“The tragedy in Charleston, if it means anything to the Philippines, should be considered a warning: “That sort of thing doesn’t happen here” in no way ensures that it does not or will not; particularly when we, through selfishness, through our overblown sense of our own self-worth, through our haste to take offense at the mildest slight, and through sheer laziness create conditions ripe for tragedy.”
LAST week’s horrifying massacre of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina has once again cast a harsh light on a society that has permitted gun violence to permeate its culture. President Barack Obama said in his pained, frustrated remarks immediately after the tragedy, gun violence does not happen in other developed countries the way it happens in the United States.
News reports have said Obama was acquainted with one of the victims, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator.
Coupled with persistent racism that still flourishes in parts of the country and among certain segments of the population, and the results, tragic though they may be, are hardly surprising.
According to statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control, there were 16,121 homicide incidents in the US in 2013, of which 11,208 – roughly 70 percent – were attributable to firearms. There are an estimated 300 million firearms in circulation in the US, or about one per person; by contrast, Russia has about 13 million loose firearms, or about nine per hundred people.
Russia, however, has higher rates of crime than the US; advocates of “gun rights’ in the US point to statistics like this to support the argument that guns are not really the problem, and in one sense they are correct. A gun is just a tool; after all, one could use a hammer to kill someone. The trouble with that notion is that ‘killing someone or something’ is the intended purpose of the gun as a tool. Whether or not private citizens have a “right” to own that sort of tool and can do so “responsibly” is a debate we leave to others.
The unavoidable fact, however, is that in countries where gun ownership is restricted, firearms-related deaths are minimal. Japan, for instance, has a firearm-related death rate of about 0.06 per 100,000 people, compared with the 10.64 deaths per 100,000 people in the US. Great Britain has a rate of about 0.25 per 100,000.
Here in the Philippines, where fairly strict gun laws exist but are inconsistently enforced, the rate of firearms-related deaths is about 3.24 per 100,000 people, although the figure is according to government statistics that are several years out of date and not differentiated between accidental and intentional deaths.
Now, the case of the Mamasapano massacre is altogether in a different realm of discussion, all on its own, but is now forever etched in our memory as a national shame.
So we should not allow ourselves to feel somehow superior to the people of the United States because the sorts of tragedies like Charleston “don’t really happen here.”
Instead, we might say we find ourselves “there but for the grace of God.” Our culture of impunity, of callous disregard for even the simplest rules, of being quick to offense makes the conditions ripe for explosions of Charleston-like violence, and the risk grows rapidly as social tensions such as the divisions caused by politics, the execrable attempt to partition the country by the current Administration in favor of its Malaysia-backed allies among the Islamist elite, and the growing gap between rich and poor increase.
The tragedy in Charleston, if it means anything to the Philippines, should be considered a warning: “That sort of thing doesn’t happen here” in no way ensures that it does not or will not; particularly when we, through selfishness, through our overblown sense of our own self-worth, through our haste to take offense at the mildest slight, and through sheer laziness create conditions ripe for tragedy. We can strive to be better than that. We must.”