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Americans are no longer safe from each other

By Thomas O. Falk | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-04-26 15:13

Protesters gather outside the Tennessee State Capitol to call for an end to gun violence and support stronger gun laws after a deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, US, March 30, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Gun violence in the US has become a sad normalcy. Hardly a week goes by without a mass shooting occurring and innocent lives being taken – all while these repeated tragedies have become so common that society has become more or less numb to them.

Yet, the previous week felt different. The US has reached a point where ringing the wrong doorbell, taking the wrong turn in a neighbourhood or getting in the wrong car can result in getting shot. It marks a new chapter in terms of America's abysmal gun violence.

For instance, in North Carolina, a man opened fire on a six-year-old girl who tried to fetch her basketball that had rolled into the man's yard.

16-year-old Ralph Yarl accidentally went to the wrong front door in Kansas City when he wanted to pick up his younger siblings. The occupant of the house appeared at the door with his pistol. Without a word, he fired his Smith & Wesson and then told the police he was afraid of the boy.

Kaylin Gillis was roaming with her friends in rural New York but took a wrong turn that led to a hilltop house, where a man opened fire and killed the student.

In Texas, teenager Heather Roth mistook her car for someone else's in a parking lot. The driver then got out and opened fire on the student, who was already back in her car and had apologized for the mistake.

These are just four examples of how everyday situations can have deadly consequences in the US, as the nation has become one where people shoot before they think.

Meanwhile, convictions aren't certain in any of these cases as the shooters will undoubtedly attempt to use self-defence as a strategy. 
Indeed, the US has all these laws that seemed like a great idea on paper, such as stand your ground and the castle doctrine, all basically say that if one shoots and kills somebody on their property, the presumption is that he acted in self-defence. This makes the actual killing subjective. Whether or not the shooter will be held accountable for his actions is thus completely uncertain under these laws.

Moreover, one wonders how American politicians look at gun death stats and believe the system is working. In 2020, the number was 45,222 – a dismal record. Forty-three per cent of these, 19,384, were murders.

In essence, this means that America (10.89) has a higher gun-related death rate than Iraq (9.72).

There is a reason why this news is not amplified, such as a young boy ringing the wrong doorbell and getting shot, in other societies. It's unfathomable almost anywhere else, but tragic normalcy in America, simply because of the proliferation of guns.

Data suggests that there are 393 million guns amongst 326 million Americans – meaning every American possesses, on average, 1.2 guns, a staggering figure.

It has reached a point where this proliferation of senseless, random killings could happen to anyone. It's a major crisis, yet there is a complete total disconnect where one legislator after another tries to make guns even more accessible to the public, as the National Rifle Association, their donors and their constituents demand. But these guns are increasingly being put in people's hands who have had no background checks, no training and then are encouraged to see everyone else as a threat.

The latter is a pivotal point that is part of the overall issue. It's more than just about guns. Yes, it is often and still about racism. However, it is also about other things. Mainly that the US has created a culture of paranoia, of fear, of distrust, with guns, resulting in behaviour where someone unknown in my neighbourhood is an automatic enemy and shooting them for my own "defense" becomes a default reaction.

The US must thus not only find a way to stop the proliferation of guns – which remains highly unlikely- but also needs to find a way to turn the political temperature down.

Americans distrust each other, stoked by politicians such as Donald Trump, who keeps saying that America's real enemy comes from within, i.e. the other political side.

Overall, the tribalism that has taken over the US, in combination with the number of guns in private hands, is a recipe not only for disaster but for tragedies for years to come, and the previous weeks were sadly only a preview of what lies ahead – particularly with the election circle 2024 heating up an already divided nation.

Thomas O. Falk is a London-based political analyst and commentator. He holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from the University of Birmingham and specializes in US affairs.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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