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Issue #1558      1 August 2012

Culture & Life

Gun crazy

There are an estimated 300 million privately-owned guns in the USA. Enough for every US citizen of any age to have one. Right-wingers stoutly maintain that in some way this makes Americans more secure, even as scores of them are gunned down by fellow Americans every week.

A still from the black comedy God Bless America.

Between high-profile assassinations and frequent school or shopping mall massacres, you would think that Americans would be the last people on Earth to be hesitant about enforcing restrictions on gun ownership. But there is a huge array of people and companies that profit from selling guns, from corner stores to supermarket chains to mail-order conglomerates. They are not going to surrender their profit-making potential easily.

They are supported by a host of paranoid upholders of “the rights of the individual” to own his own arsenal, in case of war with Mars, or China or the folk down the street. Despite their over-ripe patriotism, they preach that no government can be trusted, including their own, that foreigners too cannot be trusted (least of all the United Nations), that in fact it is every man for himself.

Following an earlier gun massacre, former President Clinton was able to get some restrictions imposed on the private ownership of automatic weapons such as assault rifles, but pressure from pro-gun lobby the NRA (National Rifle Association) got those restrictions ditched in the Bush years. Now Americans can not only own their very own AK47 assault rifle, Uzi sub-machine gun, or automatic rapid-firing shotgun (gloatingly called a “street sweeper”), but they can usually buy them over the counter.

The gun lobby’s typical defence has been that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, but that particular piece of sophistry is such obvious baloney that even the NRA has refrained from trying to defend gun ownership after the latest massacre, the fatal shooting of 12 people (and wounding of over three dozen more including children) in a cinema in Colorado. President Obama, not noted for sticking his neck out, has joined the call for the reintroduction of the Clinton era restrictions on ownership of automatic weapons amidst a groundswell of demands for “gun reform” in the USA.

But it is not just “gun reform” that the US needs. The Colorado gunman burst into a screening of the Batman violence fantasy The Dark Knight Rises, wearing a bullet proof vest and armed with several guns. Before opening fire, he threw a teargas canister into the auditorium. Where does a civilian get a bullet-proof vest and a teargas canister? Go to the hardware store and tell them you have a problem with mice?

Readers of this paper will be well aware that capitalism consciously fosters paranoia and fear in the community: they help governments get huge military budgets accepted, make it easier for local administrations to formulate excuses for police brutality, allow “counter-terrorism” infringements of democratic rights and civil liberties to be passed off as “necessary”.

The combination of the cultivation of fear and paranoia on the one hand and the promotion of guns and violent gun-culture on the other – in a society that cannot hide its inhumanity, gross inequality and lack of hope for the future – make outbursts of nihilist violence and despair almost inevitable. But, however much common sense says that the USA cannot continue to ignore these signs of social breakdown, monopoly capitalism will have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards any reform of gun laws – dragged by the people, against the opposition of the country’s corporate heavyweights, who have much to lose from any measures that might lessen the amount of fear and despair in the community.

This is literally a life and death issue. The stakes are high and pressure from the “people in the street” is mounting with each succeeding gun outrage. But some must be wondering what scale of a massacre is necessary before the USA can be brought into line with the other supposedly civilized countries of the world. I said at the beginning of this column that “scores of them [ordinary Americans] are gunned down by fellow Americans every week”. In fact, that is a gross understatement: the reality is that more than 84 people are killed with guns every day in the USA. If you include the number wounded by guns, the figure triples or even quadruples. And people worry about the road toll!

The trite insistence that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” simply ignores the fact that if someone is having a bad day, easy access to a gun will render them much more dangerous than they would be otherwise. An argument in a gun-less household may result in harsh words and a slammed door, but only rarely in death. Not so with guns in the house.

A young person feeling neglected or unloved in a gunless house may make a show of running away or even try to slash their wrists, but if guns are accessible they can make sure their suicide succeeds, or they can (and frequently do) take out their whole family first.

As Dan Gross, President of the US lobby group the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said after the Colorado massacre, “This tragedy is another grim reminder that guns are the enablers of mass killers and that our nation pays an unacceptable price for our failure to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

“As someone who has suffered the lasting impact of gun violence, I can tell you that we don’t want sympathy. We want action. Just this past April 16, the anniversary of the worst mass shooting in American history, 32 victims of gun violence joined us to demand Congress take action to stop arming dangerous people.”

And Moser-Puangsuwan, a Board member of another US anti-gun lobby group, the Small Arms Survey, said in disbelief after another mass shooting – the one at Virginia Tech – “Other Western countries like Australia and the UK have one mass shooting, then institute policies on guns and don’t have a repeat. In the US, it happens again and again.”  

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