Yet another gun massacre and still America does nothing

More innocent lives lost in an orgy of violence. This is not the Land of the Free that America's founding fathers intended, writes Pádraig Hoare 
Yet another gun massacre and still America does nothing

Crosses with the names of Tuesday's shooting victims are placed outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Picture: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Americans are shot in school, at church, out socialising, in shopping malls; America mourns, mostly through “thoughts and prayers”; America moves on; rinse and repeat.

The statistics are harrowing. Las Vegas strip 2017, 58 dead and 546 injured. Orlando nightclub 2016, 49 dead and 53 injured. Virginia Tech university 2007, 32 dead and 23 injured. Sandy Hook school in Connecticut 2012, 27 dead and two injured. Texas First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs 2017, 26 dead and 20 injured.

Still, America does nothing.

In 2001, 19 foreign religious fundamentalists contributing to one incident on September 11 changed the face of how we travel forever. Almost 3,000 died that day, and security at airports was never the same. It became draconian, but by and large, people accepted the need for the strictest of safety measures, despite the inconvenience.

In 2020, deaths in America through gun violence reached 45,222, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2019, it was 39,707. In 2018, it was 39,740.

Still, America does nothing.

Guns were involved in four out of five murders in America in 2020 — some 19,384 out of 24,576, or the largest proportion of murders since the earliest records of 1968, according to the CDC’s data.

A woman cries as she pays her respects at a memorial site for the victims. Picture: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills
A woman cries as she pays her respects at a memorial site for the victims. Picture: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

The second amendment of the hallowed US Constitution, perennially quoted by gun rights activists, proclaims that “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”.

It was written in 1791, in the midst of a new country still finding its feet and fresh from a war of independence from British forces. People were entitled to fend off mobs and militias in a still lawless fledgling nation, the founding fathers rationalised.

It is not unreasonable to surmise that the founding fathers of the nation did not have assault rifles, semi-automatic weapons, and bump stocks, in mind when setting out the right for a citizen to defend oneself.

Golden State Warriors NBA basketball coach Steve Kerr went viral earlier this week in an impassioned plea for his country to wake up, specifically the 100 senators that make up the upper house of Congress, ostensibly with the laws of the land in their collective hands.

Republicans refuse to budge

It is 50 senators that refuse to budge, he said. Without naming them, it was clear he was speaking about the Grand Old Party (GOP), or the Republicans, who have traditionally had a vice-like grip on preventing or stalling or diluting any progressive measures in the past 60 years in both Houses of Congress.

They refuse to do anything meaningful on gun violence, he said, because they would prefer to consolidate power instead.

That may be simplifying complicated political matters, but Steve Kerr is correct — it is only politics and the ever-turning political cycle that keeps America from confronting one of its worst failings, the terror of the gun in the wrong hands.

The party of Reagan, Bush, and Trump is intrinsically linked to anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, and crucially in this instance, anti-gun control lobbyists.

Quite simply, if Republicans want to get elected in the first place, or keep being re-elected, they must bend the knee and swear fealty to powerful groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA was founded in 1871 to assist poorly coordinated Union soldiers in improving their collective aim in battles against the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

A woman in Newtown, Connecticut, holds up a banner at the end of a vigil to stand with the Uvalde families and demanding to end gun violence. Picture: AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
A woman in Newtown, Connecticut, holds up a banner at the end of a vigil to stand with the Uvalde families and demanding to end gun violence. Picture: AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

For all intents and purposes, it ran for decades as an organisation dedicated to hunting, animal control, and shooting as a pastime, devoid of any political aims or objectives.

Then came the Revolt of Cincinatti in 1977, where the relatively innocuous, even benign, organisation morphed overnight into a political tour de force that has obfuscated, blocked, delayed, and lobbied against any gun control measures in the decades since.

The so-called revolt occurred at the NRA annual meeting when older members were caught unawares by a group of highly-organised radical gun right activists, who hijacked the leadership and alienated any semblance of moderate voices.

The NRA would be one of the first out of the starting blocks in what is known as the “culture wars”, along with anti-abortion groups, and anti-LGBTQ organisations.

The natural political fit was the GOP, which edged further to the right of the political spectrum in the years of Ronald Reagan’s two terms as president in the 1980s.

If prospective GOP candidates want to get elected in GOP geographical strongholds in the 45 years since, they inevitably must pass the NRA test — where they stand on absolutist second amendment rights, or no interference with a gun owner’s constitutional right to bear arms, even the likes of semi-automatic weapons of mass human destruction.

Similarly, if the same GOP candidates wish to keep their re-election prospects intact, they must resist all measures in Congress to water down any absolutist rights to gun ownership.

Without anti-abortion and/or pro-gun stances, Republican politicians face the steepest of fights to be elected in the heart of America.

According to an analysis by political website Axios, senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas — where the latest horror scene unfolded this week with the murder of 19 children and two adults — collectively received political donations of more than $800,000 from guns rights organisations. That is not including the ad money spent by the likes of the NRA against their political opponents.

No incentive to take on gun rights lobby

The lack of incentive to take on the guns rights lobby is not only political, it is clearly monetary. And so the cycle of death continues.

Cruz’s solution to such murderous tragedies as happened in Uvalde? More armed guards in schools, not gun control, despite armed guards being unable to stop the mass shooter as he began and carried out his deathly rampage.

It is a common misconception around the world that there are no controls on gun ownership in the US. However, defining what “gun control” looks like in the US — federally, as well as state by state — gets to the crux of the matter.

Measures such as background checks before purchase, mostly perfunctory, are more than enough, according to guns rights activists. Many gun rights advocates say even that even those feeble measure should not be in place, and that they infringe constitutional rights.

Gun control measures vary state by state.

In Texas, the GOP-led state legislature in recent years has loosened gun laws, priding itself on the fact that their state is the most gun-friendly in the nation.

The killer in Uvalde bought two assault rifles from a federally-licenced gun shop as soon as he turned 18, and went on to massacre children just days afterwards. He also bought almost 400 rounds of ammunition.

Two family members of one of the victims comfort each other during a prayer vigil in Uvalde. Picture: AP Photo/Jae C Hong
Two family members of one of the victims comfort each other during a prayer vigil in Uvalde. Picture: AP Photo/Jae C Hong

There are no laws in Texas buying weapons such as an AK-47 rifle, save for the purchaser must be 18. If the same buyer wants to buy a handgun, he or she must be 21.

However, people aged 18 and over can buy a handgun from another Texas resident in a private sale, which means no background check, no record of sale, or no permits.

When it comes to law across the country, nobody under 18 is supposed to be able to buy a handgun, but there are loopholes and easy ways around this.

Of the 50 US states, half allow so-called “constitutional carry”. This means 21-year-olds can carry a handgun without needing a licence.

To the outside world looking in, it seems like a recipe for disaster, borne out by mass shooting after mass shooting — around 270 this year alone.

To gun rights proponents, the answer is more guns carried by more people to be able to fight back in times of danger.

In the meantime, young children in the US regularly undergo “active shooter” drills in school, preparing them for possible scenarios that should only be in the worst nightmares.

Year of change in Britain and Australia

To those who say bans on guns, or even stringent background checks, do not work, it is worth looking at Australia and Britain.

The year 1996 was a watershed moment in each jurisdiction, when governments finally decided to tackle gun violence.

In 1996, a gunman massacred 35 people and injured 23 more in the Tasmanian tourist town of Port Arthur.

Although profoundly disturbed and socially isolated in the years before the massacre, the assailant was able to legally purchase semi-automatic and automatic weapons including rifles and shotguns.

Following the Port Arthur massacre, guns laws in Australia changed.

According to Harvard figures, the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) “banned semi-automatic and pump-action rifles and shotguns, bought back more than 650,000 of these weapons from existing owners, and tightened requirements for licensing, registration, and safe storage of firearms”. The buyback is estimated to have reduced the number of guns in private hands by 20%, and, by some estimates, almost halved the number of gun owning households, Harvard Injury Control Research Center added.

Since the 1996 Port Talbot massacre, there has been one mass shooting of note in Australia, in Perth in the west of the country in 2018.

Critics of Australia’s gun control laws say there is ample evidence to suggest that although mass shootings have become rarer, gun deaths still occur, and murder rates overall did not drop significantly.

However, one mass shooting in 24 years since the laws changed is a standout figure. Something changed that day.

A teacher and 16 children died in the Dunblane massacre in 1996, leading to laws changes in Britain.
A teacher and 16 children died in the Dunblane massacre in 1996, leading to laws changes in Britain.

In Britain, a gunman killed 16 children and one teacher, injuring 15 more, in the Scottish village of Dunblane in 1996.

Despite previous reservations around his character, including inappropriate interest in children, the gunman entered the school with four legally-held handguns, two pistols, two revolvers, almost 750 ammunition cartridges, and opened fire.

The Cullen Report, a public enquiry into the Dunblane massacre, recommended stricter gun ownership laws, and Britain subsequently legislated for a severe curtailment of handgun ownership.

Of five mass shootings in public that began when a gunman killed 16 people in Hungerford in 1987, after Dunblane, there have been only two in Britain — Cumbria in 2010 when 12 people were killed by one gunman, and Plymouth in 2021 when five died.

Meanwhile, the US actually has its own mass school shooting database, with more than 2,000 incidents of schools coming under fire since 1970, with more than 650 people dead.

Take 1996, the year that changed Britain and Australia. America saw 10 school shootings that year, according to data from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

In 1997, it saw 26. In 1998, there were 28. And on and on it went.

It is now 26 years later, and Uvalde in Texas is the latest. Until the next one.

In 1791, it is difficult to believe that the founding fathers had such carnage in mind when they enshrined the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights.

This is the America they created, but hardly intended — the bloodiest stain on the Land of the Free.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox

LOTTO RESULTS

Saturday, July 2, 2022

  • 1
  • 15
  • 17
  • 21
  • 34
  • 42
  • 47

Full Lotto draw results »