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Las Vegas carnage yet another wake-up call

By Chen Weihua | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-10-04 09:41

The Sunday night massacre on the Las Vegas Strip which left at least 59 dead and more than 500 wounded has shocked the entire United States, triggering a new round of national debate on gun policy while people are mourning the victims.

The 64-year-old shooter, Stephen Paddock, was found to have dozens of weapons, including semiautomatic rifles, scopes and thousands of rounds of ammunition, at the hotel room where he committed the carnage and at his home in Mesquite, Nevada.

Yet this is just déjà vu all over again.

In my eight years in the US, I have seen the nation traumatized time and again by such mass shootings, from the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 that left 12 dead and 70 wounded to the shooting and killing that same year of 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, to June last year when a heavily-armed gunman opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49.

In each of the mass shootings, politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, all came out and angrily condemned the evil. But in the end, very little was changed in terms of gun policy, a reflection of a very polarizing issue in the US.

So, the question is not whether such a tragedy will happen again but rather when and where.

Gun violence has become such a serious problem in the US that the annual report on human rights violations in the United States, published by China’s State Council Information Office, has singled it out prominently every year.

The report released this year quoted FBI figures saying that firearms were used in 71.5 percent of the nation’s murders, 40.8 percent of robberies, and 24.2 percent of aggravated assaults in 2015. It also quoted a report by the Gun Violence Archive that there were 58,125 gun violence incidents, including 383 mass shootings, in the US in 2016, leaving 15,039 dead and 30,589 injured.

A Pew Center survey released in June reveals the US' complex relationship with guns. About 42 percent of US adults say they live in a gun-owning family, and a majority (66 percent) of gun owners say they own multiple guns.Gun owners and non-gun owners not only disagree on gun policy but also disagree on the extent to which gun violence is a problem in the US.

When I visited a gun show at the Howard County Fairgrounds in Maryland a few years ago, I was appalled at the wide range of weaponry available for sale, including many semi-automatic rifles.

The fact that many Republicans and President Donald Trump are not fans of tougher gun policy means that it will be more difficult now for any meaningful changes to be made despite the brutality of Sunday's carnage.

The latest tragedy has also triggered increasing concern and debate in China, especially with more and more Chinese travelling in the US and more Chinese parents sending their children to US schools.

One friend I saw in Shanghai on Tuesday expressed how sad she was learning the news and then asked why someone could own so many guns. Another said he feels China is a much safer place than the US, a view that is voiced by several readers on sina.com.cn.

I have always hoped to be proved wrong. Just like in previous cases, the renewed debate this time about gun policy is likely to quiet down in a matter of weeks, unless the vast majority of Americans demand more sensible gun policies. This would include a soul-searching about the deep-rooted gun culture, and some 300 million guns held by private citizens.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

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