Millennium Post

In cold-blood

In cold-blood
The latest cold-blooded killing spree in a Florida High School was, given the track record of the United States in recent times, waiting to happen. By the latest count, 17 are dead and 15 have been hospitalised. That is not as important as the fact that despite so many killings, 90 mass shootings so far, US Presidents, Senators and Congressmen have failed to bring in strong legislations and gun control laws. It is often observed that the gun lobby has become so strong in the last 50 years that politicians do not dare "touch" it. Odd as it may seem, especially since so many instances and facts have borne out, it is the hard truth. Contrary to many perceptions—school shootings are not unique to the United States. Germany, for instance, went through several attacks between 2002 and 2009. Earlier, major school shootings also occurred in Finland, Japan and Scotland, among other countries. But in Europe, there has not been a major high-casualty gun attack on a campus in a decade. Meanwhile, the latest shooting in Florida was already the 18th of its kind in the United States this year, just 45 days into 2018. While Europe appears to have learned some lessons, a study has indicated that a decrease in the number of weapons would also result in a decrease in instances of shootings. That is exactly what happened in Australia after the country tightened gun legislation following a mass shooting in 1996. It would also explain why countries where gun ownership is rare, such as France or Britain, have largely been spared of such catastrophic incidents. An interesting case in point is Switzerland. It has one of the world's highest ratios of firearms per person, with an estimated 45.7 guns per 100 residents, according to the Small Arms Survey. Only two countries have a higher ratio: Yemen, with 54.8 guns per 100 residents, and the United States, with 88.8 guns per 100 residents. Other studies have even indicated that the share of households with weapons may almost be the same in Switzerland as it is in the United States. Those statistics may have margins of error, but they still point to a legitimate question. Why has there never been a school shooting in Switzerland, despite the Swiss enthusiasm for weapons? With about eight million citizens, Switzerland is, of course, much smaller than the United States. Many of Switzerland's weapons are distributed to so-called citizen soldiers. Conscription is mandatory for male Swiss citizens and conscripts can keep their semiautomatic assault rifles at home even after returning to their nonmilitary careers. Meanwhile, those who wish to buy weapons themselves need to undergo weeks-long background checks. Swiss authorities have a list of about 2,000 individuals they suspect of being willing to commit shootings. All of them are frequently approached by authorities along with psychologists. Hence, while almost every home in Switzerland may have a weapon, access is still indirectly regulated and the use of weapons usually follows strict societal norms. There is also another crucial difference with the United States: extensive, mandatory health insurance, which allows schools to have direct and immediate access to psychologists and intervention teams. Similar measures are still being implemented in Germany, the nation with the most school shootings in contemporary European history. Following a large number of attacks, the country tasked a number of academics and professionals to come up with guidelines on how to spot potential attackers. When President Trump took to Twitter on Thursday, he urged students and others to alert authorities about anyone whose behaviour strikes them as suspicious."So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behaviour," Trump wrote in the tweet. "Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!" But experience from the world over shows that awareness alone may not be enough. Other countries, including Germany, have attempted to set up government-led national networks dedicated to spot potential attackers and to stop them before they can strike, if at all. In a first step, funding for in-school psychologists was increased exponentially. Teachers at every school are now being trained to act as "trusted personnel," as a first point of contact either for students who want to seek psychological support themselves or for others who want to raise alarm over the behaviour of an individual. Psychological tests are now also standard practice for Germans younger than 25 who want to purchase firearms. Age restrictions were tightened and a national registry of all weapons was created in 2013. Even the best prevention programmes will not provide 100 per cent safety but they can at least do something. And that is what really matters.
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