President Barack Obama faces hard fight on gun control

January 9, 2016 7:04 am

 

’s tearful intervention this week in America’s gun control debate had an immediate impact. Photo / AP

President Barack Obama’s tearful intervention this week in America’s
gun control debate had an immediate impact. Stocks in arms makers jumped
in anticipation of a fresh buying surge by fearful citizens.
Mr
Obama would have known this perverse effect was likely. Last month,
after the San Bernardino massacre, when an Islamist-inspired husband and
wife team killed 22 people in the Californian town, gun and ammunition
sales jumped. Such is the climate in gun-saturated America that school
classes and workplaces routinely prepare for mass shootings in the way
that New Zealand pupils practise earthquake drills.
At town hall
meetings police officers deliver lessons in surviving the nightmare of
having an “active shooter” in the neighbourhood.
People are
encouraged to Google the layout of the local sports stadium before going
to a game or concert and to check the exits of the suburban
supermarket. Mass shootings occur in the about once a
month.

Studies indicate some 92 Americans die every day from gun
deaths. About a third of these are homicides. A child in America shoots
someone on average once a week because guns are so easy to find and
fire.
No other developed country comes close to this staggering
level of gun violence. Yet the nation pussyfoots around the charged
issue of removing from circulation the vast arsenal of military-style
weapons and refuses to renew a ban on semi-automatics sales. It is
impossible to know the exact number but by some estimates Americans own
300 million guns. Clearly some end up in the hands of deranged
individuals.
Guns and the damage they inflict are deeply embedded
in American political culture. Four United States presidents have been
assassinated – Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and
John F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan survived a round to his chest, and the
White House itself has been peppered with gunfire, once when Michelle
Obama and daughter Sasha were home.
Mr Obama’s latest push into
the minefield of gun-control was modest. His executive action expands
mandatory background checks to gun shows, flea markets and online sales,
adds more than 230 examiners and staff to help process them and calls
on states to submit accurate and updated criminal history data.
He wants to make it harder for criminals and dangerous individuals to get hold of weapons.
Those
measures are seen as crucial to stemming gun suicides by blocking
immediate access to weapons. But even then they would not have kept
weapons from the hands of suspects in several of the deadliest recent
mass shootings.
Gun control works. Australia bought back
semi-automatics from gun owners. Its gun homicide rate is a 20th of
America’s. In 18 states where the criminal histories of gun buyers
are checked, shooting deaths have fallen significantly. Yet the US
Congress, in thrall to the gun lobby, refuses to act. As Mr Obama
outlined his gun measures, Republican presidential hopefuls were
branding him a wimp and accusing him of behaving like a “petulant child”
who wanted to strip citizens of their precious arms.
America
seems incapable of a sensible gun control discussion. Mr Obama’s tears
could be seen against the toll of 225,000 Americans who have died of gun
violence during his seven years in office. Americans are easily alarmed
by foreign terrorism but the toll guns take from their own armed
citizens is much, much worse.

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