Where: The state of Texas, USA

May 19, 2001: In yet another shocking incident of firearms violence in US schools, 16-year-old student Jay Goodwin shot himself to death before the eyes of a teacher and female student, at the Ennis High School, in Goodwin, Texas.

The incident happened just two days after the march of mothers and grandmothers in the US capital, Washington DC, to demand that the government pass stricter gun control laws to protect children in the world’s most violent and gun happy society.

The women were marching for the second year under the banner of a nationwide campaign called the Million Mom March (MMM). The first MMM was held in May, 2000, following a series of incidents involving firearms violence in schools, of which the numbing Columbine High School shooting was the turning point. On April 20, 1999, two students killed 12 schoolmates and a teacher, and injured 22 others.

Where Guns rule
Where Guns rule [Illustration by Shinod AP]

There have been 16 major school killings in the US between 1997 and 2001, according to the millionmommarch website. Every day 10 young people under 20 die from gunshot wounds in the US, either by murder, suicide or accident.

Of the 30,708 people killed by guns in 1998, a total of 3792 were under 19, and 612 were under 15, and that’s more than 10 a day.

The terrible thing is that in a country where every little product has to keep to certain specified standards, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has no powers to see that gun manufacturers ensure safety standards in the design, manufacture and marketing of the firearms.

Guns and Tears

The Million Mom March campaign, led by Mary Leigh, has its facts on its fingertips:

  • US has the highest gun death rate: In 1998, more people died of firearm related violence, especially handguns, than anything else, in the US, out of 36 countries that were surveyed. The gun death rate of US was 3.3 times that of Canada, 5.3 times that of Australia, 26 times that of Scotland, 34.7 times that of England and Wales and 284.8 times that of Japan.
  • Guns were used in 7 out of 10 murders in US in 1997. Handguns were used in 53 per cent of all murders and in 78 per cent of all murders committed by a firearm.
  • Twenty-five percent of American adults own a gun. But there seem to be no safety standards in place. Most families keep their guns loaded or unlocked or both.
  • Buying a gun is as easy as buying milk: US law allows nearly any adult who has not been convicted for a crime to buy a handgun. Handgun buyers don’t need to know how their gun works, how to operate any safety features it may have, how to handle it safely, or the risks of bringing handguns into the home.
  • Lack of responsible licensing laws: There are no regulations that would require handgun buyers to pass a safety training course covering the handling, use, storage and risks of handguns.
  • Guns on the street, illegal trafficking: Since there is no agency which keeps track, no one knows what happens to a handgun after it is bought by an individual. This promotes illegal gun trafficking, making it easy for criminals, children or other prohibited purchasers to get hold of firearms.
    What is needed is a responsible registration system that would require all handgun owners to register their handguns, to renew the registration periodically, and to be held accountable when handguns registered to them cause injury or death.
  • What happens in a society where there is so much violence all around – on the streets, in schools, on television, in video and computer games. Children and adults get used to greater levels of violence in their lives. A stage comes when violence seems to be the ready answer to solve any problem or dispute – big or small, outside or even inside the house.

    No wonder, there seems to be a growing wave of opinion demanding that the government should now start gunning for firearms.