Another shooting tragedy took place in the United States, this time at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and once again, as the chaos and confusion begins its descent, Americans are left wondering what has happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. If previous occurrences are any indication, many opinions will be pushed into the public domain claiming to have the answer, and more often than not they're goose chases into senselessness. In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the prominent theory has been espoused by Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, and Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas.
Fischer, a devout Christian, told listeners of his radio program that America's problems stem from a lack of God in the classroom. "The ultimate solution here is not the Second Amendment, but the First Amendment," he said. Mike Huckabee, also a devout Christian, agreed, saying on Fox News, "We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools." The problem with these statements isn't that they're untrue -- though they are -- but that their intent is to distract and deflect from the real issue at hand.
The United States has one of the highest rates of religiosity in the developed world. In 2009 Gallup surveyed 114 nations, asking individuals if religion was an important part of their daily life. The report found religiosity to be highest in poorer countries -- yet the U.S.'s high religiosity levels "buck[ed] the trend," citing Italy, Greece and the Persian Gulf region as the only high-income nations that scored higher. The same holds true for church attendance, with the United States having one of the highest rates, not just in the developed world, but in the world at large.
Christianity is in every facet of American society, including schools. A Dallas-area school district, fearing an "Islamic bias" in its curriculum, recently initiated an investigation to find answers. The 72-page report, undertaken by a former social studies teacher described as "very socially and fiscally conservative," discovered "Christianity got twice as much attention in the curriculum as any other religion." This report is especially noteworthy considering the role Texas plays in education. Due to its large student population, many school districts across the United States are forced to order whatever textbooks Texas ultimately decides to purchase. It turns out there is a bias in our schools: Christianity.
Considering Christianity is in every part of America's discourse, including schools, should we then say America's disproportionate levels of violence are due to our disproportionate levels of Christianity? That too much Christianity is the problem and as a society we should scale it back? Blaming Christianity for the violence in America is as foolish as the notion a lack of God in our schools is to blame for the events in Newtown, Conn.
The reason outlandish claims such as a lack of God in schools are championed is because it distracts from the real problem facing our country, and those championing such false avenues of resolution are doing so because they're in the back pockets of the gun lobby. Mike Huckabee wants you to focus on religion, not gun control. If we turned our attention to gun control, we'd notice things Huckabee and his ilk don't want us to see, such as the fact that less than two years ago Huckabee called himself an unapologetic "gun-clinger" and "God-clinger" as the keynote speaker for the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) convention. Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer are attempting to jingle keys in front of the American public, hoping to distract us from issues that need to be discussed if we truly wish to address root causes.
The United States leads the developed world in gun-related fatalities. The problem is so dire that the U.S. has four times as many gun deaths as the nations that are tied for third. Americans are 20 times more likely to die from a gun than a citizen of another developed country. Guns are so populous in the United States that it averages out to almost one gun per person. None of these statistics should surprise because it isn't new information. The key issue facing America in the aftermath of Sandy Hook isn't what should be done, either. Models illustrating how to contain gun violence have been present in other nations for a long time. The key question for Americans is simple: Where do our priorities lie?
In July of this year, The Atlantic published an excellent in-depth article in the wake of the Aurora shooting examining Japan's model for gun control. In 2008, the U.S. had more than 12,000 gun-related deaths. Japan had 11. The Japanese do not possess magical insights as to how to keep gun violence to a minimum. They simply have different priorities than America. Japan's path to gun ownership is, theoretically, simple. To own a gun a Japanese citizen must take a full-day class and pass an examination, and both of these are offered only once per month. Then a potential gun owner must go to a shooting range and pass a test. After that is completed, the next step is to take a drug and mental fitness test, the results of both being provided to the police. Once the gun has been issued, the owner of the weapon must document to the police where in his home he keeps it as well as where he keeps his ammunition (both must be stored in separate areas). Finally, once per year the gun owner is required to have police inspect his weapon, and every three years another class and exam are required.
Models involving how to lower gun-related violence are available, as they always have been. The task facing Americans in the aftermath of Sandy Hook is surprisingly straightforward: What do we value as a society? Do we wish to take honest and good faith steps toward reform to minimize the risk of such a tragedy happening again, or do we prefer the jingling keys of the status quo, so we can continue to ask ourselves the exact same questions after the next tragedy?
Scott Janssen is a policy analyst and holds a Master's degree in political science from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.