Monday, August 06, 2012

Sikh temple shooting raises more questions about gun control

A US Army veteran has been identified as the gunman suspected of shooting six people dead at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday. The second such tragedy to occur with a month in the US has prompted some to call for tighter restrictions on guns.  Michael Nutter, Philadelphia mayor and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, released a statement [PDF] Monday arguing the tragedy signaled the need for stricter gun laws in the US to "prevent senseless tragedies."

However,  White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated President Barack Obama's position that steps must be taken to ensure those not legally entitled to weapons do not get them, while safeguarding the constitutional right to bear arms [AFP].

Six killed by ex-veteran

The attacker, who was shot dead by police during the attack in a Milwaukee suburb, entered the grounds of the temple in Oak Creek killing two people outside and a further four people inside with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol which according to one law enforcement official was owned legally.

Identified by authorities as 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, he has was described by eyewitnesses as bald, white man.

US officials said Page had been discharged from the military after being demoted. Born on Veterans Day in 1971, Page joined the Army in 1992 and left the service in 1998, according to Army Spokesman George Wright. US media said Page was a psychological operations specialist and a Hawk Missile System repairman.

A Pentagon official said Page was discharged from military service in 1998 for "patterns of misconduct."

White supremacist

According to Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards, the suspect "may have been involved in" the white supremacist movement, but stressed the such a connection remained unconfirmed.

Two neighbors of Page's identified him in a photo that showed him playing in a white-power band called End Apathy, and the nephew of the slain president of the Sikh temple said the attacker had a 9/11 tattoo on his arm. Meanwhile a civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has described Page as a "frustrated neo-Nazi".

As well as killing six individuals, whose identities have yet to be released, Page also critically injured three others. Amongst those injured was a police officer, said to have been shot eight or nine times in the face and extremities at close range. Another officer returned fire killing Page. Meanwhile the injured officer is expected to make a full recovery, police said.

Media criticised

News of the incident broke on news channels soon after the attack which began at around 10:30 local time near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Police were critical of some media who persisted in airing live pictures from news helicopters which authorities said was jeopardising their operations. 

Soon after media reports filtered through Twitter was a buzz with comments, some critical of the television coverage, particularly CNN. One criticism was of CNN's assertion that Sikh men were often confused with Muslims because of their customary beards and turbans.

While some seemed to infer this as CNN's misunderstanding of different racial or religious groups, it has to be noted that many Sikhs have been targeted by individuals angry at the 9/11 attacks, believing them to be Muslim. In September 2001, an Arizona gas station owner, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was shot dead by a man said to be seeking revenge on Muslims for 9/11 [BBC / CNN / Wikipedia].


It is unclear what triggered Page to launch his attack, but the timing was somewhat ironic given criticism days earlier after the satirical paper The Onion published a story claiming extremists had flown a plane into the Willis Tower in Chicago, formerly known as the Sears Tower. The fake story drew an angry response from many Americans who said the paper had gone too far.

"That's not funny," said Christina Lopez, 36, who was living on Long Island on September 11th, 2001. "It's not OK. Ever." Bill Hylen, a Philadelphian who was visiting lower Manhattan on Friday, was also troubled. The 45-year-old said there may be a time when a lighthearted allusion to 9/11 won't hit such a nerve in the nation, but "it's not coming up any time soon." [Daily Mail]


Revenge for such attacks will also be slammed by any right thinking person. Nonetheless the ramifications of Sunday's tragic events are worrying. Following on the heels of last month's massacre at a cinema in Denver, there are likely to be yet more discussions about gun control.

There are already concerns expressed by some that the misuse of firearms will be used as an excuse by authorities and lawmakers to set their own agenda [Prison Planet].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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