Monday, December 17, 2012

No one dies in knife attack at Chinese elementary school

The tragic carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday is too devastating for words. It's just disgusting that we're almost to the point of being numb to events like this (and that we are already numb to the dozens of individual murders that happen on US streets every week). And nonsensical claims that this should not be an opportunity for a political discussion are infuriating.

The argument against using something like another mass shooting to illustrate why our maniacal gun culture needs dramatic reform often says something to the effect of: "Well, if this guy wanted to do something like this, he would have just used a knife. It's not the gun's fault."

On Friday, we happened to get this scenario in clear juxtaposition. Thousands of miles away, and hours before Adam Lanza went on his heinous spree, another man, Min Yongjun,  stabbed and slashed 23 children at an elementary school in Henan province, China.

The difference between the two? No one died in the Chinese attack because Min did not have a gun. Guns are simply more destructive, and when they are used in mass attacks, the death toll is certain to skyrocket.

The attack in China is no less heinous than the one in the US, and is actually the latest chapter in a disturbing trend of mass knife attacks in the Asian country. But the questions and incomprehensibility that underlie both of these incidents is the same - why would someone do this? The answer, if there is one, will be found in a tough examination of mental health on an individual and community basis. The answer may very likely never be found. In the meantime, attacks will no doubt continue. The question that must be answered immediately is: Do we want potential attackers to have easy access to guns with which they can shoot up a school, or a mall or a theater. Or should we force them to find some other, probably less deadly, means of carrying out their terror plots? It's a grim choice, but is not a difficult one.

For the US, that pesky second amendment will continue to complicate efforts to reach a sensible solution. I have no idea how it will happen, and like President Obama said tonight in a tear-jerking vigil  for the 26 murdered victims in Newtown, Connecticut, there is no single law or policy that will change the situation we currently find ourselves in. It will take a cultural shift.

Meanwhile, there are recent indications that the rock-solid foundation of the gun lobby is fracturing ever so slightly. In many southern states where gun laws are very lax, conservative politicians are being forced to choose sides in measures that would make it legal to keep guns in a car in parking lots while people are at work. The business communities in many of these states, heavily courted by so many conservatives, are not pleased with the potential laws, saying they infringe on their private property rights, according to the Wall Street Journal. Who knows what this means in the larger context. But a divided front could potentially open up some movement in a conversation that has been dominated so much by the one side as to render the 'debate' stagnant.

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