CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It may have taken the latest mass murder to remind us, but governments are "instituted among men," as the Declaration of Independence puts it, "to secure our safety and happiness," not to enable us to assert our individuality or manhood through a mutual arms race. Will we ever come to our senses, or must each of us wait until someone close to us is the victim of yet another slaughter?
A Mother Jones magazine compilation of mass murders in the United States claims that there were at least 62 of them over the past 30 years, half of them in schools or workplaces, and the remainder in malls or other public places. In most cases, killers used weapons obtained legally. All but one of the killers was a man; 44 were white, most of them young. Most -- but not all -- were mentally impaired.
In The Washington Post, Ezra Klein provides a global perspective, noting that "15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States," with Finland in second place, where two mass murders occurred.
But this only scours the surface. The General Accountability Office, the investigatory arm of Congress, reported in 2009 that "Mexican officials have come to regard illicit firearms" obtained from "gun shows and gun shops in Southwest border states" of the United States to be "the number one problem" affecting Mexico's security.
Drug cartels based in Mexico, with distribution networks in 230 U.S. cities, were considered by the U.S. Department of Justice to be "the greatest organized crime threat" here as well. Deadly firearms that are "illicit" in Mexico are perfectly legal here, where according to the GAO "high caliber and high-powered guns such as AK and AR-15 semi-automatic rifles" have proven useful for the multiple mass killings that have devastated Mexican communities.
Lax gun regulation in the United States has affected many outside our own borders. International efforts to limit small-arms exports from the United States have been rigorously opposed by the National Rifle Association, its affiliated arms producers, and their lackeys in Congress. Proclaiming a universal right to keep and bear arms, the NRA worked hard to undermine Brazil's efforts to reduce firearms available for drug murders in its <I>favelas<P> (slums).
Military weapons that are increasingly lightweight, deadly and easy to use obtained from America and other places (like Iran) have facilitated the rise of "children's armies" mobilized by criminal syndicates and warlords in Africa and Latin America where "soldiers" are easily recruited from a population that is often very young, impoverished and unemployed.
Well-organized and relatively well-off countries, including the United States, have dramatically reduced overall gun-related suicide and homicide rates within their own borders in recent years. Nonetheless, in addition to its inability to halt occasional mass murders, the United States has by far the worst rate of gun deaths and injuries of any developed country, largely due to the easy availability of firearms.