World Insights: Colorado shooting rekindles debate over gun control, mental health in U.S.

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by Peter Mertz

BOULDER, the United States, March 26 (Xinhua) — The 21-year-old lone suspect in Monday’s mass shooting at a Boulder grocery store appeared in court for the first time Thursday.

A defense attorney immediately asked that the suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, receive a mental health evaluation before the case proceeds, according to media reports.

This fulfills Colorado legal pundits’ initial assumption that his defense lawyers were likely to file a “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity,” defense to spare him from extensive criminal prosecution and dictate his lifelong incarceration in a mental hospital.

As stated by Colorado’s Legal Defense Group in a blog just last month, “the insanity defense in Colorado gets defendants acquitted of criminal charges if they suffered from a mental condition that prevented them from 1) knowing right from wrong, or 2) having criminal intent.”

Prosecutors vowed to file more charges against the suspect, who is currently facing 10 counts of first-degree murder.

The Aurora theater mass murder almost nine years ago, which cost 12 lives, ushered in a grim wave of such mass shootings in the United States, followed five months later by the killing of 26 people in Newton of Connecticut, including 20 young school children between 6 and 7 years old, by a mentally-ill 20-year-old who later killed himself.

The undeniable links connecting these tragedies are mental health and gun control, with the Boulder tragedy sparking a fury of calls among legislators in Colorado, and across the country, for tighter gun regulations.

MENTAL ISSUES

Local TV News helicopter cameras captured a shirtless and handcuffed Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa being escorted by police from south Boulder’s King Soopers Monday afternoon, an hour after he allegedly stalked the aisles with a modified AR-15 style automatic rifle, killing surprised customers and a police officer who rushed inside to help.

Family members and friends later revealed that Alissa had a long history of uncontrolled violence and paranoia. “In high school, Alissa talked about ‘being chased,’ about someone ‘behind him,’ about someone ‘looking for him,'” his brother told local media Tuesday.

In 2018, court records showed Alissa was convicted of attacking and punching a white student at Alameda high school, who allegedly taunted him with racial slurs and bullying.

“If he had just had someone to talk to…or even someone close who could have spread the word of his anger…lives might have been saved,” Hallie Stuart, a Boulder resident, told Xinhua Wednesday.

Born in Syria, Alissa was raised by well-respected, hard-working immigrant parents into a large family of 11, who noticed their brother’s detachment from society after his high school bullying and difficulty in “finding a girlfriend,” according to Facebook posts and media interviews.

But, it was Alissa’s transparent, consistent paranoia and anger toward the world that somehow fueled his attack, social media posts suggested, ironically paralleling the Aurora theater shooter’s mental illness, who suffered from extreme schizophrenia — and whose own family ignored warning signs until it was too late.

“We need to look at the predictors of violence and address them by intervening early. It’s the only way to stop this from happening every six days,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America in a statement Tuesday, also referring to the mass shooting of eight citizens in Atlanta last week, including six of Asian descent.

On Tuesday, Gionfriddo urged unhappy citizens, especially young Americans, to first call hotlines before contemplating hasty action.

CONTROLS

Gun control advocates said the Boulder massacre might have been prevented had more strict gun control measures being in effect — from beefing up background checks to banning assault weapons, over which U.S. politicians regularly spar under the influence of organized interests.

“The National Rifle Association (NRA) opposes every tiny measure of gun control because they are driven by greed — profits over people,” bottom-lined Sandy Phillips, a gun control advocate since her daughter Jessi, 24, was killed in the Aurora theater shooting.

The 2017 Small Arms Survey found that Americans owned 46 percent of the 857 million guns existing on Earth, with civilians (84.6 percent) dwarfing state militaries (13.1 percent) and law enforcements’ (2.2 percent) stockpiles, and that number had grown by more than 200 million since 2006.

“The Trump hysteria and internal animosity he fomented also fueled gun sales,” said Washington political analyst D. Barbour Richardson Wednesday.

With the pandemic closing schools and social gatherings, “mass murders” slowed in number in 2020, but more alarmingly, “shooting deaths in 2020 outpaced the next-highest recent year, 2017, by more than 3,600 killings, concluding one of the most violent years in decades,” Time reported.

Last year, more than 40,000 Americans died from guns, with almost 20,000 from “gun violence” and 24,000 from “suicide,” the Washington Post reported in January, citing Gun Violence Archive data.

COVID-19 and the protests over police brutality also led to a surge of firearm sales, studies conclude. In 2020, Americans bought some 23 million guns, a 64 percent increase over 2019 sales, said the Washington Post analysis.

In 2020, nearly 300 children under 11 were shot and killed in America, according to Gun Violence Archive data, a 50 percent increase from the previous year. More than 5,100 kids and teens aged 17 and younger were killed or injured in the country last year — over 1,000 more than any other year since 2014, when the website began tracking it.

Some U.S. politicians reject correlation between mental health and gun deaths. But statistics prove otherwise.

TAKING CHARGE

The Boulder shooting might have been prevented, had there been more early alerts and preventive measures for mentally ill people, or had there been more strict gun control measures, gun control advocates said.

Ironically, just 10 days before the Boulder shooting, a local judge, appointed by U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper, a Colorado political fixture and leader since 2004, sided with pro-NRA forces to reverse a ban on assault weapons the city had imposed two years before.

Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman ruled on March 12 that the 2018 ban, which outlawed the possession, sale or transfer of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, was invalid because it ran contrary to state law.

“The Court finds that the Ordinance’s Assault Weapons Possession, Sale, and Transfer Ban is operationally preempted because it materially impedes the state’s interest in firearms regulation, and it forbids what state law authorizes,” Hartman wrote.

And less than two weeks later, 10 people were killed. Alissa purchased a modified assault rifle on March 16, just after the ban was squashed.

Cries for Hartman’s removal echoed throughout social media Wednesday in the wake of the massacre.

“The Second Amendment does not protect assault weapons,” said former Boulder Councilwoman Jill Adler Grano, who proposed the ordinance. “There have been hundreds and hundreds of mass shootings in America. This is a long overdue proposal. I think it’s time to say enough, not in the city of Boulder,” she added.

The NRA issued a celebratory press release earlier this month, after Boulder’s assault weapons ban was struck down, and Monday, tweeted a quote from the Second Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms — a move that was called “callous and insensitive” by gun control groups. Enditem

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