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Harris reports: "In an America that in recent years seems to have shrugged off mass shooting after mass shooting, the tragedy in Newtown may have finally raised serious prospects of attempts to tighten gun control."

A vigil is held for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (photo: Mike Segar/Reuters/Landov)
A vigil is held for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (photo: Mike Segar/Reuters/Landov)

Tearful and Angry, Americans Target Gun Control

By Paul Harris, Guardian UK

16 December 12


Political inertia and the powerful gun lobby have blocked a crackdown on weapons, despite the US's toll of mass shootings, but the Newtown tragedy has sparked calls for action.

n an America that in recent years seems to have shrugged off mass shooting after mass shooting, the tragedy in Newtown may have finally raised serious prospects of attempts to tighten gun control.

The killing of 20 children and at least six adults by 20-year-old suspect Adam Lanza at an elementary school in the small Connecticut town has stunned an American public that had seemed almost immune to a recent parade of such awful incidents.

The sense of shock and palpable outrage at the thought of the gunman armed with two pistols and a semi-automatic rifle taken from his mother has galvanised some powerful political voices.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has support among Republicans and Democrats alike, launched an angry appeal for the country to tackle the issue of limiting access to powerful weapons. "We need immediate action," he said. "We have heard all the rhetoric before."

President Barack Obama, who in the wake of previous high-profile shootings in Arizona and Colorado, has shown little desire to draft new gun laws, hinted that things might be different this time. As part of his emotional speech on Friday, Obama said that something now had to be done. "As a country, we have been through this too many times ... And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," Obama said in a tearful address.

But that promise was not enough to calm the anger of Bloomberg and many others calling for a crackdown. "President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families," he said. "But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress. Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough. We need immediate action."

Other powerful figures joined the fight. In a statement Democratic congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband died in a mass shooting on a suburban train in 1993, also vowed to campaign on the issue and took a powerful swipe at the National Rifle Association gun lobby. "Leaders in Washington from both parties, and groups like the NRA, all say that now is not the time to talk about how gun safety laws can save lives in America. I agree, now is not the time to talk about gun laws - the time for that conversation was long before all those kids in Connecticut died," she said.

Members of the public have put petitions on the White House website calling for action on gun control. One called on Obama to "immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress". Another asked for the formation of a commission to examine the subject and suggest new laws. So far at least 10 petitions have been logged on the website, with the first one already garnering some 67,000 signatures of support. A petition has to get at least 25,000 signatures before the White House is obliged to respond officially.

There is little doubt that America has a serious and growing problem with mass shootings. There have been at least seven this year where four or more people have been killed. Added together they have claimed a total of at least 65 lives. But those numbers pale in contrast to the simple toll of shooting victims that plays out across America every single day in a regular parade of gun violence.

According to the Brady Campaign, which advocates gun control, around 100,000 Americans are wounded or killed by guns each year. One of its studies showed US murder rates are almost seven times higher than rates in 22 other populous high-income countries who have similar rates of lower level crime. The same study showed that America's firearms homicide rate is almost 20 times higher.

Yet despite the violence the US Congress has not enacted any major firearms regulations other than a law aimed at improving state reporting for federal background checks. Indeed, regulations have actually loosened over the last decade as a 1994 assault-weapon ban expired in 2004. Most of the current debate in American policy circles has actually been around the issue of expanding citizens' rights to carry firearms openly in public.

Much of that has been down to the immense power of the NRA and other gun lobby groups who contribute large sums of money to politicians, especially Republicans, but also do enjoy popular support with many Americans. The NRA has kept largely silent in the recent debate, deploying a tactic that many gun control advocates say is to ride out times of trouble under the assumption that no new laws will emerge when the media spotlight moves on.

"Gun control foes know that the attention moves on after people are gunned down and all they have to do is wait," wrote Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet. But that might not be easy this time. The scale and nature of the murders in Newtown is so great that some form of sustained outrage is possible, especially as Obama is now a second-term president and freed from ever facing election again. Much has also been made of the fact that a major gun lobby group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, is actually based in Newtown.

"Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community," the NSSF said in a statement, adding that, like the NRA, it would not comment further at this time.

But not all gun lobbyists have kept silent. Some have argued that America actually needs more guns to make people safe as mass shooters will be killed by armed citizens who can immediately act when a spree begins. Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said that, if there had been armed teachers in the school in Newtown, the tragedy might have been reduced. "Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to ensure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered," Pratt said in a statement.

He asked for gun laws to be loosened further. "This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun-free zones is to ensure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun," he added.

Gun lobbyists also point out that the guns used in Newtown were not owned by the suspected killer and had been legally bought and owned by his mother. your social media marketing partner
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