Last week, the Conservative Norwegian government passed legislation that will effectively ban semi-automatic weapons in the country beginning in 2021. It is the political result of a public inquiry that was commissioned following the attacks perpetrated by right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik on July 22, 2011. Breivik killed 69 people in total, most of whom were shot with a semi-automatic rifle. A majority of his victims were teenagers.
The Scandinavian legislative process occurred against the backdrop of a strong debate that is currently developing in the United States (US) after a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people, including students and teachers, were shot with a semi automatic weapon by former student Nikolas Cruz. While mass shootings have taken an unfortunate normative tone since the Columbine episode in Colorado, there is a sense that Parkland has catalyzed the gun question into a new direction.
We should not be too hopeful, however. The US has suffered many incidents a-la-Parkland, and is not about to have a revolution regarding its conceptualization of gun ownership. In addition, under President Donald Trump, the current American administration is further aggravating the status quo in terms of protecting the sanctity of the second amendment, which refers to American’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms. While constitutional matters are complex to interpret, let alone legally amend, the understanding of gun-related crimes, and particularly of mass shootings, has had a double standard when it comes to the public’s perception of the shooter.
Put bluntly, whenever there is a ‘mass shooting,’ if the accused perpetrator is white, the narrative surrounding his persona (because seldom do females engage in this horrendous phenomena) is that they are mentally ill or unstable (thereby de-politicizing whatever motive/agenda they had). On the other hand, if the perpetrator is non-white, the narrative that surfaces involves an articulation of more sophisticated motives, usually akin to ‘terrorism.’ And, worse yet, the views surrounding a non-white perpetrator are not isolated to that individual, but instead are applied to entire communities (i.e. if a shooter is Libyan, then all Libyans are susceptible to engage in such actions, and therefore need to be scrutinized more intensely).
It is a stigmatization process that has had real, tangible effects. It is no coincidence that Mr. Trump has directed attention to the ‘dangers’ posed by refugees and other immigrants entering the country, and has materialized this directive into State Department policy by implementing the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ which has targeted citizens hailing from countries which have not been involved in terrorism within American territory.
Critics have also underscored the effects that current American policy is having in terms of identifying security threats within the country itself. For example, reports have surfaced that Mr. Cruz was visited by local law enforcement around 40 times, and never was he deemed an actual threat due to bureaucratic red tape. There is a political rationale behind that: Mr. Cruz is not Muslim, he is white, and therefore does not fit the profile of a prospective ‘mass shooter’ or ‘terrorist.’ Which leads to the following queries: What if Mr. Cruz was a member of a visible minority, or an immigrant? What if Mr. Cruz had a different last name? Would they have taken his case more seriously? These are uncomfortable questions that need to be asked. And the answer is probably yes.
Furthermore, Mr. Trump has similarly deviated the gun question towards the effects that movies and video games are having upon American youth and how there is a connection between the violence displayed therein and violent behaviour of the consumer (it is said that Mr. Cruz played for hours per day). Pundits have debunked this link many times, yet, what the President says has influence. Don’t be surprised if the latest iteration of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto all of sudden becomes more expensive due to a ‘violence’ tax upon video game developers. But hey, AR 15’s and other weapons might get discounts. After all, the leader of the country believes that arming teachers, of all people, is the solution to the problem. Let that sink in.