Sunday, October 11, 2015

COMMENT: Guns don't kill people. Terrorists do.

Imagine it’s your lunch hour at work. You are standing up finishing your coffee. A man comes out of nowhere and produces a gun. He looks very young and very very angry. He orders everyone to stand still. He then goes up to people one by one and asks them about their religion.

Anyone who says “Christian” is ordered to stand at a nearby wall. Once he has 10 persons, he walks past each one by one and shoots them in the head at close range, screaming something about God. A nearby police officer also on his lunch break shoots the gunman dead.

Not a very nice scenario. I’d hate for anyone to experience such an event. I’d hate such an event to happen (though I am sure my hopes will be dashed somewhere in the world). You would feel absolutely terrified. It would be a terrible experience. The terror of having to witness or experience this.

Police and detectives are immediately on the scene. The gunman is arrested and taken into custody. The bodies would be taken away. You would receive counselling. After seeing so much terror, you’d need it.

The shooting is a major media event, with saturation coverage and politicians and pundits asking questions about who would do such a thing. There are scenes of weeping family members paying tribute to their lost loved ones. It’s just too hard to see.

Some days later, you turn on the news. A police officer you say at the scene is giving a press conference. It appeared the man had been self-radicalised on the internet. Police has strong suspicions the shooting was ideologically motivated. They had followed his Facebook page, his twitter feeds and had also found a hand-written manifesto on his desk at home.

It all makes sense. This was a terrorist attack. You expected this to be the case. You had witnessed the terror, seen the hatred in the man’s eyes.

But he wasn’t found to be a terrorist. He had an ideological motivation. He was a neo-Nazi with extreme far-Right beliefs. He became known as the “lone gunman”, a “violent deranged madman”.

Now let’s change the scenario for a moment. You’re finishing your coffee. The gunman approaches. He shoots and is shot.

He was suspected of being self-radicalised. However, his Facebook and Twitter feeds show nothing. There is no manifesto.

Now answer this question honestly - which one of these two would be more than likely to be considered a terrorist? Which would be charged under normal criminal laws had he survived, and which one under counter-terrorism laws?

It seems extraordinary that two shootings can occur within 24 hours of each other, both involving young deranged and angry men killing innocent people for apparently ideological motivations. The one in which one poor innocent man was killed is deemed a terrorist attack by media, police and politicians. The one in which 10 innocent people were killed isn’t. Are some victims less important than others? Are some murderers more murderous than others?

The Parramatta shooting was a shocking event. The actions of a 15 year old - carrying a gun and shooting a random person - could only be described as radical. But only slightly less shocking was the ignorant speculations made the boy’s clothes. And his invocation. “Allah, Allah”, he was supposed to have shouted. “My God! My God!”

Why did he invoke his creator? I’m not sure. The kid’s dead now, so we can’t ask him. Perhaps he was inspired by some desire to avenge Allah and Allah’s people. Perhaps he was shocked by what he had just done or where he was and realised there was no turning back. No one really knows. What we say is all speculation.

Writing for Fairfax Media, Inga Ting attempts a distinction.

Gun violence has killed 428 times more Americans over the past decade than terrorism. 

And that's using a narrow definition of gun violence, which includes homicides but excludes suicides, accidents and other kinds of gun deaths. It also uses a wide definition of terrorism, including attacks in which doubt exists about a terrorist link and crimes by anti-abortion assailants. 

Even US President Barack Obama is beginning to have doubts about all the media focus on terrorism.

In the wake of the Umpqua Community College massacre on Thursday - the 294th mass shooting in the US in the past 274 days – Barack Obama issued a challenge to news media outlets.
"Have news organisations tally up the number of Americans who have been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who have been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports."
The following chart says it all.

Perhaps Australians should have the chance to view a similar chart about terrorism deaths and those from domestic violence.

Ting continues:

But even when we expand the dataset to include September 11, 2001, the deadliest terrorist attack in history in which more than 2900 people died, gun homicides account for 50 times more American deaths than terrorism.
Between 2005 and 2014, gun violence (homicides only) killed almost 12,000 Americans a year on average, according to figures from the University of Sydney website and the Gun Violence Archive.
Terrorism killed an average of 28 Americans a year, both on US soil and abroad, according to figures from the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database and the US State Department. In all, gun homicides accounted for about 119,000 American deaths.
If we widen the definition of "violence" to include suicides, accidents and other gun deaths, that figure swells to more than 300,000 deaths.
Over the same period, 55 people (including 53 US citizens) were killed in terrorism-related attacks in the US and 225 private US citizens were killed in terrorist-related attacks overseas.

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