Opinion Columnists 01 Mar 2018 The problem of guns ...

The problem of guns in the US: Inaction rules

Published Mar 1, 2018, 7:31 am IST
Updated Mar 1, 2018, 7:31 am IST
In many parts of the US you are legally entitled to own a firearm three years before you can legitimately buy a beer.
There is clearly something different going on in the US, where gun violence claims thousands of lives each year. (Photo: Pixabay)
 There is clearly something different going on in the US, where gun violence claims thousands of lives each year. (Photo: Pixabay)

Half a century ago, John Lennon chanced upon a magazine called the American Rifleman, and within it an article titled “Happiness is a warm gun”. “I just thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say,” he later recalled. “A warm gun means you just shot something.”

He appropriated the title for one of the most intriguing songs on the Beatles’ next album, partly toying with it as a sexual metaphor. Twelve years later, Mark Chapman was holding a warm gun, the “something” he had just pumped four bullets into being the ex-Beatle himself.

 

The American Rifleman apparently comes free with membership of the National Rifle Association, which spends millions of dollars each year lobbying for the easiest possible access of all Americans to all weapons. It is said to have contributed $30 million to Donald Trump’s coffers. No wonder the US President’s preferred “solution” to school massacres such as the devastating mass shooting at school is to weaponise the faculty.

In a less weird world, had Trump and the NRA crawled out of some piece of dystopian fiction, the author may well have been derided as an alarmist fantasist. But they really do exist and, worse still, usually prevail. The backlash from the students at Marjory Stoneman is unusual and heartwarming. They have also been hugely inspiring. But the question remains: even if the organisers can muster a gathering of half a million at next month’s planned march, will it make much difference?

 

Apart from the absurd and possibly counterproductive strategy of arming teachers, small noises are being made about banning bump stocks — attachments that enable weapons to do more harm — and raising the age limit for freely purchasing weapons from 18 to 21, apart from stronger mental health checks.

In many parts of the US you are legally entitled to own a firearm three years before you can legitimately buy a beer. But one can only wonder how much difference any of these possible changes could make, given the average age of attackers is 34, bump stocks are rarely used, and the inadequate system of healthcare means that psychiatric symptoms that ought to provide cause for alert or alarm simply go unattended.

 

Besides, there are other countries with comparable levels of mental health issues where these do not translate into gun violence. Not only that, there are European nations where it’s relatively easy to obtain weapons yet mass shootings are almost unknown.

There is clearly something different going on in the US, where gun violence claims thousands of lives each year. Mass shootings are a tiny proportion of this toll, much of which is accounted for by suicides, homicides and accidents — the last of these occasionally involving toddlers who are able to get their hands on weapons lying around the house.

 

Can anyone seriously assume this is the state of affairs the founding fathers had in mind when they framed the Bill of Rights, whose coveted Second Amendment states: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The first clause of this 18th-century law is overlooked by those dedicated to its second half in the very different circumstances of the 21st century.

As a source of perennial confusion, it logically ought to be repealed, but calls for such a measure are few and far between. Even the school students bravely militating for legislative change restrict their demands to semiautomatic assault weapons, age limits and more stringent background checks. All of those would make a difference, but it is handguns that claim most lives.

 

Sadly, it’s all too likely that American exceptionalism will prevail. The NRA, rattled tho-ugh it may be by a few corporations severing links they should not have had in the first place, will survive. And the next batch of victims will also be honoured with “thoughts and prayers”. And inaction.

By arrangement with Dawn

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