By Haridos Apostolides, US Correspondent
The only thing sadder than the shooting of two mall employees in Columbia, Maryland, is that it has become an unsurprising fixture in both American and worldwide news.
On Saturday, in a suburb between Washington, DC and Baltimore, Darion Marcus Aguilar opened fire inside a Columbia Mall skate shop, ending the lives of Tyler Johnson and Brianna Benlolo, 25 and 21 respectively, before turning the gun on himself.
And while still shocking, the fact that Aguilar was only 19 does not begin to enter the realm of unpredictable when one discusses gun crime in the United States.
The reason behind the murders still hasn’t been uncovered. No connection has yet been found between the suspect and the victims or the store in question. However documents and personal effects have been seized from Aguilar’s home where he lived with his mother.
The only fortune one can take is that only two were fatally wounded of the seven who were injured. And the fact we can take that as condolence really makes the ease of gun crime in the US even more gut wrenching.
We all know about Sandy Hook Elementary School, when 20 year old Adam Lanza entered the Newtown school in December 2012 and massacred 20 children and six staff members. It was the second deadliest mass shooting by a single person in US history, the first being the slaughter at Virginia Tech in 2007. It was also the second largest mass murder at an elementary school (Michigan in 1927 being number one). And who can forget Columbine in 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, 18 and 17, killed 12 classmates and one teacher before turning the weapons on themselves.
Every time something like this happens in the United States two arguments always occur: that it’s time to talk about gun legislation after such a tragedy and that it’s too soon to talk about gun legislation after such a tragedy.
Slate.com looked into the number of deaths by handgun since Sandy Hook and have so far established 12,042 occurred in the period. The site admits, however, that this is does not reflect the actual number; it only gives a minimum, showing just media-reported deaths across the states.
One argument that has often been made is the ratio between gun crime and gun ownership when compared with European nations and Canada. Yet that has been difficult to prove and countless studies have been unsuccessful in drawing conclusions, with cultural and societal impacts being a major factor.
One solid statistic is that gun ownership in the United States is higher than any other part of the world – anywhere between 60 and 90 for every 100 residents depending on the source. And while a solution to just ban these weapons seems simple to those in Europe, the Second Amendment to the Constitution makes it a bit complicated:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
What needs to be realised first and foremost is that not everyone who owns a weapon commits any criminal activity at all. The majority own them for personal safety, keeping them locked away and hoping to never have to actually use it.
Another key point is that many Americans in the plain states live with a great deal of land around them, and so owning some kind of firearm is reasonable when you don’t know how long a police response could take.
What the amendment allows for is ownership. But one undeniable aspect is that the problem has drastically escalated since the dawn of the republic. Neither mass shootings in schools, nor the sanction of automatic and semi-automatic weapons was ever written in the Constitution. Nor was the ability for children to acquire and use them against other children.
The main dilemma is the legislature in each state and Washington, DC. With gun lobbies being as powerful and as wealthy as they are, touting basic American Rights as their slogan,and many contributing to campaigns of representatives of the far right, getting a debate, let alone a solution, is proving to be difficult. Which is why, horrific as it is, waiting for public murders like that which took place last Saturday in order to discuss the issue has become the norm in US politics.
One prime setback with establishing tighter federal gun controls is that most gun laws are deferred to the states. Federal requirements are fairly basic, leaving each state to administer harsher controls. More liberal states like New York, whose recent gun laws are “among the most restrictive in the country”, have been able to create tougher limitations on both the types of weapons and the ability to purchase them.
Yet, even after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, any new gun legislation has mostly been disbanded; state senators have been recalled from their posts or have resigned before they could be. Even some sheriffs have declined to enforce the new restrictions.
Gun control is a tough political game on both sides. With the nightmares of victims on one side of the aisle against the constitutional provision on the other side, the United States has set itself up for a giant stalemate. One definitive outcome from it all is that Americans are tired of having to endure the numerous reports on death by gun.
And while this debate continues, or barely begins in most situations, it is not unlikely that another Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Columbia Mall is waiting around the corner.