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ZEIT, Germany

Love the Shooter!


By Alexander Schwabe

Translated By Tania Struetzel

17 December 2012

Edited by Lau­ren Gerken


Germany - ZEIT - Original Article (German)

Ban arms or arm everyone? After the massacre in Newtown, American society has to react. And there is only one way of doing that.

In Germany, Erfurt, 2002: 17 dead, seven wounded. Winnenden, 2009: 16 dead, 11 wounded. In the U.S., Littleton, 1999: 15 dead, 24 wounded. Red Lake, 2005: 10 dead, five wounded. Blacksburg, 2007: 33 dead, 29 wounded. Aurora, July 2012: 12 dead, 50 wounded. Now Newtown: 28 dead, 58 wounded. In between, there have been at least 10 more shootings in the U.S. alone.

Now! Finally! Now, something has to change! “Arms for everyone,” one side calls; everyone should be able to defend themselves. “Arms for nobody,” demands the other side, so that a shooting does not occur in the first place. The principles of deterrence and prevention are opposing each other.

Has deterrence not worked out wonderfully? Did it not manage to keep super powers under control during the Cold War? Does it not enforce the understanding to abstain from aggression in order to prevent one’s own demise?

So, aren’t those people in the United States acting rationally when they demand that the gun law remains as liberal as it is now? After all, this stance is supported by 50 percent of people interviewed, according to a survey from 2010. They say that people need arms to stop shooters or to prevent attacks in the first place. They assume that everyone has the potential to commit a crime but could be curbed by the prospect of severe consequences.

The advocates for this argument forget one point: Most shooters are willing to kill themselves or, if they survive, to bear all the negative consequences. That is part of their self-conception (for example, the Columbine shooter, Harris). As for suicide bombers, the principle of deterrence does not work: Whoever is willing to face death is not afraid of consequences. At least one point has to be admitted: The victims would not be completely unprotected.

At the vigil for the victims of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, U.S. President Barack Obama said that he would use whatever power his office holds to prevent such events from happening again. Gun violence must be stopped.

Yet, proponents of general armament — de facto already, there are 89 arms per 100 people in the U.S. — abet clear aberrations: They affirm that conflicts can be solved by the force of arms and not exclusively in a nonviolent way. Moreover, they enforce the tendency toward vigilantism. In 2005, the “stand your ground” law was passed in Florida. It allows people who have been attacked to stand their ground and to defend themselves, even if that means the death of the attacker or burglar. By now, half of U.S. states have passed this law. As a study conducted by the Texas A&M University shows, the number of these “justified deaths” has since doubled; there are now 500 to 700 more deaths nationally than before. The inhibition threshold to kill preventively is lowered. Suspicion justifies action, if in doubt the shot will be fired since — just like in war — it seems to be sanctioned by the state. Where the state lets go of its monopoly on the use of force, lynch law follows.

So what can be done? Precisely because man is capable of the worst and because threats do not work, we need an alternative strategy. As an alternative concept to the theory of deterrence on an international level, which is only limitedly applicable to human relationships anyway, little mention is made of the history of Europe for the past 70 years. It shows that there is a different way of containing aggression. Treaties, mutual efforts of getting to know each other, tight economic relations, opening of borders and common interests have led to a peaceful cooperation.

The principle of prevention is right and can be applied to the personal and social level of living together. Pay attention to your fellow human beings, do not be indifferent, integrate outsiders and resolve isolation. In short: Hug the assassin before he goes crazy. Society has to ask itself: Are we doing enough to sharpen our perceptiveness? Are we working effectively to improve social competencies? Are we promoting the ability to empathize?

It is said that the shooter from Newtown might have been severely mentally ill, so this was a phenomenon which could not be prevented. But even then, there is no option other than to take responsibility. Instead of resigning ourselves, we should raise general competency in dealing with mental abnormalities and when necessary act preventively or curatively.

The alternative, more arms for people, will cause evil to grow exponentially. There is no other way than to intensify social and therapeutic approaches. Even if these efforts do not prove successful, they are still the only way worthy of a human society; otherwise the process of civilization will annul itself.



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