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Flatbush Flashback

It Takes a Riot

My posting yesterday about how disturbingly close the UK riots felt to New York City generated a number of comments on Facebook and Twitter. So, while the situation in England seems to have calmed down for now, I'd like to respond to a comment by my fellow Headpress author Charles Shaar Murray.

“The big difference between what happened in London and what might happen in NYC and elsewhere in the USA is guns,” Murray wrote. “If the rioters had been armed—not to mention the storekeepers trying to protect their businesses, and the cops—as they would inevitably be in Merkuh, we’d’ve had a body count in the hundreds, if not thousands.”

Murray is referring to the fact that unlike in the US, guns in the UK—especially handguns—are difficult to obtain and the police are, famously, unarmed. And though buildings were burnt to the ground and stores looted, only five people have been confirmed dead, three of whom were run over by a car in Birmingham.

Compare that to what happened in LA riots of 1992: 53 dead. Or the Detroit riots of 1967: 43 dead. Or the Watts riots of 1965: 34 dead. Or the Newark riots of 1967: 26 dead.

The difference, of course, is handguns. In America everybody, including terrorists, has the constitutional right to own virtually any gun smaller than a cannon, and somebody like Mark David Chapman can walk into a gun shop, lie on the application about having been hospitalized for mental illness, put $169 cash on the counter, and walk out with a .38 caliber revolver that he will use to murder John Lennon. Or more recently, the clearly insane Jared Lee Loughner legally purchased a 9mm semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine, and used it to murder six people and wound 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, at a political rally in Tucson, Arizona.

So, yes, America is a violent country full of heavily armed lunatics walking around at a time of political chaos and economic turmoil, where the gyrations of the stock market can cause jobs and life savings to evaporate in one bad afternoon. And as I wander the streets of New York, where the increased tension is palpable, I think about the riots in England, and I remember how it was here, in the mid-1960s, when my city was on fire, everybody was scared out of their wits, and I heard too many people say things like, “I need to buy a gun to defend myself, because the police aren’t going to do it.”

So, yeah, it seems as though it takes a riot (and an impressive body count) before people can come to their senses. Might it happen here? I ain’t no prophet. I can only report what I see, hear, feel.
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