Only in America

Soon after 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley shot and killed four of his Michigan schoolmates, I was struck by this haunting observation from the columnist Eugene Robinson:

“Only in America,” Robinson wrote, “do we make it easier for youths to get their hands on a handgun or assault rifle than to work up the courage to ask a classmate out on a date.”

Remember your own high school days as you read those words and then picture the high school sophomore and his father visiting a gun dealer the day after Thanksgiving to pick out his early Christmas present from dad and mom — a 9mm SIG Sauer semiautomatic handgun.

And then, there’s Ethan’s mother proudly posting a photo of her and the boy on a shooting range, “testing out his new Christmas present.”

It’s not exactly only in America.  Kids do get their hands on guns in other places in the allegedly civilized world but when it happens, the nations often act quickly to see that it doesn’t happen again.  In America, we get angry and upset for a while and then forget about it.  There were school shootings 27 times this year until Oxford made it 28. Even with schools sometimes closed by COVID.

It wasn’t always that way.  There once was once a 10- year ban on the manufacture or sale of semi-automatic weapons and magazines that held 10 or more rounds.  It was passed by Congress in 1994, but with a sunset provision that allowed the ban to expire in 10 years unless Congress renewed it.   The ban expired in 2004 and when Congress tried to pass it again after the Newtown massacre in 2012 and the Parkland, FL high school shootings in 2018, it failed both times.

In the 2020 election campaign, candidate Donald Trump fervently supported the right to keep and bear all kinds of arms without regard for the consequences and Joe Biden, who supported the 1994 ban as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, feared there was “no political appetite” for reviving the 1994 law, despite public opinion polls to the contrary. Oxford should be on both of their consciences.

A study by the Northwestern University School of Medicine found that the 10-year ban may have prevented 11 mass shootings — shootings like Parkland and Newtown, and Oxford.

But the NRA, with its considerable influence, argued that school shootings only account for 1% of the gun deaths in America — a few dead kids as the price for the precious Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms that was written when arms were muskets.

Only in America?  Consider this.

In 2019, America’s rate of deaths by gun violence was eight times higher than Canada’s and almost 100 times higher than the United Kingdom’s.

Right after 16 children and a teacher were killed in a mass shooting in a Dunblane, Scotland school in 1996, Scotland banned the private ownership of handguns and assault weapons.  There’s been only one mass shooting in Scotland since.

The same year, Australia had an even more horrible tragedy — a mass shooting that left 35 people dead. The government banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons and pump action shotguns.  It also bought back 640,000 guns and there hasn’t been a mass shooting since.

Australia had had 18 mass shootings, resulting in the deaths of people of all ages, in the 13 years prior to 1996.  We’ve had 28 shootings — just of school children and some teachers — so far in 2021. People in Scotland and Australia still have the right to keep and bear arms, just not the ones that kill so easily.

What’s wrong with us?


Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at

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