It's not just about the guns, but people, too

19:28, Dec 27 2012
lanza stand
Adam Lanza used guns legally owned by his mother during his mass murder in America.

The latest attacks on New Zealand police and recent tragedies in the United States have exposed once again an extraordinary short-sightedness within our two societies.

At the risk of supporting an organisation whose philosophy long ago parted company with common sense and reality, we think America's strident National Rifle Association might be on to something: Why is it always just about the guns? The answer in both New Zealand and the US is simple and disturbing: We prefer the easy option rather than to tackle the more obvious but deeper, underlying issue.

In the aftermath of the massacre in Sandy Hook, the conversation was predictably aimed at gun control and the tightening of laws around access, even though killer Adam Lanza used weapons legally obtained by his mother. There was some discussion about treatment of the mentally ill and the breakdown of the health system, but that was soon drowned out by machine-gun fire from the extremes, including ridiculous and provocative claims that more guns, in the hands of teachers and school guards, might have prevented the tragedy. Only in a country as philosophically twisted as the US would that have been discussed with straight face and steady aim.

The greater tragedy is that the more important discussion about mental health and the marginalisation of its victims and metamorphosis of potential mass murderers was lost in the political strafing that ensued and then intensified when William Spengler later opened fire on firefighters and police. We are not advocating that Americans ignore the impact of so many weapons in their society and the easy access to them; that is an important and necessary conversation. But to borrow and bend a phrase often espoused in the funereal wake of such tragedies, it's not just about the guns, it's about the people too.

Sadly, New Zealanders can suffer from a similar form of myopia. Yet again the Police Association has been quick to turn concerns about violence against officers into a debate about arming our law enforcers. And, yet again, we believe, the organisation has got it wrong.

Unfortunately, its constant beating of this particular drum appears to be finding a sympathetic ear; in a Stuff poll, on the issue of arming police, about 60 per cent were in favour of more guns for the nation's police. That's despite the cautionary tale that is America's relationship with weapons and the fact that violent crime in this country is decreasing. Also, attacks on police remain relatively rare.

The association claims more of its members are leaning towards general arming, but Whangarei's area commander, Inspector Tracy Phillips, points out that had her officers been armed then it might have been a gun rather than a Taser grabbed from an officer assaulted by drunken idiots in Dargaville on Christmas Day.

Guns, again, are the bullet point but as Ms Phillips suggests, the real issue might be the easy access to alcohol and society's attitude to booze. Much easier to talk about guns, though, eh.


Taranaki Daily News