Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Tragedy at Newton: Time to Get Serious on Guns

Every time a tragedy such as the one which occurred yesterday in Newton occurs, there is a temptation as a writer to try and find the best sentence, the most profound, witty or evocative combination of verbs and adjectives, to try and encapsulate the sense of horror and tragedy better than everyone else. Yet in the wake of such a mass-murder as yesterday's, the old cliché does ring true; there are no words - the phrase "20 children were killed" is as bleak, evocative and hear-rending as just about anything any writer could come up with. Anything else is self-indulgence; oh, you described the killer as a "maniacal narcissist"? Well done, you.

Few details about the killer himself are known - though we can assume that he was mentally unstable in one way, shape or form. We know that he killed his mother before going on to massacre those children. We know that he dressed in black. We know what kind of gun he used. But one thing we do know for certain is this: it was far too easy for him to get hold of his murder weapon.

There is a phrase often said by those on the pro-gun right-wing in the US: guns don't kill people, people kill people, and to some extent that's true - murder, like all crimes, requires agency - a person doing the deed. There is nothing inherently evil about inanimate objects, even ones that fire hot pieces of lead at lethal speeds. This banal truism, some say, logically dictates that getting rid of guns wouldn't get rid of all the madmen willing to murder innocent people in cold blood.

And yet nobody suggests that guns should be done away with entirely - there is certainly private gun ownership in the UK, for instance. After 9/11, the problem was not the ubiquity of air travel - the problem was that lax security made it too easy for terrorists to smuggle box cutters onto an aeroplane, take over its cockpit and crash it into a skyscraper. So there was appropriate legislation and we all have incredibly restrictive security at airports, making it harder for people to board a plane with a dangerous weapon. Equally so, to suggest that three mass-killings (!) in one year, one of which involves the sadistic murder of twenty young schoolchildren (practically babies) requires no serious re-thinking of the ease by which psychopaths can obtain and use deadly weapons is practically to be complicit in the murder of innocent children.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

European Diary: Part One

Once again, apologies for the long time in between updates, I've recently started a new internship at the Council of Europe, which has been taking up most of my time these past few weeks, and I've been privy to a few things I thought I'd share with the dear readers of this blog about the day-to-day happenings in this international co-operative hub.

As with most European employees in the Council of Europe and within the European Union, most time is spent idiling about and finding out best ways to spend the money of the taxpayers of member states. I just came back from a seminar entitled 'British Ale: What Can Be Done?', in which we debated the demerits of not just British ale, but unsophisticated cultural relics in general - pasties, Yorkshire accents, you name it - it's on the chopping board for our 2030 Federal Integration SuperState Action Plan organised by the Department for Individual Unity. Far from risking any sort of sentimentality, it was our sincerely-held view that only fine wines and the occasional Croque Monseiur are appropriate things for Europeans to dine on, and appropriate legislation should be taken across the European Union to ensure conformity with our enlightened findings at the end of the conference. The benefits of an education are, amongst a wealth of information, a certain detatchment from symbolism and bland patriotism - "symbols are for the symbol-minded", said George Carlin - and years after his death, European beauracrats are putting his words of wisdom into practise.

I was very privileged to attend and participate in a conference on the problem of rogue British democratic Parliaments. A problem which could easily befall such an international organisation as the Council of Europe and the European Union is the institutional gridlock that comes about invariably in democratic Parliaments themselves. As I walked into the bright, imposing conference hall, I saw the nervousness amongst some initiates that this would be a typically democratic supranational affair in which member states represented their citizens and nothing got done. Fortunately amongst the attendees of the conference, there was a generally-held consensus that the benefits of the European project in general was the ease with which standards can be fleshed out without recourse to democratic elections. Our work is too complicated, too esoteric, and too important to allow the common man or the average woman's grubby hands or prying eyes to bother with our dealings.

I've had the fortune of meeting some of the European Court of Human Rights judges, at least the minority that speak English, and their insights into the nuances of legal policy are refreshing. There's no unsophisticated distaste for rapists, terrorists and serial killers here, but more an acknowledgment that even the worst amongst us deserve our compassion and respect. "People don't seem to understand" said one of the judges to me "that if a man is capable of murdering his wife and children, he is perfectly capable of voting."

We have a long way to go until we can massage the nationalist prejudices of nation states out of our integrated supranational federal state. "The first thing to do is influence children", one delegate confided to me, "if we can make European education compulsory in all schools (perhaps even pre-schools) then we can make sure that there are no dishonest, subversive, despicable lies floating around the minds of European citizens." I happen to agree - there simply is no room for compromise on this one -  we either teach children of the benefits of obscure neo-liberal trade policy and free movement of workers, or we see this glorious republic perish.

I've already said too much and I fear that the telescreen in my office is starting to recognise my inactivity as the bright, sinister smiley face imposed on the wall opposite is starting to grin even wider (as the Council of Europe's 'freindly reminder' of why you're here). I hope that this has been illuminating and remember - we're better individuals, when we're individuals together.