Did you know that there are 88.8 guns for every 100 people in the US? As an American who has never owned one, I was pretty surprised by that statistic. Living abroad, I’ve been asked by many people why Americans are prone to mass shootings. It’s a great question, one that is difficult to answer. Clearly, I don’t anticipate a mass shooting in Singapore anytime soon, and yet it’s hard to say exactly why:
- Private gun ownership is restricted? An applicant for a firearm licence in Singapore must pass background checks which consider criminal, mental, medical, and Gun Club Membership records. Gun license applicants are tested as well on gun safety. The license required re-application every two years. One news item that is cited by locals here who are both stumped and bemused by American naivete is that Holmes was able to purchase firearms via the internet.
- They’re afraid of being caned? Well, obviously if you kill people, you are likely to be executed in Singapore as you are in death-penalty states like Colorado. But illegal gun possession is an offense that carries 10 years and 6 strokes (caning). The cane strokes are administered by a professional cricketer with a wicked arm. Circumventing gun licensing laws here in Singapore would be difficult, and getting one through normal channels would be very costly and require a host of background checks.
- It’s too expensive to get a gun? The joke in Singapore is that everything carries two costs: the item and an equal cost in COE (tax to the government). In this case, I’ve been assured repeatedly by drivers and colleagues that guns in the US are extremely inexpensive. The cost of a locker at a gun club (a requirement for Singaporean gun owners) is roughly the same as the cost of a gun at a Walmart in the US. Most I meet here are agog at the amount of firearms and rounds of ammunition that Holmes could afford, not just get his hands on. Here (in a very wealthy nation) they are a hobby for the rich.
- Mental healthcare is better? Everyone’s got access to socialized medicine, and it’s top notch care. The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act was passed in 2008 to allow and regulate the involuntary detention in a psychiatric institution for people who exhibit a mental disorder that might create a danger to self or others. Mass shooting can be seen as a form of suicide, ending one’s life in the act of ending the lives of others.
- It would require acting alone? This is another national joke in Singapore, that people prefer committees and traveling in packs to acting alone. An editorial in the paper remarked that Occupy Singapore never really got off the ground because nobody wanted to be the first one to take a stand. By contrast, Americans are cowboys, gun-toting “rugged individualists.” There may be something to the idea that in our value system, we place more emphasis on solving your problems alone and standing out among the crowd – being special – vs. relying on others for help and tactics to help people save face when a failure occurs. Did Holmes “snap” because of his failed oral exam, and rather than turning to others for help, he internalized his failure until he became dangerous?
Other possible reasons that have been discussed for this phenomenon are:
- More sociopaths. Instances of autism, Asperger’s, and ADHD are on the rise, or at least they are diagnosed more frequently. All of these conditions correlate with lower empathy. While psychopaths (aka sociopaths) are not considered “insane” from a legally defensive standpoint, lack of empathy makes it possible to commit a mass shooting.
- Notoriety. Shooters often become famous as a result of their actions. For those who are trying to make a statement (such as the Norway shooting), this is a quick way to get a lot of attention to one’s cause.
- Precedent. It’s well known that copy cats often mimic the “success” of other killers. Given a prior mass shooting in Colorado, there was a deja vu element to the event in Aurora.
- 24 hour news cycle. We broadcast these types of tragedies more than ever. Have these events occurred elsewhere and just not been widely publicized?
- US population. Controlling the behaviour of 300+ million is a bit tougher than 5.2 million in Singapore or 60 million in the UK. Perhaps these types of events occur in proportion to the population.
Clearly, the US doesn’t corner the market on this type of tragedy. The Norway massacre is a stark reminder of that. Let’s find out what you think about gun control.