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Some thoughts as the year races to an end

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It is almost hard to believe that we are only ten days away from the end of the year. It is as if 2012 has some guilty feelings about the hardships it imposed on us and is racing to get away. Not so anyhow, the reality is that the year did not impose hardships on us.{{more}} We are the ones who must plead guilty for the harsh impositions we forced on ourselves and others with our selfish ways, as we try to please ourselves at the expense of others. We are also masters of hypocrisy who do not walk the talk but seem to feel good talking the talk.

It is, however, Christmas time and we often try to suspend some of our evil ways and pretend to be spreading the joy of Christmas. With Christmas in the air, many of us would have been totally shocked by the disaster that rocked the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut on December 14. True enough, the incident happened far away, but we must have been saddened by the killing of twenty children, ages 6 and 7, boys and girls and teachers, some of whom died trying to shield the youngsters left in their charge. Many, if not most of us, have relatives in the US and some of them could have been their children. In any event the death of innocents in that manner anywhere would have evoked strong emotions from us.

American is an amazing country where the good, bad and ugly are juxtaposed. Americans claim the constitutional right to carry guns. To many, it is almost a sacred right. Politics, of course, is central to all of this because the National Rifle Association uses its enormous financial muscle to keep members of Congress under control and unable to support more rigorous gun control laws. Questions are always raised about weak and ineffective gun control laws, but few dare to do anything about them. The alleged perpetrator (why do we really have to say alleged?) had four guns, including an assault rifle. They were legally owned by his mother who was one of the victims.

What did she really do with those guns? The bizarre incident has stirred the conscience of the nation and one hopes that it will lead to some positive action. But there is a lot of nonsense being dragged into the debate, with some persons arguing that the incident calls for allowing more guns, suggesting that if the teachers were armed the damage would have been limited. Can you imagine the confusion and free-for-all in that scenario?

The matter goes even beyond gun control. It is much more complex and also has to do with a culture that makes guns so readily available to anyone who wants to own a gun. As I try to bring the issue home, my concern is with the mental health aspects, since many of the perpetrators of these heinous acts tend to be mentally disturbed or have serious personality disorders. We cannot say that these things will never happen here. Our country has lost its innocence a long time ago and we have been experiencing things which we never thought would have become part of our experience in this supposedly quiet part of the world.

Every day we come across people walking our streets who are completely spaced out; from what we don’t really know – drugs perhaps or some form of mental illness? We assume that they are not inclined to violence, but that is one hell of an assumption to make. When you come across someone walking the streets at five in the morning with a cutlass, do you assume the person is a farmer? Do we pay attention to our vagrants or do we simply consider them harmless individuals who have fallen on bad times? But should they not be the concern of the state, not because we think they might be inclined to violence, but because they are members of our community. Will they only receive our attention when or if they turn to violence, and a victim appears?

Then there is the issue of illegal weapons in the possession of many of our people. Does this raise concern in our community? There have been instances where innocent people have been killed because they happened to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am not sure what the crime statistics are for this year, but it has indeed been a busy one. Homicides and petty theft have been making the rounds. Almost every day you hear of another ‘break-in’, some of them becoming more sophisticated. Mini-vans appear to be the latest target. This is an explosive situation since these vans are usually packed with people and anything can go wrong.

We can no longer pretend that what happened in Connecticut is far removed from us. We have to continually reflect on the state of our society, and not think that what pertained even 20 years ago is adequate. It really should not be business as usual in a society that has become so grossly ill-disciplined.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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