Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora.
When are we going to learn?
Reading about the recent tragedy in Colorado, the story of a man gone mad and a defenseless crowd of theater-goers forced to play witness to their own horror film, was saddening, depressing. But it wasn't surprising.
Gun violence, like capitalism in many respects, has become synonymous with America. It's embarrassing, really, that we're one of the last modern nations that somehow feels guns in the hands of Average Joe is still a good idea, that the words "gun control" to some people are still words of blasphemy, an affront on all things American.
As an expat in China, gun violence isn't a problem I have to worry about. It's one of the limited, perhaps only, perks of living in the world's largest police state. Freedoms here are few, but so are guns. And this is the country that invented gunpowder.
Under Chinese law, Average Zhou is strictly prohibited from owning firearms. Possession leads to a three-year prison sentence, while using a gun to commit a crime often yields a death sentence.
Modern gun laws in China date back to 1966, when the government passed sweeping legislation outlawing the manufacture and ownership of guns by private citizens. The act came after children playing with a rifle shot out a window in the Great Hall of the People, according to historians. That's like kids walking up to the U.S. Capitol and taking target practice.
But peek behind the red curtains and you'll see that gun control in China isn't meant just for public protection - it also keeps the government safe. These laws in China prevent exactly what the U.S. Constitution tries to defend: the people's right to bear arms to guard against an authoritarian government abusing its powers to impose tyrannical rule. China's great helmsman, Mao Zedong, even famously said that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun," a credo he and the Communists used to supplant the Nationalist Party in 1949 and establish the People's Republic.
No one seems to complain. The Chinese I spoke to all said they feel safer knowing there aren't guns on the streets, at least not in quantities comparable with the United States. More importantly, the Chinese have bigger problems - social and political - taking precedence over the desire to buy a gun.
"Chinese people have lost so many human rights in all aspects, and losing the right to own a gun is nothing compared to birth control (China maintains a one-child policy to control its population) and restrictions on relocation (social mobility is limited and people are not always able to move from rural to urban areas or even between cities). That's not to mention restrictions on buying a car and purchasing a house in tier one cities," said one of my female Chinese friends, who wished to remain unnamed.
This friend will be studying in the United States in the fall. I followed up with the obvious question: Are you afraid of going to the United States after hearing about all the instances of gun violence, particularly the incident in Colorado?
"It is disturbing, and I'm of course worried," she said. "It's not all about owning a gun. Guns make it easier to commit a massive crime, but it's not the weapon that should be blamed."
Should the United States take a page out of China's textbook on gun control? No. We shouldn't even be reading the same book.
Banning gun ownership won't stop gun interest. It may even pique people's fascination with the tabooed items, as is happening in China where the rich and powerful look to add rifles and handguns to their collection of expensive toys. Hunting is also becoming popular on the itineraries of the country's wealthy.
What the United States needs is limitation and regulation, not a complete ban. Do you have the right to buy a rifle to go hunting during deer season? Absolutely. Does that rifle have to be an AK-47 or other automatic weapon? Probably not.
At the very least, gun enthusiasts who point to the Constitution and cry "freedom" need a history lesson. When America's defining document was signed in 1789, establishing the right to keep and bear arms, it took a lengthy process to fire and reload a single-shot musket. America's forefathers could never have anticipated the firepower of assault rifles, or that one day one man could walk into a movie theater and cause as much death as a decent sized formation of Revolutionary War-era soldiers.
Brandon Taylor, a 2009 graduate of Penn State's College of Communications and a native of Pennsylvania's Coal Region, is currently living and working in China for the state-run BEIJING REVIEW, the country's only English-language newsweekly magazine. Taylor has also worked as a correspondent for the Lehighton Times News and the Bethlehem Press. Read his blog at http://www.btay200.blogspot.com/ for more photos and stories of his life abroad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.