Landschalacht, Switzerland, 7 September 2017
Six nights ago the world was shocked and saddened when a lone gunman in a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Resort and Casino on Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada, shot into a crowd of more than 20,000 people, killing 60 and injuring hundreds.
The world has learned that the suspect, Stephen Paddock, was armed with at least 23 firearms, including long distance rifles used by the American military for the last half-century.
What we know – and I don´t want to give this monster more attention than he deserves – about Paddock was that he was a professional gambler, a real estate investor, a pilot and plane owner, a former employee of Lockheed Martin (a military contractor), a retired accountant and twice divorced.
Invading his home, police have discovered Paddock had a cache of over 63 weapons.
In plain and simple language, a civilian was armed with military grade firearms.
Those bearing arms in the US armed forces are analysed and supervised.
Civilian gun-owners in the US….
Not so much.
Thus there is a real danger that civilians will – unsupervised – acquire a stockpile of weaponry and that the unbalanced among them will use them.
And as events in Vegas and many other locations prior to Sunday night´s massacre have proven….
It is almost impossible to determine what will trigger these civilians to become unbalanced and unleash the unthinkable upon the unknowing.
Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually.
In an average year in America there are over 10,000 homicides, 20,000 suicides and 500 accidental deaths caused by civilian-owned firearms.
Over 1.5 million people in the US have been killed using firearms since 1968, equivalent to the population of a large American city.
Globally, it is estimated that there are over 875 million small arms in the hands of civilians, law enforcement agencies and armed forces.
Of these, 75% are held by civilians.
US civilians account for over 270 million of this total.
The United States and Yemen are distinct from many other countries in that they consider civilian gun ownership as a right.
In most countries, civilian firearm ownership is considered a privilege because the legislation governing possession of firearms is more restrictive.
Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Eritrea, Somalia, the Solomon Islands and Taiwan prohibit civilian ownership of firearms in almost all instances.
In America it has been shown that the states with the strictest gun laws have lower homicide and suicide rates than those with the least restrictive gun laws.
States without universal background checks or waiting period laws have steeper homicide and suicide rates than do states with these laws.
But, of course, for every study proving that gun control does work, somehow studies emerge that gun control doesn´t work.
And the mindset in America is so pro-gun ownership that an American philosophy Professor Michael Huemer argues that gun control is morally wrong, because individuals have a right to own a gun for self defence and recreation!
In my homeland of Canada, rifles and shotguns are relatively easy to obtain, while handguns and semi-automatic weapons are not.
So, though our gun laws may not have significantly reduced gun violence or firearm suicide rates, the ability and the frequency to murder masses of people at one time is significantly lower than our counterparts south of the border.
Gun control laws enacted in Australia, following mass shootings, have shown a dramatic decline in overall firearm-related deaths, especially suicides.
Gun control laws passed in Austria, Brazil, New Zealand, Israel, Switzerland, Norway, South Africa and Colombia have all shown a resulting reduction in homicide and suicide rates.
The effectiveness and safety of guns used for personal defence is usually the argument given by gun ownership advocates.
Yet it seems in the US, out of 1,000 criminal incidents, guns are used for self defence in less than 1% of the time.
In most cases, the potential victim never fired a shot.
What is certain is that the likelihood that a death will result is significantly increased when either the victim or the attacker has a firearm.
Every year in America there are over 19,000 firearm-related suicides.
It has been shown that individuals living in a home where firearms are present are more likely to commit suicide than those who do not own firearms, because firearms are the most lethal method of suicide.
Every year on average there are over 10,000 firearm-related homicides in America, 75% of them using handguns.
The US has one of the highest incidence rates of homicides committed with a firearm in the world.
Of the victims of gun homicide in America, 55% of them are African Americans.
Of the white homicide victims, 84% are killed by white offenders.
Of the black homicide victims, 93% are killed by black offenders.
In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings and over 30,000 deaths due to firearms in the US, while, by comparison there were only 50 deaths due to firearms in the UK.
(A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot dead in a public place.)
The rate of deadly mass shootings in the US keeps increasing every year.
Sadly, unbalanced individuals can become infected by the attention given other disturbed people who have become mass killers, resulting in more mass killing.
More people are typically killed with guns in the US in a day (on average, 85) than are killed in the UK in a year.
In the US, areas with higher levels of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun assault and gun robbery.
At least 11 assassination attempts with firearms have been made on US Presidents: four were successful (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy).
Above: The assassination of President William McKinley, 1901
And throughout history, gun violence has played a major role in civil disorder.
But, let me be fair….
Most gun owners are not criminals and purchase guns to prevent violence, rather than for recreational use.
Debate over gun control remains a heated and controversial issue in America.
Firearms regulations are sets of laws or policies that regulate the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, modification and use of firearms by civilians.
Much, albeit necessary, focus has been on the possession, modification and use of firearms.
Personally, I think there needs to be more focus and more restrictions on the manufacture, sale and transfer of firearms as well.
The fewer guns produced, the fewer guns can be purchased, legally or illegally.
If manufacturers are restricted to selling arms only to the military and the law enforcement community and private selling of arms to the public are reduced while the private purchase of arms is made prohibitively expensive throughout heavy taxation, then might the production and availability of new armament to the general public be reduced.
As for existing guns, limit ownership to one weapon, buy back or seize (should the gun owner refuse to sell) the remaining weapons and destroy them.
My argument is if the purpose of purchasing a firearm is recreation or self-protection, only one firearm is necessary.
If the purpose of owning a firearm is recreation or self-protection, then, like Canada, let that ownership be restricted to rifles and shotguns, banning the future purchase of handguns and semi-automatics.
As for the illegal purchase and sale of firearms, let the penalties be so harsh as to actively discourage the practice.
Those who read these words may accuse me of being a “gun grabber”.
They are right.
With great power comes great responsibilty.
Owning a gun is a great power – the power to end another person´s life.
Quite frankly, there are far too many civilians who don´t act responsibly, and though there are indeed many who do, it only takes a few to cause carnage as was witnessed on Sunday night in Paradise, Nevada.
Enough with “thoughts and prayers”.
Offering condolences after a public tragedy, manmade or natural, is a poor substitute for preventing or preparing for these tragedies.
There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them:
“Go in peace, be warmed and filled.”,
….without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2: 14 – 16, The Holy Bible)
(Donald Trump, regarding Puerto Rico, take note.)
As well, we need to learn from history that shows just how irresponsible civilians can be once they get their hands on a firearm.
Petrograd (today´s St. Petersburg), Russia, Monday 27 February 1917
Events took a decisive turn in the early hours of the day, when the army, as many had predicted, began mutinying.
At 3 am, following the previous day´s example of the Pavlovsky rebels, the soldiers of the Volynsky Regiment´s barracks near the junction of the Moika River and the Ekaterininsky Canal, some of whom had been ordered to fire on the crowds on Sunday, decided to mutiny.
When the soldiers lined up for duty, some of them turned on their commanding officer and shot him dead.
They were unable, however, to persuade the rest of the Regiment to join them, so they headed off to incite other regiments, picking up a rabble of civilian supporters along the way.
They gathered at the Liteiny Bridge and headed to the depot battalion of the Preobrazhensky and Lithuanian Regiments as well as the 6th Engineer Battalion.
Above: Liteiny Bridge, today
Most of them soon joined the Volynsky rebels – with the Engineer Battalion even bringing their marching band – and, by the end of the day, would kill the commanders of a battalion of the Preobrazhensky and a battalion of the Volynsky as well as numerous other officers.
In those first few hours most of the rebellious soldiers were disorientated and numbed by the spontaneous decision they had made.
They had no sense of where to go or what to do, other than get other regiments to join them.
Such was the euphoria among the rebellious troops that many simply walked around shouting, cheering and arguing amongst themselves “like schoolboys broken out of school”.
Leadership of this motley mob of soldiers and civilians devolved into acts of sudden bravado or rabble-rousing on street corners, but they quickly realised that they needed to arm themselves.
It was a huge shock to Meriel Buchanan, daughter of the British Ambassador, arriving back in Petrograd at 8 o´clock that morning from a visit with friends in the country, to find there were no trams or carriages to transport her and her luggage back to the Embassy.
She was forcibly struck by how Petrograd had changed in her absence:
“In the bleak, gray light of the early morning the town looked inexpressibly desolate and deserted, the bare, ugly street leading up from the station, with the dirty white stucco houses on either side, seemed, after the snow-white peace of the country, somehow the very acme of dreariness.”
At 10 am, with Meriel Buchanan shut up and forbidden to leave the Embassy, the rebel group descended on the Old Arsenal at the top of the Liteiny, which housed both the Artillery Department and a small arms factory.
Above: Liteiny Prospekt, today
In a mad frenzy, they smashed in the Arsenal´s ground floor door and windows and looted rifles, revolvers, swords, daggers, ammunition and machine guns.
Around 11 am, they turned their attention to the hated symbols of tsarism – the nearby District Court and the Palace of Justice, together with an adjoining remand prison.
The prison was burst open, the inmates set free and handed weapons, and the prison set on fire.
The District Court was torched, thus destroying all the criminal records of all the freed convicts as well as valuable historical archives dating back to the reign of Catherine the Great (1762 – 1796).
American photographer Donald Thompson watched the violence on the Liteiny when suddenly he himself was arrested and hauled off to the police station.
He showed the police his American press pass, but he was locked in a suffocating small cell with 20 other people.
The mob broke into the police station, smashed the lock to his cell and suddenly people threw their arms around him and kissed him, telling him he was free.
In the front office, as Thompson made his way out, he “found a sight beyond description”: “women were down on their knees hacking the bodies of the police to pieces”.
He saw one woman “trying to tear somebody´s face off with her bare fingers”.
The Liteiny quarter was now a scene of “indescribable confusion”, ablaze from the fires at the District Court and the Palace of Justice, the air thick with the crackle of random shooting. (French diplomat Louis de Robien)
An abandoned, overturned tram was being used as a platform from which a succession of speakers attempted to harangue the mob, but “it was impossible to make heads or tails of the disorderly ebb and flow of all these panic-stricken people running in every direction.” (Louis de Robien)
When a group of still-loyal Senonovsky Regiment soldiers arrived, there was a pitched battle between them and a company of Volynsky mutineers – watched by groups of civilians huddled into side passages and doorways, many of them women and children tempted out by “the spirit of curiosity”, and who took enormous risks, “walking out calmly under a lively fire to drag back the wounded”. (Louis de Robien)
The wounded were carried off as fast as they fell, leaving behind “long trails of fresh blood” in the snow. (US Special Attaché James Houghteling)
In between bouts of fighting, civilians scuttled back and forth across the Liteiny, intent on carrying on shopping as normal, even lining up outisde the bakeries and dispersing only when they heard machine gunfire.
To many of the bewildered civilian population, the events swirling around them were unreal, “as though they were watching some melodrama in one of the cinemas.” (James Houghteling)
Such was the abandon with which weapons looted from army barracks, the arsenal, prisons and police stations were handed out to everyone.
Crowds of civilians, workers and soldiers were soon parading round gleefully, brandishing their weapons and firing them off at random.
“Here….a hooligan with an officer´s sword fastened over his overcoat, a rifle in one hand and revolver in the other.
There….a small boy with a large butcher´s knife on his shoulder.
Close by, a workman….holding an officer´s sword with one hand and a tramline cleaner in the other.
A student with two rifles and a belt of machine gun bullets around his waist was walking beside another with a bayonet tied to the end of a stick.
A drunken soldier had only the barrel of a rifle remaining, the stock having been broken off in forcing an entry into some shop.” (British engineer James Jones)
There was no safe haven for any officers seen walking the streets that day who did not immediately surrender their weapons when challenged.
By midday the rabble of weapon-toting civilians in and around the Liteiny had been joined by 25,000 soldiers from the Volynsky, Preobrazhensky, Litovsky, Keksgolmsky and Sapper Regiments.
The dense crowd jammed the street for a quarter of a mile, “carried on by its own faith in itself”. (Arno Dosch-Fleurot, New York World)
Everywhere, amidst the mighty roar of revolutionary excitement, the singing and cheering and shouting, the fighting colour of scarlet was in evidence – in crude revolutionary banners, in rosettes and armbands and in red ribbons tied to the barrels of rifles.
Throughout that terrifying day in Petrograd many observers became alarmed by the anarchy and violence of the mob.
This was no benign revolution, but rather “like watching some savage beast that had broken out of its cage”. (US entrepreneur Negley Farson)
Hardened criminals, bestialised by brutal prison conditions, yet released by the mob from prisons across Petrograd, proceeded to incite the crowds to violence, arson and mass looting.
It was dangerous for any foreign national to venture into the streets without wearing some token of sympathy with the Revolution – a red ribbon or an armband of some kind.
“It was a very easy time in which to be killed.” (Isaac Marcosson, Everybody´s Magazine)
Foreigners were constantly being stopped and challenged on the streets for being policemen or spies.
Some were killed if they could not produce proof of identity quickly enough.
That day “anybody could have a gun for the asking”. (James Jones)
With so many untrained and inexperienced people now in possession of them and not “having a care as to which way the gun was pointing when they tried it out for the first time“, indiscriminate firing led to many innocent bystanders being killed and wounded. (James Stinton Jones)
All day long, people – mixed casualities of soldiers and civilians – flocked into hospitals from the streets, trying to escape the shooting.
A long overdue day of reckoning had arrived, as popular hatred was visited, with a savage vengeance, on the police.
During this February Revolution of 1917, there were far too many incidental acts of murder of policemen for any reliable record ever to have been taken of the numbers killed.
Nobody was immune to the experience of such savagery.
By late evening 66,700 men of the Imperial Army in Petrograd had mutinied.
Revolutionaries were now in charge of the whole city, except the Winter Palace, the Admirality and the General Staff – still guarded by loyal troops, as were the telephone exchange and the telegraph office.
Above: The Winter Palace, today
The whole day had been “a Revolution carried on by chance – no Organisation, no particular leader, just a city full of hungry people who had stood enough and were ready to die if necessary before they would put up with any more tsarism”. (US aviator Bert Hall)
Above: The storming of the Bastille Prison, Paris, 14 July 1789
These events bring to mind the French Revolution of 1789 and Charles Dickens´ A Tale of Two Cities.
“Petrograd was flaring like the set piece of a colossal firework display.” (Canadian William J. Gibson)
“The prisons were opened, the workmen were armed, the soldiers were without officers, a Soviet (worker´s council) was being set up in opposition to the Temporary Committee (formed by the Duma´s moderate and liberal members) chosen from the elected representatives of the people.”
Petrograd “was already on the high road to anarchy”.
(UK Military Attaché Major-General Alfred Knox)
Above: A scene of anarchy, Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648)
As I have previously written, revolution or civil war is highly unlikely in America as there is great lack of cohesion amongst its citizens.
But should American citizens ever get it into their heads to revolt, their 270 million guns could create one hell of a state of anarchy and destruction.
I hope that day never comes, but a failure to address the problem of an overproliferation of guns is perhaps tempting fate one time too many.
Is it only a century that separates Paradise from Petrograd?
Above: Edvard Munch´s The Scream
Sources: Wikipedia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917