A student’s query on the Santa Barbara CA shooting

On a visit to Guangzhou in southern mainland China near Hong Kong, I gave a lecture on Thursday at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. Coincidentally, the lecture was “Gun Laws and Gun Rights: a History of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” The next day this shooting happened. Americans’ gun violence baffles much of the rest of the world, especially, perhaps, among those foreigners who like the United States. Chinese people’s tradition with private gun ownership – and gun violence – is virtually the opposite of Americans’.

I have found Chinese students closely observant of American politics, society, and culture – much more so than me of theirs. It’s a myth that the Great China Firewall keeps Chinese people uninformed. There are too many Internet cracks in the mortar for that.

Below is an email I received from a student who listened to my presentation in Guangzhou, and, for what it’s worth, my response. “Lizzie’s” question reflects a typical level of awareness among Chinese college students of American issues, concerning not only specific issues pertinent to Chinese people like California’s debate whether to re-establish affirmative action programs for Asian-Americans (“SCA 5”), but also general news, and a question that I raised in the presentation – regarding gun rights, in any society, how do you balance private ‘rights’ and public safety? Is ‘bearing arms,’ possessing a gun, a ‘right’? What are ‘rights’?

Subject: Hi! I’m Lizzie from Department of Diplomacy, GDUFS ….@qq.com

Dear Tim,
I’m Lizzie, the girl who asked you about SCA 5(Senate Constitutional Amendment No.5).The SCA 5 legislation was aimed at bringing race-conscious admissions and recruitment to California’s public universities, such as UCLA.I’m interested in this and I hope we can share some ideas when I get further thinking.
After hearing your lecture about gun rights & gun laws in American History on Friday, I kept wondering what if the gun holder is a phycho especially when this guy is a well-trainned gunner or veteran who’s been through trauma? It happened. Actually it happened a lot, like the navy shooting case. Besides historical factors, it is cool and rightful to have a gun so that you can defend yourself when it’s needed. But, will you still have the chance to hold your gun after you were shot without warning?
A 22-year-old man stabbed three people to death in his apartment before gunning down three more victims on on Friday night(US time).I really feel sorry about it. I know gun problem is a debating isssue even today. You mentioned exceptionalism, Europeans can’t understand the US, neither. In my opinion, forbidding gun nationwide in America is not a good option as people’s rights should be valued. Would it be better if government passes some laws to avoid selling guns to dangerous people? After all, people’s lives value the most.

Sincerely yours,

Hi Lizzie, thanks for writing. Unfortunately, this topic I talked about in Guangzhou is too timely. There are a lot of angry men in the world, as this young man in California seems to have been, who commit violence against their girlfriends, wives, animals, random strangers, etc.
The problem in America is that angry men have access to guns. The situation in California this week was too familiar – a young man with a psychological disorder still was able to buy guns legally. Given the amount of guns available in the US for private citizens, there needs to be preemptive law enforcement monitoring of people who have a mental disorder, to prevent them from being able to buy a gun. This young man might be able to get a gun illegally anyway, but maybe it would take longer, and he might try something else less lethal, if he’s still angry: resort to a knife, get drunk, etc…. Or even be found out in the meantime by somebody who wants to help, or at least stop him.
Living in China shows me a good example of tight gun restrictions – you don’t hear about random shootings in China (it’s possible they happen, but you don’t see them in the media). As I said in my presentation in Guangzhou, the USA has a particular history of gun laws and gun rights, which contributes a lot to the current predicament. But I would predict – hope – US states are going to start a movement move to at least make it very hard for anyone with a mental illness to hold a gun. That’s the most foreseeable change.

Best wishes, Prof. Tim




4 thoughts on “A student’s query on the Santa Barbara CA shooting

  1. It would be interesting to ask how the relationship of the citizens there would change with their state if citizens or state militias there were allowed to own firearms.

  2. Fascinating thing about your lecture. I follow your visit in China with envy. It must be very fulfilling to be able to capture and audience such as you must have. I must call your dad to discuss this. I know he finds it interesting also. Thank you very much.

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