x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Shootings highlight recession concerns

Killing sprees in recent weeks suggest strong links between the economic downturn and America's lust for guns. While few people do commit murder, the availability of firearms makes it is easier for those determined to kill, say advocates for gun control.

NEW YORK // No one can ever know what goes through the mind of a gunman who embarks on a killing spree but some experts believe the recession might mean even more murders are likely after more than 60 people were killed in a spate of attacks across the United States in the past month. Rage and revenge often trigger multiple gun homicides and many Americans have either lost their jobs or are grappling with deep insecurity amid corporate turmoil, tumbling stock markets and ruined retirement plans. Most people will not embark on murder, but the sheer number of guns in US society means it is easier for those determined to kill, say advocates for gun control. It could take years for researchers to pin down the reasons behind the recent murders and if indeed they are a trend. A number of similar shootings took place in 1993 and 2001 and such clustering could be natural in the time pattern of randomly occurring events, said James Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. But he said financial insecurity might be adding to the murderers' motivation. "There is reason to believe that the economic downturn may play a contributing role by increasing the level of frustration, externalisation of blame and loss - three contributing factors underlying mass murders," said Mr Fox, whose work on homicide patterns has been partly funded by the justice department. "The economic crisis has caused many more Americans to see life as hopeless ? A few decide that life is just not worth living but first they want payback, not money but revenge. They deliberately and methodically target certain people or certain places to get even. Others must pay for their misery." The sheer number of killings has horrified Americans. Recent attacks include Wednesday's shootings: one involved the killing of a sheriff's deputy while another was shot in the neck during a shoot-out with a man in North Carolina; and another occurred in California when a 69-year-old gunman opened fire at a remote Korean Christian retreat, where he killed a woman and wounded her husband before he was beaten and disarmed. On Saturday, a man recently discharged from the marine corps killed three police in Pittsburgh. Also on Saturday, the bodies of five children were found dead after their father committed suicide with a gunshot in Washington state. Last Friday, a Vietnamese immigrant killed 13 people and then himself at an immigration services centre in Binghamton, New York. "There's not enough evidence to say authoritatively that the recent attacks amount to a trend caused by the recession," said Brian Doherty, the author of a recent book, Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle over the Second Amendment, about last year's landmark case in which an individual's constitutional right to own guns for self-defence was upheld. "Gun attacks are now on people's minds but it's worth remembering that gun-related murders have been on a downward trend over the past 15 years." He did not believe the attacks would make new gun control laws any more likely because the Democratic party of Barack Obama would not want to draw the anger of an influential number of Americans deeply attached to their right to bear arms. "The mid-1990s were a golden age for federal gun control laws but the Democratic party suffered greatly in the polls for its activism. "The Democrats are scared of the gun-control issue and see no reason to change even though Obama and others might say things on the executive level," Mr Doherty said. "Americans have a cultural attachment to what guns mean - independence and responsibility for you and your family's self-defence. So many Americans have grown up with guns and feel comfortable with them and so are less likely to embrace the idea that they are the problem." Gun control activist groups such as the Freedom States Alliance tried to persuade more Americans that guns were the problem, said Scott Vogel, its communications director. He also believed political constraints made new legislation unlikely to stop a "domestic arms race". "We're stuck even though there's lots of polling data that show the American people do want sensible gun laws," he said. "The irony is that a gun is one of the worst self-defence measures you can have. You are much more likely to be hurt by it or have it used against you." The National Rifle Association and other lobbying groups gained most of their power from making politicians fearful about their positions rather than any actual sway over a majority of Americans, Mr Vogel said. He pointed to a big controversy last year when Mr Obama said some working-class voters were "bitter" about their economic plight, causing them to cling to guns or religion or anti-immigrant sentiment. He later retracted his comments, calling them "clumsy". Mr Vogel said a big threat of gun violence came from right wing extremists already opposed to the country's first African-American president and provoked by conservative radio talk show hosts, who portray Mr Obama as a "socialist" and "anti-gun". "There's a toxic brew out there with people feeling victimised, alienated and full of hatred and who are already well-armed and might lash out," he said. "The economy might not make people go out and rob a bank but this [extremist] morality can contribute to acts of violence." sdevi@thenational.ae