Gun Control Part One
This article appeared in Ceylon Today on July 21 2016.
On July 8 2016, there was yet another mass shooting in the US. Five police officers were killed in Dallas, Texas when a gunman opened fire during a peaceful protest about police killing black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. Seven more officers and two civilians were wounded by 25-year-old Micah Johnson. Johnson had been a member of the US Army Reserve until April 2015, served in Afghanistan, and lived in a pleasant black middle class suburb. He had no criminal history or ties to terrorist groups.
President Obama is spending the last months of his presidency acting as counselor to a troubled nation. His speech on the Dallas shootings won general acclamation but Conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch said it was only good until it became “a partisan political lecture on gun control, race, and policing”.
On June 12 2016 in the UK, Muhiddin Mire was found guilty of attempted murder. He will be sentenced on July 27.
Leytonstone is a station on the Central line, the line which runs roughly west to east through central London and into the north-eastern suburbs. On December 5 2015, Mire stabbed three people at the station before police subdued him with a stun gun and made an arrest. He was reported to be shouting Muslim slogans and “This is for Syria”.
The Metropolitan Police were very quick to describe this as a “terrorist incident”. The Somali-born knifeman had images of Fusilier Rigby (beheaded by a Nigerian Muslim) and British Islamic State executioner Jihadi John on his phone, along with material linked to ISIS.
It later transpired that the assailant, aged 30, had a history of severe mental illness. His name was not on any database of suspects or known extremists, and he was not believed to have been exploited by any known terrorist group or individual. After Mire was convicted of attempted murder and incarcerated in Broadmoor high-security mental health facility, Commander Dean Haydon, head of counter-terrorism for Scotland Yard, said: “I would not class it as a terrorist incident now.”
Mire had a history of mental illness and was experiencing paranoid delusions a month before the attack. He was sectioned in 2006 during an episode “when, essentially he lost touch with reality” and a month before the incident his GP referred him to his local community mental health services. He had missed an appointment with a community mental health team four days before the incident on 5 December 2015. Mire’s family had also become concerned about his mental health and tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to return to Somalia.
Mire had targeted Lyle Zimmerman at random after travelling on the same tube carriage. On video footage, Mire was seen turning Zimmerman over, kicking him six times to the head and chest, and sawing at his throat with a breadknife. Louise McGuinness said in a statement that when she shouted at Mire to stop he turned to her and said: “This is for telling me to stop,” and kicked Zimmerman harder. It seems that his attack on Zimmerman was in emulation of the beheading of Lee Rigby.
Zimmerman, who sustained three large lacerations to his neck that exposed his trachea, testified at Mire’s trial in May 2016, where he said he felt his attacker was “a crazy person, a mentally ill person.”
Prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC had told jurors Mire’s mental health problems were not a defence to his intention to kill Mr Zimmerman. Mr Rees also argued Mire had shown interest in ISIS and Islamic extremism before his “relapse” and his decision to give up his job as a taxi driver. The prosecutor said: “He is sympathetic to those who are choosing to pursue jihad against the non-Muslims. It can be no coincidence that he carried out the attack three days after parliament had voted to extend the bombing campaign against ISIS to territory in Syria. The evidence clearly establishes that the motive underpinning this attack was that bombing campaign in Syria. That was at the very forefront at his mind.”
After the jury delivered its verdict, Judge Richard Marks QC, praised those who remained at the station to warn others while Mire carried out his attack. He said: “There are members of the public who showed remarkable courage and good heartedness who became involved in this case.” He praised the “public spiritedness of the people who rushed in to help on the day of the attack”.
Those public-spirited people did not run away and called the police and filmed the attack providing helpful evidence. The police arrived fairly promptly, tasered the assailant and protected him from an angry mob as they took him into custody.
So here we have a seriously mentally ill person who has become further deranged by Islamist propaganda, He is arrested, put on trial and will be sentenced and probably locked up in Broadmoor for the rest of his life. The attack was horrific for those involved, particularly Lyle Zimmerman, but nobody died because the only weapon Mire had to hand was a fragile bread knife.
In Orlando, a seriously mentally ill person who had become further deranged by Islamist propaganda, a bi-polar wife-beater with repressed homosexual tendencies, killed 49 innocent people and was then killed himself. Omar Mateen could not be stopped by his victims because he was armed, not with a fragile bread knife, but with an AR-15-type assault rifle, which he would only have needed to reload once during his killing spree due to the weapon’s large magazine size. In the state of Florida, anyone over the age of 18 can buy an AR-15 as no state permit is required. AR15s are owned by around 3.7 million American households. The National Rifle Association has defended the mass sale of assault rifles, insisting they are useful for wild hunting and “home defence.” Why would a family need such a weapon for self-defence? It is not a gun suitable for hunting. Its main function is mass slaughter. The AR15 has become the weapon of choice for mass killers in the US.
I was astounded by the utter fatuity of a comment on Facebook. Someone commented in a fit of juvenile snarkiness: “OK – it’s the gun’s fault”. The NRA is always trotting out the cliché, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people”. Amend that to, “People with guns kill people, so don’t let madmen get their hands on AR15s.”
I understand why people feel the need to comment on the killing of British MP Jo Cox. It is such a terrible thing for a young woman with two young children and so much to offer the world to be cruelly taken away. We feel we have to say something. We feel we have to say such things should be prevented. We feel we have to seek lessons from this tragic event. I wonder though what lessons there are. Jo Cox’s murderer, Thomas Mair, was clearly mentally ill but we cannot lock up all mentally ill people and he gave no indication of being a danger to anyone. His house was full of books on fascism but can’t send the police around to check everybody taste in reading. People with mental illness should ideally be kept away from guns but how does one do that? UK laws are already stricter than in the USA.
A US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), based in Alabama, said on its website that it had obtained records showing a Thomas Mair had links dating back to 1999 with the neo-Nazi organisation NA (National Alliance). The SPLC posted images showing what it said were purchase orders for books bought by Mair, whose address is given as Batley, from the NA’s publishing arm National Vanguard Books in May of that year. The orders included a manual on how to build a pistol.
According to reports collected by the Gun Violence Archive, on the same day as the Orlando massacre there were 42 other shootings in the US which resulted in 18 deaths and 41 injuries. At least five of those killed were children. There have been no mass shootings in the UK since June 15 2016 when Jo Cox was killed. Next week, I will look at how countries other than the US react to mass shootings.