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The humdrum of daily murder in America



The news defeats surprise or shock. A gun massacre in the United States. It is unexceptional news. There’s been another one, we say. What a country, we shrug. 

This isn’t how one should react. It is sandpaper against the soul. But this is the equation when civilian slaughter is multiplied upon itself year on year. It is a calculus now of the humdrum of daily murder. Horror does not issue automatically, there is no gasp, no drawing in of breath for now, though horror still rises, it is weighed down by being too familiar. We feel for the victims, of course, but in that feeling runs the dismal knowledge that it is just another in a long line, seemingly without end.

The sheer weight of numbers, not so much of death, but of incidents, has negated its impact when it reaches our shores. We are, if not comfortably numb to the news such as that from Maine recently where 18 died at the hands of a shooter who then killed himself, but anaesthetised numb.

This year alone gun-related deaths in the US total 35,400 (this figure will have risen from the time of typing), of which 15,617 are homicide and 19,000 are suicide. The number injured is 30,000. The number of mass shootings (classified as four or more dead) is 567. The number of children killed is 248, injured 549 (that is up to 11 years of age), and teenagers 1166 killed, injured 3285. That there is a classification for a mass shooting is damning enough.

The degree of horror then is calibrated by factors other than the number itself, such as the site of the violence. A sliding scale comes into effect, first  a school (kindergarten, primary or high school or university), a church, a shopping mall  or a workplace, for instance.

These are just some of the massacres of children in the US:
Virginia Tech 32 dead 
Sandy Hook Elementary 27 dead 
Robb Elementary 22 dead 
University of Texas 18 dead
Parkland High 17 dead 
Columbine High 15 dead.

The worst gun massacre was in Las Vegas in 2017 when 58 died from a lone sniper and more than 500 were injured, followed by the Orlando nightclub slaughter when 49 died the year before.

Of course, gun massacres have occurred in other parts of the world, Christchurch, Port Arthur, Dunblane, Norway. But in this murderous category, America is without peer. Their population of 331 million is only 4 per cent of the world’s, yet they own nearly half the globe’s supply of civilian arms.  There are more guns than people, indeed the per capita ratio is 120 guns per 100 people.


'The Washington Post has reported that last school year, more than 1150 guns were brought to school, but seized before anyone fired them. The website Everytown for Gun Safety has noted that between August 2021 and June 2022 there had been 193 shootings in school grounds. And here is one of the most damning statistic: guns are the leading cause of death among American children and teens.' 


Heart disease and cancer may be the overwhelming causes of death in America, at more than a million fatalities annually, but neither are delivered with malice or murderous intent or even mere random evil.

On the Maine massacre, the new Speaker of the House, Republican Mike Johnson, reacted this way: ‘At the end of the day, the problem is the human heart. It’s not guns, it’s not the weapons. At the end of the day, we have to protect the right of the citizens to protect themselves, and that’s the Second Amendment. That’s why our party stands so strongly for that.’

This is in line with the pro-gun advocates’ argument that it is a mental health problem not a gun problem besieging America. There is a perverse logic at work here. Of course, anyone who shoots to kill another human has a mental health problem. The counterargument — that without a gun, innocent lives would be spared — seems not to occur to them. Or if it does, it is secondary.

The argument also that carrying a gun in self-defence negates the likelihood of  being shot is not proven from recent studies. Shoot-outs of civilian against civilian to stop a slaughter don’t occur. And yet it is almost open season for citizens being allowed what is called ‘open carry’. Going to the shops, to work, for a walk, sure we can just strap on a firearm. It’s no wonder schools now have drills on what to do if a shooter enters the playground.

The Washington Post has reported that last school year, more than 1150 guns were brought to school, but seized before anyone fired them. The website Everytown for Gun Safety has noted that between August 2021 and June 2022 there had been 193 shootings in school grounds. And here is one of the most damning statistics: guns are the leading cause of death among American children and teens. 

Childhood’s end, indeed. It should be by becoming an adult, not another gun statistic.

The Governor of Maine, Janet Mills, in announcing the murderer  was dead, said, ‘Like many people, I am breathing a sigh of relief tonight, knowing that Robert Card is no longer a threat to anyone. Now is the time to heal.’

Until the next time, which surely will come.




Warwick McFadyen is an award-winning journalist. He has won two Walkley Awards and four Quill Awards. He has published several books of poetry. The latest is 21+4 Poems. His prose and poems have also appeared in Quadrant, Overland and Dissent.

Main image: Law enforcement officials gather in the road leading to the home of the suspect being sought in connection with two mass shootings on October 26, 2023 in Bowdoin, Maine. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Warwick McFadyen, Gun Violence, Mass shooting, Second Amendment, United States



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Existing comments

When a powerful politician articulates the perverse logic of “At the end of the day, the problem is the human heart” to justify gun ownership of an obscene scale he is actually telling the truth: America’s problem with guns arises in human hearts who cannot see the problem. From Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”: I have looked down the saddest city lane./I have passed by the watchman on his beat/And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

Pam | 31 October 2023  

Americas big problem is that it hasn't grown up with the understanding that the days of the wild west are long gone. Added to that is the fact that the level of general education is so poor that the majority seem to believe that what is dished up by TV and Hollywood is real life. But even sadder is the fact that we in this country stand by and see our schools and universities significantly dumbed down in emulation of the American model to include and elevate normal non-academic endeavours to university degree status. I'm looking forward to the day when I can do a post-grad degree in on line shopping. I am becoming quite good at it in my dotage.

John Frawley | 31 October 2023  

Brilliant words from a gifted author…just another great piece in a series of great pieces from Mr McFadyen!

Scott Gawthrop | 31 October 2023  

Constitutionalising a preference means that it cannot be changed, without great difficulty, by the democratic will of a current political generation. Legislating a preference allows each political generation to determine its preferences. That is the reason for constitutionalising a preference, to make it as difficult as possible to remove from the political landscape not only of the political generation which constitutionalises the preference, but of all succeeding political generations, even though, in democratic theory, all political generations are equal.

Justice Antonin Scalia said in an interview that he had calculated how difficult it would be to block change to the US Constitution. Going by the populations of the smallest states, there was no difficulty. 10% of the electorate could block change. He thought the percentage was too low.

That's why it's important to be sure that a candidate idea for constitutionalising is not just a good idea at the time but a good idea for all time. The Second Amendment, the Voice, are they good ideas for all time?

Macron wants to constitutionalise abortion, to make it "irreversible". A good idea for all time?

Given human fallibility, a locked constitution should be minimal in scope.

s martin | 31 October 2023  

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