laws and they work.  An article on The Atlantic Magazine's website back in July documents this[1].  Max Fisher writes that when Japanese tourists travel to Hawaii, they might visit shooting ranges to enjoy some target practice they can't do at home.  Merely holding a handgun violates the law in Japan, as does possessing unlicensed bullets, before the person even fires a shot, which itself constitutes a third violation.  People can own shotguns and air rifles, but they must pass rigorous background checks, take a mandated class and pass a written test, and then update these every few years.  Local police must know where within each home the gun and the ammunition are kept, and these must be stored separately, each in a locked container.

Homicide by firearms is almost nonexistent in that country.  There were 22 in 2007 in the whole of Japan, only 11 in 2008 and 2 in 2006.  By contrast, in the US in 2008, 587 people died just when a gun went off accidentally, and there were over 12,000 firearm-related homicides overall.

In the UK, imposing stricter gun laws has seemingly not had such a positive impact.  Joyce Lee Malcolm, a law professor at George Mason University in Virginia, wrote in the Wall Street Journal of December 27[2] explaining this.  There have been at least three distinctive mass shootings in England and Scotland over the past 25 years that have prompted changes in the nation's gun laws.  Handguns had long been strictly regulated anyway, but following a 1987 attack, semiautomatic rifles were banned and shotguns brought under more stringent control; magazines were limited to two shells with a third in the chamber.  Then in 1998, after an awful handgun episode in which 16 children and their teacher were killed in a school, owners of pistols were required to turn them in.  Possession of a pistol can bring 10 years in prison.

Unfortunately, during the following 10 years, British government crime reports show that handgun crimes have doubled, and armed street gangs have expanded so that local police must now be armed themselves.  Gun crime is now a serious issue.  Ms. Malcolm reports a similar unfavorable trend in Australia.  One wonders if there is something cultural here in which the Japanese have one attitude and Anglo-Saxons another? – just a question!

As for guns in the US, we googled the phrase "why do people own guns?"  We got a helpful response from, of all places, "The Daily Beast."  That website asked this very question of its readers on December 17 and got over 1,000 responses in less than 24 hours.   Their contributor Matthew DeLuca wrote on December 19[3]; he relates some of the answers, and he also observes that what resulted from the simple, straightforward query were simple, straightforward replies, constituting the beginnings of real and thoughtful dialogue.  "… readers seemed eager to put hyperbole and political expediency aside."  That alone might be a good start to the "repair work" that our prayer above hopes for.

Readers from rural areas said they needed guns for personal safety if they are isolated from law enforcement and to defend themselves from "aggressive wildlife", such as rattlesnakes.  A second purpose is hunting.  A third is for the hobby of target or sport shooting.  Some described family heirloom guns, such as a deer rifle passed from a grandfather to a father to a daughter.

Interestingly, a number of readers who own guns said they would support stricter gun control.  Perhaps because they know about the weapons, they understand more about how careful society must be with them.  Mr. Fisher points out that even NRA members support restrictions for domestic-violence offenders and criminal background checks on all gun buyers.  Someone also suggested doing away with gun shows.  Non-gun-owners also replied thoughtfully, suggesting that fear for their children's well-being is one of the factors stopping them from owning a gun, and citing other reasons than just "I'm agin it!"  The Daily Beast's survey was hardly scientific, but its results are encouraging that perhaps we can grope and grapple together for a workable solution.  All of this comes before we even get to the underlying question, why did Adam Lanza want to shoot children in the first place?  And isn't it curious that Japanese tourists want to go to a shooting range and shoot guns for fun on their vacation?
[1]Max Fisher, "A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths".  The Atlantic: .  Accessed December 27, 2012.  This article appeared shortly after the Batman movie massacre in Aurora, CO.

[2]Joyce Lee Malcolm, "Two Cautionary Tales of Gun Control." Wall Street Journal: .  Accessed December 28, 2012.  Also in print edition, December 27, 2012, page A13.

[3]Matthew DeLuca, "Readers Weigh In After Newtown Shooting: Why Own a Gun?"  The Daily Beast: Accessed December 27, 2012.

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