With the news that at least 26 people had been shot to death in a Texas church, President Trump took a moment from his Asian trip to tweet his concern:
“May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.”
Trump should also monitor the situation in Japan, where fewer people were shot to death in the past five years than were gunned down at the First Baptist Church in what was by one witness’ estimate just 15 seconds on Sunday.
In 2015, the United States reported 13,286 non-suicide gun deaths. Japan reported exactly one.
The primary reason is that private citizens in Japan are not allowed to own handguns, much less assault rifles or indeed rifles of any kind. They are permitted to own shotguns for hunting or skeet shooting, but to do so they must go through a four month screening process that David Kopel of the Firearms Research Project detailed back in 1993.
Then, as now, the process begins with classes that cover gun safety, maintenance, and proper loading and unloading. The applicant must then pass a written test.
After that comes instruction at a shooting range, followed by a proficiency and safety test. Next comes a drug test and mental exam at a medical facility intended to detect any manifest mental illness.
Upon receipt of certification that the applicant is mentally stable and drug free, the police conduct a background check to ensure that neither the applicant nor the applicant's relatives have criminal records.
The police further investigate whether the applicant is a member of any potentially violent groups. The Japanese Law Controlling Possession, Etc. of Fire-Arms and Swords allows the authorities deny the application if “there is reasonable cause to suspect [the applicant] may be dangerous to other persons' lives or properties or to the public peace.”
Anyone who so much as handles a proscribed firearm or shotgun without a permit faces a maximum term of 10 years in prison. The great majority of violators actually serve a year or more.
A suggestion that a shotgun is more than adequate to protect a person and a home was offered by a news item that the NRA itself cited in 2008 concerning an event in the same Texas county as Sunday’s mass shooting.
“Eighty-three-year-old Raymond Bunte is the kind of person anyone would like to have as a neighbor,” the Wilson County News reported. “He heard a loud noise from his neighbor's house and, knowing the neighbor was at work, decided to investigate. A strange vehicle was parked outside, so Bunte used his own to block it. Noticing the front door was kicked in, Bunte grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun and ordered the burglars out of the house. Police say one suspect fled, but the other got into his vehicle and tried to run over Bunte, who then shot and killed the assailant. The second suspect was caught by police.”
In the absence of a Japanese-style ban on handguns and assault rifles, a Japanese-style procedure for screening and certifying gun owners here in America might very well keep firearms out of the hands of those who are manifestly unbalanced and/or associated with terrorist organizations.
Under the present federal screening, a person who is under psychiatric treatment but has not been involuntarily committed can arm him or herself with an arsenal.
A person on the terrorist watch list can do the same.
So can someone with a bad conduct discharge from the military who is sentenced to no more than a year in prison.
Devin Patrick Kelley reportedly received a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force accompanied by 12 months behind bars. One day more and he would have been precluded from legally owning a firearm such as the assault rifle he posted a picture of on Facebook, along with the now infamous words “She’s a bad bitch.”
Others who received a less than honorable discharge but were still able to purchase weapons include a former soldier who murdered six at a Sikh temple is Wisconsin in 2012 and a one-time sailor who murdered 12 at the Navy Yard in Washington in 2013.
The latest came on Sunday, when former airman Kelley arrived at the First Baptist Church dressed in black and wearing body armor. He demonstrated how much carnage an assault rifle can inflict in just seconds and then fled. He was reportedly pursued by a civilian armed with a shotgun such as killed a burglar in the same county in 2008 and can be obtained even in Japan if you pass the four month application process.
Outside the church, tearful survivors held hands and prayed. A woman beseeched God, “Be with us as we learn to deal with this in days to come.”
At the suggestion that one way to deal with it would be to lessen the chances of more mass shootings in the future, someone on the church Facebook page said this was “no time for politics.”
But of course this was exactly the time for politics, for true politics are not about Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, left or right.
True politics in America are about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, especially about life when it concerns innocents such as those who perished at the church, most particularly a pregnant woman and a number of children, who included the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter.
Her name was Annabelle.
Meanwhile, our president was monitoring the situation from Japan, which reported just one gun death in a year.
“This isn’t a guns situation,” Trump said about the Texas church shooting during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “This is a mental-health problem at the highest level.”
Abe is too polite and diplomatic to have told his guest that the Japanese application process for gun ownership screens for mental health problems as well as a criminal record, which would made the gunman doubly disqualified.
Back in America, November was beginning with 26 dead at a mass shooting in Texas, just as October had begun with 58 killed in a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Neither gunman had any more trouble buying an assault rifle than someone in Japan can buy chopsticks.