Sunday, 26 August 2012

Steven Ercolino was killed by the Second Amendment

The body of gunman Jeff Johnson lies on the
pavement outside the Empire State Building.
For a person observing events from Down Under the most surprising thing about the excellent New York Times story on Friday's fatal shooting at the Empire State Building is that it says nothing about access to firearms in the US. I wrote about the subject last month in the aftermath of the Aurora shooting event. That was on 23 July. Then a couple of weeks later at the beginning of this month a neo-Nazi shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The thing about Jeff Johnson, who shot and killed his former workmate Steven Ercolino outside the Empire State Building, is that he was neither a fanatic nor a mass murderer. He was just a regular guy who had lost his job and held a grudge against someone he used to work with. What he did on Friday is called "going postal" in reference to a number of grudge shootings that took place during the 1980s and 1990s in the US.

If a guy like Jeff Johnson can pull out a handgun and shoot a workmate dead in the street what you need to think about is the normalisation of firearm ownership. For Johnson to own a gun in the first place means that gun ownership is such an unproblematic occurrence that no normal person would remark on it. Certainly, the NY Times story does not. But this is the aberration, and it's the US that is out of step with the world. If the same thing had happened in Australia journalists here would be asking police for information about the shooter's access to the firearm because it is such a rare thing here to own a handgun. People who own handguns in Australia are either criminals or hobby shooters and the laws that regulate the sale of firearms, especially handguns, are very strict. The result of this vigilance is that the rate of death by shooting in Australia is a tiny fraction of what it is in the US.

Jeff Johnson did not have to go to any special lengths to secure access to a handgun. He would have just bought it over the counter in a shop, like you buy a fishing rod or a box of coloured pencils. It would not be remarkable for him to own the handgun. It seems to me that Johnson was the kind of guy who would not own a handgun if it were an offense to do so; he was just such a regular sort of guy. The result of the US policy on handgun ownership is that we see yet another tragedy occur in an otherwise peaceful setting. After the Aurora shooting President Obama remarked publicly on the presence of automatic weapons in the community. They should be used by soldiers, he said, and not by regular citizens. But in the Empire State Building shooting there was no heavy weapon, just a simple handgun. And it's the fact that I can write "just a simple handgun" that is the problem here. The Second Amendment killed Ercolino.


"V" said...

It's an interesting coincidence that you write this, as I used to live in Australia & owned several hand guns when such ownership was less restrictive. Prior to immigrating to Australia I was a US citizen & believed in the 2nd Amendment & ones right to own guns. Then Australia's laws changed & I was required to turn in all my guns. I refused. Fortunately, none of my guns were registered; so no police came to my home to arrest me. But when crime rates rose as result of gun confiscation I realized it would only be a matter of time till I'd be arrested & jailed for using my gun in self defense. I already had to show it to dissuade 2 knife wielding Melbourne thugs to pick a safer victim. So I moved back to the US, where we need not be docile sheep, placing our lives in jeopardy & still have the right to protect ourselves & our families. Enjoy your life down under. I & my family are much happier & SAFER back in the USA.

Matthew da Silva said...

Crime rates did not rise as a result of gun confiscation, V. I don't believe, anyway, a single word of your story; it's just made up.