Opinion Politics & Protest

Gun control is America’s blind spot, but we also have things we would rather not see

With 59 confirmed deaths and over 500 wounded, the Las Vegas mass shooting is the deadliest one in modern American history. Places like Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Sandy Hook, Orlando—and now Sin City—are forever associated with carnage and death tolls.

Not a week goes by in America without a horrific gun attack in a shopping mall, a school or a movie theatre. People outside the U.S. can’t fathom why the world’s wealthiest country can be in such denial over a simple fact: more guns means more gun-related deaths.

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But they don’t get it, do they? Instead, they tell us foreigners to stay out of the debate because we don’t understand what the Second Amendment means to the Land of the Free.

So the anomaly continues: each time a shooting rampage shocks the nation, citizens respond with prayers and tributes for a while, but their lawmakers do nothing to change gun laws. And we—the foreigners—shake our heads in disbelief and wonder how many more innocent lives need to be lost before the country finally wakes from its mass delusion.

We say to ourselves: these Americans are so clever in many ways, but so hopelessly blind in others. Then again, when it comes to being blind, Hongkongers aren’t one to pass judgment.

There are crises brewing under our noses that are just as plain to everyone else but that we simply don’t get. You know what they say: we see the speck in others’ eye but fail to notice the beam in our own.

It’s been three years since the Umbrella Movement took over the city for months but ended without gaining any political concessions. Since then, the government’s grip on civil society has tightened significantly and the chokehold continues to get worse.

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The third anniversary of the Occupy protests. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Brazen encroachments on our constitutionally guaranteed rights and semi-autonomy, from the jailing of 16 activists to the West Kowloon border control proposal and the clampdown on free speech on university campuses, are happening with increasing impunity.

Any reasonable person outside Hong Kong—the “foreigners” in our eyes—would sound the alarm, outraged by these incidents individually and even more so by the disturbing pattern they represent.

Yet the people most affected—the ones living here—don’t seem to bat an eyelid any more. We tacitly accept what’s confronting us as the new normal, as if the gradual loss of our freedoms is part of some predestined plan.

Like the Americans and their Second Amendment, we are fixated on our own set of considerations we deem unique and sacred—be it economic interests or practical concerns—and we lose sight of the grim reality facing us. We just don’t get it, do we?

Gun enthusiasts in America are quick to dismiss any causal link between access and violence, and we give ourselves plenty of self-deluding excuses to justify our own anomaly. To the 16 activists, we say their harsh prison terms are just desserts, because “the law is the law” and “they knew what they were in for.”

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Northeast New Territories activists in front of the High Court. Photo: 社會民主連線 via Facebook.

We are blind to the fact that the Department of Justice is selective and vindictive in the pursuit of dissenters and that our cherished judicial independence is under threat.

When the government proposed to allow mainland authorities to enforce Chinese law on Hong Kong soil, we ask “What’s the big deal?” and “Who doesn’t want more connectivity and travel conveniences?”

Never mind that the arrangement is in clear breach of the Basic Law and will punch another hole in the already fragile ‘one country, two systems’ framework.

As for those pro-independence banners at Chinese University, well, we say secession is bad for business and students should keep politics out of the classroom. The idea that university campuses are precisely the kind of forum to debate thorny issues is completely lost on the general public.

But poor reasoning isn’t the worst part—short attention span is. It doesn’t take long for citizens to grow tired of politics and turn to less mentally demanding topics. Celebrity gossip and Apple product launches are always at the ready to attract eyeballs.

To help move the news cycle along, pro-Beijing provocateurs like Junius Ho Kwan-yiu and Ann Chiang Lai-wan are trigger-happy with their unfiltered mouths and dole out an outrageous gaffe every now and then. Call it comic relief or the perfect distraction, we roll our eyes and hit back, marching to their tune like children to the pied piper’s.

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Junius Ho speaking at an anti-independence rally. Photo: Facebook/Junius Ho.

So the anomaly continues. Each time a troubling political incident shocks the city, we respond with momentary moral indignation, before the real issues get whitewashed and eventually drowned out by a lethal cocktail of pragmatism, indifference and fatalism.

It makes me wonder what our foreign friends think of us: these poor Hong Kongers are so smart in many ways, but so thoroughly blind in others.

Every society has its own blind spots. As much as we find the gun culture in America bewildering, absurd and tragic, we should look within ourselves and ask whether we, too, are all of those things and more.

Unless and until we see past our immediate concerns and start putting our way of life above daily life, we will always be trapped in the same cycle of outrage, forgetfulness and tacit acceptance. The time to wake from our mass delusion is now.

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Gun control is America’s blind spot, but we also have things we would rather not see