• Gun control in USA. A sisyphean task?

    I can remember exactly where I was on 13 March 1996 when news came over that 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton entered a school in Dunblane Scotland armed with four handguns and killed sixteen children and one adult before killing himself. The UK government acted with haste following this atrocity and the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 were enacted effectively making the private ownership of handguns illegal in the Great Britain.

    Fast forward 14 December 2012 at about 9.30am when Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook elementary school Newton Connecticut armed with two handguns and an assault rifle and shot and killed 26 people – 20 children and six adults – before apparently turning the gun on himself.

    As the picture of this terribly sad act began to unfold two things seemed to happen. The media, including social media, became swamped with statistics of mass shootings in USA and comparisons of shootings in USA, UK and Europe began to appear. Here is one example “The rate of people killed by guns in the US is 19.5 times higher than similar high-income countries in the world. In the last 30 years since 1982, America has mourned at least 61 mass murders” (http://tinyurl.com/crvabtb).

    The other thing that began to happen was a call for gun control. In his tearful address US President Barak Obama promised ‘meaningful action’. Does that mean gun control?

    So far this year in USA there have been seven attacks that could be classed as mass killings with a firearm and yet no action in relation top gun control seems to have been taken. Why is this? Well, apart from the fact that the US constitution gives citizens the right to keep and bear arms I do not believe that there is anything like a critical mass of people who want to give up their right to possess a firearm.

    Having spoken to a number of police officers in USA the second amendment to the US constitution is fiercely protected and it would be political suicide to try to remove this ‘right’. The fact that in modern times possessing a firearm has been strictly regulated made it easier for the UK government to impose further restrictions. The result is that murder using a firearm is relatively rare and mass murder using a firearm is even rarer. Would this spur on the US government and people to withdraw the second amendment that has been in place since 1791? Doubtful.

    There is a further complication to this debate and it came in the early hours of this morning when two police officers from Topeka Kansas where shot and killed while attending a report of a suspicious vehicle at a grocery store. As well as citizens wanting to protect their rights to keep and bear arms there are those within law enforcement who also support the second amendment and it is easy to see why.

    Gun control in the USA is political dynamite and is certainly not something that I suspect I will see in my lifetime. There have been attempts to restrict possession of assault rifles in the past, but that fell by the wayside in the early 2000s. There are armed police officers posted in a number of High Schools in USA, a good friend of mine is one of them, however, there is a proposition to have armed police in elementary schools, or worse, to have allow some teachers to carry weapons in elementary schools (see this link http://tinyurl.com/ckwf884). Is this really getting to the heart of the problem? Or is it addressing a symptom?

    The separate issue of mental illness and how it is being addressed is perhaps more worthy of attention rather than seeking to control guns, something that in the long term is doomed to failure.

    The debate on gun control will go on and we can only hope that shootings such as those listed below also fall by the wayside.

    December 11, 2012. On Tuesday, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts killed 2 people and himself with a stolen rifle in Clackamas Town Center, Oregon. His motive is unknown.

    September 27, 2012. Five were shot to death by 36-year-old Andrew Engeldinger at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, MN. Three others were wounded. Engeldinger went on a rampage after losing his job, ultimately killing himself.

    August 5, 2012. Six Sikh temple members were killed when 40-year-old US Army veteran Wade Michael Page opened fire in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Four others were injured, and Page killed himself.

    July 20, 2012. During the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO, 24-year-old James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58. Holmes was arrested outside the theater.

    May 29, 2012. Ian Stawicki opened fire on Cafe Racer Espresso in Seattle, WA, killing 5 and himself after a citywide manhunt.

    April 6, 2012. Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, shot 5 black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in racially motivated shooting spree. Three died.

    April 2, 2012. A former student, 43-year-old One L. Goh killed 7 people at Oikos University, a Korean Christian college in Oakland, CA. The shooting was the sixth-deadliest school massacre in the US and the deadliest attack on a school since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

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