Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Mass Shootings: America’s social catastrophe and spatial planning

Imagine dropping your kids off at primary school every day and asking yourself whether you will see them at the dinner table

Here, we take a look at the USA’s social catastrophe, in which every morning primary school children go to school and do not know whether they will come home alive. AT what psychological cost? For a European, this is beyond comprehension as it is in most parts of the world, and my title today errs because we are not speaking about America in general, but the USA in particular.

For a start, my use of “he”, “his” and “him” is not sexism, I am deliberately avoiding the use of feminine gender words because this phenomenon appears to be exclusive to males.

Time for a common sense approach

My own take on the USA’s foreign policy is well known, as is my own personal abhorrence at any form of violence and in particular when defenceless civilians are involved, and even more so when those civilians are the elderly, women or children. And primary school children, even more than that. This is therefore not the time to grandstage and launch grenades at the USA and its society, it is time for some common sense and some balance.

It appears the authorities in the USA are going around in circles and are incapable of taking meaningful steps to solve the problem. And the problem is massive, the statistics are easily available for us to see. Every single State has experienced some kind of incident with firearms at a school. Many of them multiple incidents at multiple schools. In January this year, there were 41 mass shootings, with 59 dead and 128 injured. In February, there were 42 (40 dead, 174 injured), in March, 52 (47, 217). In April, 66 (75 dead 271 injured).

213 mass shootings have taken place in the USA so far in 2022, 27 if these being mass shooting incidents at schools. More than one a week on average.

An empty space at the dinner table

It is inconceivable that a citizen cannot leave the home for fear of being attacked and therefore feels (s)he has the right, and the need, to carry a firearm. It is also inconceivable and unfathomable for anyone outside the USA to imagine what it is like to drop your kids off at school in the morning and at dinner, find an empty place at the dinner table. But this is the reality, year in, year out.

Let us draw a comparison with Portugal, crime rate per 100,000 inhabitants 0.79 per cent. USA 4.96 per cent. A staggering six times more. In Portugal, the Presidents of the Republic walk around on their own, sometimes with a security detail, other times not if they slip out the back door and decide to have a private moment, going shopping, having a drink or taking selfies... not only the current President but also several others before him, with one notable exception. It is as unthinkable to face a firearms incident in Portugal as it is to face the reality that they are so common in the USA.

The USA has a problem

The USA has a deep-rooted social problem, that much is clear. The last time I wrote one of these pieces was in 2017 and five years on, what has changed? Nothing. Let us see why.

Spatial planning

Firstly, spatial planning. What? Spatial planning, a little known government department which organises the space of a country, decides where a hospital is needed, or a school, or a pharmacy. It coordinates and mediates between the actions of the state, market and community in a space. It organises the actions of stakeholders, sectoral policy-making and development projects, formulating strategy, regulating innovation and inspecting performance.

Taking Lisbon as an example, dig down in the old quarters near the River Tagus and you will find layer upon layer of civilisations, starting with the first settlers, Celtic peoples, then Phoenicians, then Greeks, then Romans, then Moors (Arabs), each one with their own society, each with their own spatial planning policies which were integrated into and adapted by the next civilisation. So in fifty feet, you have twelve thousand years of spatial planning.

This is true over most of Europe. Now let us travel to the Americas, where spatial planning at a country level did not exist until recently and where in the case of the USA spatial planning at a federal level hardly exists today. Hence the utter chaos regarding gun law. In Texas, you can buy a couple of semi-automatic rifles (at 18) years before you can ask for a beer in a bar (at 21).

Solution: 25 years plus and at home. Period

That is crazy in anyone’s book. Solution: minimum age 25 after security vetting which is a thorough check on the person’s history, his background, his family background, his residence, his profile, involving psycho-analysis, a course in handling a firearm, with a test at the end of it and only then is the gun available with a limited amount of ammunition, for use outside the shooting range and on condition that the gun is kept at all times at home, never outside the property.

Why 25 years of age? Because these days a typical child in the USA has witnessed 100,000 scenes of violence on TV or even more on video games by the age of 12. At 18, the twilight zone between reality and virtual reality can be a misty area for someone who has spent hours online shooting people and who has ready access to a gun and ready access to magazines full of bullets. Those of us who have used firearms have a very clear idea as to what they can do to a body and to a family. For some immature minds, opening fire in a classroom is a grey zone between the two realities, virtual and real life. By 25, one would imagine that the mind is that much more mature.

Buying a law, the power of the lobbies

In the USA, the way legislation is drawn up is as chaotic as the country’s spatial planning. Since the turn of the century, pro-gun lobbies have paid almost two hundred million dollars to directly affect legislation. So you can basically buy a law. Or pay to block one. That is how powerful the gun lobbies are and however ridiculous it may appear, these are the facts.

But the gun lobbies gain their power through fear. If you want to control a guy, make him afraid. And in the social chaos which exists in some parts of the USA, the reality is that someone can come into your home, armed, to threaten, kill or rape your family and steal the things you have worked 18-hour days and 6-day weeks to accumulate. So to this backdrop, how do you argue that a person does not have the right to have a gun to defend his family, as per the First Amendment of the Constitution?

Let us compare this scenario with a personal experience. I was recently banned from Facebook for a period of time for sharing this very experience. At the time I lived in a first-floor apartment with access from the street (the window was low on that side). At 4 a.m. I heard someone pulling the blind up, then opening the window and by the time I got there, there was an individual half-way through. There was a heavy iron skillet on the table beside the window and I introduced it to the individual’s face as hard as I could with the words, “Welcome abroad, Captain!” That got me a ban from Facebook. Freedom of expression, and all that. The individual changed its attitude, needless to say, and exited the house faster than it had come in, in what state I have no idea, neither do I care.

If he had been armed, I would have been shot as I approached the window.

So arguing that guns can be available for use at home makes sense, since the home owner would have the right to protect his family and the bad guys would not be allowed to carry the weapon outside the house (unless they had a special licence).

So there we have it. If the USA is a country in which spatial planning is chaotic and in which you can buy legislation with cash, nothing is going to change any time soon. Banning firearms is not going to work, any more than saying people have to stop taking drugs is going to work.

Restricting access to 25-year-olds-plus and restricting use of a firearm to the home seem to be two ways in which all sides would be satisfied and shooting incidents would be greatly reduced.

Food for thought?

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey can be reached at [email protected]

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