Politics, race and gun control
WASHINGTON ― The mass killing of six women and a man at an obscure Christian college near Oakland, Calif., raises two questions about America’s legal system and the Korean-American experience in the United States.
The question about the legal system is why the United States refuses, under extreme pressure from the National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers and other vested interests, to exercise stringent controls over the sale and use of guns and rifles.
Every day, everywhere you go in the U.S., you read and hear stories of killings by pistol and rifle fire. A high proportion of big stories here, after you get through the boring stuff about Republicans bad-mouthing one another in pursuit of the right to try to dethrone President Obama in December, revolve around shootings and killings all over the country.
The political rhetoric is similar in tone to the rhetoric in Korea from the United Democratic Party except that the issues and policies of the would-be candidates in the U.S. and Korea are polar opposites. In the U.S., conservatives battle a liberal president who wants to tax the rich. In Korea, liberals are fighting a conservative president who’s strengthened the grip of the chaebol over the economy.
Attempts to draw parallels between Korean and U.S. politics break down on the issue of gun control. It is difficult to fathom the depth of opposition to gun control among American conservatives. They trace the right of people to heft pistols and rifles to a deliberate and willful misreading of the U.S constitution that declares that citizens can bear arms as members of militias.
No one doubts that members of latter day militias, that is, the National Guard of every state, have the right to bear arms. National Guard units are military organizations that revert from state to federal military control when summoned to places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gun enthusiasts distort the meaning of the U.S. constitution; they say that everyone can carry a gun legally and maybe go around shooting people in self-defense. They even argue that students at colleges and universities should be able to keep guns on campus. And they say it’s OK to conceal weapons ― maybe necessary in order to stave off attacks.
The stories of random killing are staples of the media. Just last weekend, in suburban Washington, seven people died in random shootings. Then there’s the case of an Afro-American teenager named Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch vigilante named George Zimmerman in Florida. That story is top news for all that it says not only about gun control but about racial animosity. The story would have been forgotten, however, were it not for the fact that Zimmerman is white and Martin is black.
Sides are clearly drawn. A modern version of the Black Panthers, a force in the turmoil of the 1960s, edges alarmingly towards violence in demanding ``justice” for Martin. Whites wonder why blacks are not equally concerned about attacks on whites who wander into black neighborhoods. That ease with which Americans can bear arms shocks people in Korea. In comparison to the U.S., South Korea is a nation of law and order.
Yet the other big question about outbursts of gunfire in the U.S. is why Korean-Americans were responsible for two of the worst massacres ― most recently the killing at Oikos University in East Oakland by a 43-year-old Korean immigrant. That case evokes the nightmare of the massacre by a Korean student of 32 people at Virginia Tech University in 2007 ― the most people every killed in a single mass shooting in the U.S.
In both cases, one has to wonder about the extreme pressure confronting Korean-Americans. More than two million people from Korea live in the U.S. They tend to be highly successful professionally and intellectually. Many of the brightest students at leading universities are Korean-American. Outsiders, however, have little if any opportunity at discerning the pressures that Koreans, as relative newcomers to the U.S., face in competing with one another and with other Americans in a constant battle for survival.
Those who have lived in South Korea are well aware of the force to succeed. While South Korea lives up to the label of ``dynamic” in business, at universities, in academic pursuits, the rate of suicide is high and factional feuds are common. Payoffs, favors and family ties often make the difference between soaring success and mediocrity and failure. We become aware of the unhappiness of many young Koreans from conversations and contacts but find it difficult to ``share the pain,” as U.S. politicos have been known to say when talking about the impact of economic crisis on millions of Americans.
For Korean-Americans, the pain can be still more intense. Combine the anxiety level with easy access to guns and bloodshed may result. The role of Korean-Americans in the Virginia Tech and Oikos University massacres may appear coincidental, but they share a common denominator.
The least that’s needed is stringent controls over guns. That’s a view that gun control advocates, profiting immensely off the sale of weapons, hate to hear.
Columnist Donald Kirk, journalist and author, reports from Washington as well as Seoul. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.