New Internationalist

Another gun, another death, another unhappy new year

She would have been a doctor or a singer. Or maybe a teacher. But she will never be any of these things, because on New Year's Eve, a stray bullet hit her. Her name is Stephanie Nicole Ella and she was seven years old.

She died shortly after New Year’s Day dawned, while most revellers were still hungover after the festivities; while the rest of the world embraced high hopes for another year; and while the person who pulled the trigger to celebrate New Year’s Eve may still not have known that the gun he fired had killed a child.

Nicole looked good in pink. Maybe she loved dolls, too. She would have been a doctor or a singer. Or maybe a teacher. But she now she never will be.

Her death comes less than a month after 26 people, 18 of whom were children, died in a senseless shooting rampage in Connecticut, in another part of the world.

Whether it is 26, 18 or just one, it does not matter. One death is too many.

When will the killings stop?

The Connecticut shootings have triggered renewed debates on better gun control laws in the United States.

The same thing is happening in the Philippines. Many have died in traffic altercations because of irresponsible gun use. Celebratory gunshots during New Year’s Eve have resulted in the deaths of too many people.

In the Philippines, advocates are calling for better gun policies following the death of Nicole. Catholic bishops are calling for the imposition of a total gun ban. There are roughly 1.6 million licensed firearms in the Philippines, according to the Philippine National Police. The same agency estimates that there are nearly 600,000 ‘loose’ or unregistered firearms in the country. The actual number could be more.

In Nicole’s neighbourhood, a densely populated area in the northern part of the National Capital Region, the police have identified four people who admitted discharging a firearm on New Year’s Eve.

The police investigation continues.

When classes opened last week, classmates and teachers of Nicole said they sorely miss her.

Teacher Arlene Arellano admits she almost forgot that Stephanie Nicole was gone, even calling her name during the roll call. Arellano told local news site ABS-CBN that Nicole was one of her best students.

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu in the southern Philippines, who is president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, believes that the government should consider the proposal to impose a total gun ban instead of just regulating gun use in the Philippines.

‘Maybe it’s for the government to study. There may be some people who may be allowed in some circumstances [to carry guns] but in general the spirit [of the proposal] is good,’ Palma said in an interview with the Inquirer newspaper. Another bishop, Jose Oliveros, was also quoted as saying that he supported a total gun ban because it was in line with the Catholic Church’s pro-life position.

‘We support the total gun ban. We proclaim the gospel of life versus the culture of death,’ he told the Inquirer.

But such calls may fall on deaf ears.

President Benigno Aquino III is himself a gun enthusiast. He is an avid shooter and, along with fellow government officials and friends from the private sector, he hits the firing range regularly.

May gun owners and enthusiasts alike remember the deaths, whether they are in Connecticut or Manila. Remember their names. Remember Stephanie Nicole Ella. She was seven years old. 

Photo: Robert Huffstutter under a CC Licence

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