Did you hear how the BBC News reported Wednesday’s shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., which ended up killing 14 persons and injuring at least 21 more?
“Just another day in the United States of America,” announced California-based correspondent James Cook, in a clipped English accent. “Another day of gunfire, panic and fear.”
As the eerily familiar scenes played out on cable news, a grim joke circulated on Twitter. No need to worry about Syrian refugees anymore, it went. None of them want to resettle here. Too much violence.
So, do we care? Should it matter that a British news service portrays the United States as a land of fear and mayhem? Or that Europeans or Australians or South Americans think the amount of gun violence that goes on here is completely bonkers?
Heck yes, we should care. We should care because, first of all, the critics are right.
We can quibble about what exactly constitutes a mass shooting and whether the numbers are rising, but there’s no getting around the reality that America experiences more gun violence than any other place in the developed world.
We like to think of America as exceptional, and it is. Our tech companies are changing the world. Our philanthropists are wiping out diseases. Our rule of law, while not perfect, is a beacon in a world of persecution and injustice.
People here and abroad expect us to intervene in conflicts and respond to disasters. But it seems fraudulent to stake a claim as leader of the free world when our own schools, churches, shopping malls, movie theaters and workplaces are routinely subjected to a level of carnage usually confined to combat, and all we can think to do is wring our hands.
It’s looking like the husband and wife who are suspected of the murders in San Bernardino may have been influenced by radical Islamic ideology.
That doesn’t make them any scarier than the self-proclaimed Christian who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last Friday. Or the quiet community college student who killed nine fellow students and staffers in Roseburg, Ore., a couple of months ago. Or the withdrawn young man who murdered first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
People get twisted ideas for any number of reasons and a few decide to act on them. And in America, it is ridiculously easy to do so in a big way.
There are few barriers to obtaining a firearm. Research has found that 40 percent of people who own guns got them without going through a background check.
It’s also possible to acquire massive amounts of ammunition without encountering scrutiny. Police found thousands of rounds in the home and vehicle of the San Bernardino suspects, who also came armed with assault rifles. Law enforcement should have a way to track that kind of stockpiling.
It is never going to be possible to screen out every person likely to commit a mass shooting, but we would all be better off with a better-funded mental health system.
And get rid of the congressional restriction that prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence as a public health problem. Even the amendment’s sponsor, former Arkansas Rep. Jay Dickey, now says he regrets the measure.
“Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners,” Dickey said.
No kidding. A lot of things can be done to reduce gun violence without penalizing ordinary people who want to own guns.
And until we start doing some of them, this plague of gun violence is what will define America. This is not what should make us exceptional.