Damn That Second Amendment
It has happened again; another mass shooting. One of the victims is a foreign exchange student from Pakistan.
Her name is Sabika Sheikh, a seventeen year old student who dreamed to be a diplomat.
I can only imagine what her family must be going through right now. The thought of sending a child to a country a thousand miles away is a risky venture. When you send someone overseas you have to trust the host country’s foreign affairs ministries including embassy and consular officials who issue visas. You place your trust in the host country’s first responders in case your loved one is involved in an emergency. You hope that the host school or university delivers its promises. For exchange students you would trust that the host family would treat your child as your own. But when an event like this happens to a loved one you are powerless to protect your child.
Sheikh’s family is extraordinary. In an NPR interview they said that if another family member wants to study in the USA they have no problem in sending their relative. They believe in diplomacy because that was their daughter’s dream.
Sheikh’s death, however, further complicates our relations with Pakistan. Pakistanis are use to killings in their schools. The most famous victim is Malala Yousefzai who was on a school trip when her bus was attacked by the Taliban.
How is it that an industrialized country like the United States with so many resources and so much wealth can have so many mass shootings? This is the question our international friends are asking.
I’ve had the opportunity to live in two East Asian countries. My first experience was in Japan where I lived from June to December of 1993. Prior to moving to that country I read an article about a murder in Louisiana. Murders in the U.S. don’t get much fanfare in the press. But since the victim was a Japanese exchange student the Japanese press corps was all over the story which is why I was able to read about it in the paper.
Yoshihiro Hattori was a sixteen year old exchange student from Japan who had gone to the United States under the American Field Service Exchange Program. He and his host brother Webb Haymaker, were invited to a Halloween party in a quiet, working class neighborhood in Baton Rouge. They ended up at the wrong house because of similar addresses and Halloween decorations. The owner of the home, Rodney Peairs, mistook them for burglars and shot Hattori in the driveway.
The Japanese press thoroughly reported this case. Murder in their country is rare. They followed this case from the day after it happened all the way to Peairs trial in 1993, a few months after I arrived in Japan. I remember seeing a picture of Hattori’s father with a sullen look on his face trying to answer reporter’s questions.
The Japanese press have labeled killings like Hattori’s barbaric. To kill a criminal is justified. But to kill students is unthinkable.
Fast forward to 1998. I’m now living in China where I’m in my bedroom listening to Radio Netherlands where I hear about the Jonesboro killing in a middle school in Arkansas. One of my friends from England makes a snide remark about shootings in the U.S.
“Only in America can you have a massacre and not be able to do something about it.”
Damn that Second Amendment.
Fast forward to 2006. I’m now back in my home state of Hawaii sitting in my Chinese language class. Just before class starts I’m talking to my teacher, a graduate student named Jing.
“I guess you’ve heard the news,” I said.
Earlier that morning I heard on NPR of a school shooting in Blacksburg, Virginia at Virginia Tech. Thirty-two people were killed thus becoming the largest mass killing in modern history at that time.
“Yeah,” Jing replied. “The Chinese Embassy sent out an e-mail.”
“What did it say?” I asked.
“It told us to stay away from windows and lock our doors.”
“Are you allowed to own a gun in China?” another classmate asked.
“No!” Jing answered emphatically. “Why can’t you do anything about it?”
“Unfortunately we have something called the Second Amendment…” said another classmate.
Damn that Second Amendment.
I would hear that sentiment so many times after so many mass shootings in my home country that every time – God forbid – another shooting happens I know what my international friends would say to me.
Damn that Second Amendment.
There are so many shootings in the U.S.A that it gets copied in other countries. In 2010 there were several high profile mass killings in China including one in Jiangsu Province where I was working at an international school at the time. On April 30th, 2010 my supervisor, a woman named Jessie who is from the Congo and is also part owner of the school, got a visit from the local police before the school day started.
“We are to keep the students inside today,” she said.
The day before a knife wielding man had stabbed twenty-eight kindergarteners, two teachers, and a security guard in Taixing, Jiangsu. Word got around to schools in the province ordering administrators to be in lock down mode for the day. We were to lock our windows and doors and not open our door to anyone unless it was a parent.
“Copy cats,” said Jessie. “They fear copy cats. They copy mass killings in the U.S.”
These high profile Chinese killings took place following several shootings in the U.S. in 2009 and early 2010, including the Fort Hood massacre.
I could only shake my head in disgust.
Jessie’s son Emmanuel summed it up perfectly using a very familiar sentence.
“Only in America can you have a massacre and not be able to do something about gun control.”
Damn that Second Amendment.
A day after the Parkland shooting Trump was holding a press conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Prime Minister gave his condolences to the families of the victims.
Then he said, “You have an amendment in your Constitution that deals with gun ownership.”
This was coming from a leader whose countrymen also have experienced mass shootings. In 1996, a gunman killed thirty-five people in Port Arthur in the southern state of Tasmania. The gun laws were changed to further restrict gun ownership and they initiated a buy back program which raised $500 million dollars that was invested in their Medicare program.
In other words, they did something about it.
I was beginning to think that I was the only American who would like to see the Second Amendment changed if not repealed. A few days before the National March for Our Lives event, I attended a meeting at Saint James Episcopal Church where we discussed about how we felt about the Parkland shooting. We shared in a constructive manner what we believed to be the root causes of these shootings are. I mentioned the Second Amendment as a cause for all the killing my country partly because I felt I was speaking on behalf of all of my many international friends who also believe that the Second Amendment is one of the root causes. I also mentioned it as a cause because every time I engage in a debate about gun control with a fellow American who holds the opposite view they are most likely to say, “It’s my right to own a gun.”
I’m glad I mentioned it as a symptom because someone else said a follow up comment that supported my view.
“That amendment was written at a time when we had just ended a war with England,” a friend of mine said. “We didn’t have a police force or a professional army. All we had were militias to protect us and to hunt down slaves. Things are different now. We don’t have slaves anymore. That amendment is so outdated.”
I sat there beaming.
A few days after that meeting, I read an article from the New York Times that was posted on my Facebook page. It was written by retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens who suggested that Parkland student activists should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment for the same reason my friend mentioned the day before.
Finally. There is someone in Washington who thinks like me.
For the record I support a person’s right to own a gun. After all there is that other phrase from another famous American document that Americans like to quote:
“All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Declaration of Independence
If owning a gun makes my neighbor happy he should have one.
I also support stricter gun laws and stricter enforcement of those laws. I would also like to see mental health services improve as well as getting the NRA out of our politics.
As an American who has lived abroad I am tired of having to explain to my international friends why my countrymen are unable to stop this senseless violence. I’m tired of having to say, “I don’t know.”
I’m also tired of hearing stories of copy cat killings. We should be exporting cultural exchanges like the ones Sheik and Hattori were involved in. We should be exporting the best of American ideas and values. By doing this we make this world a better – and much safer – place to live.