Monday, December 17, 2012

Some Thoughts On A Massacre

In the wake of the atrocity in Newtown, Connecticut, it's difficult to think about much else just now. Actually, I did consider writing about something else - anything else! - but the more I thought about doing that, the more I was compelled to write something about this. Not that I have anything very original to say, but I have spent some hours reading what the pundits - the people who can lay claim to a national audience, even an international audience - have had to say.

David Frum, of the Daily Beast, in a Friday Tweet, dripping with angry satire, that has caused some controversy: "Shooting at CT elementary school. Obviously, we need to lower the age limit for concealed carry so toddlers can defend themselves."

That's not so off the wall as it might seem at first read. Similar notions have been put forward, and with deadly seriousness.

Consider the statement by Larry Pratt, Executive Director of Gun Owners of America: "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. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones."

And the statement by one Louie Gohmert, a Republican Congressman from Texas. He is reported in the New York Times to have said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who is believed to have died trying to subdue shooter Adam Lanza, would have fared better if she had been armed. "I wish to God [the principal] had had an M-4 in her office, locked up, so when she heard the gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn't have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands."

There is admittedly a kind of grim logic here; even if the notion of elementary schools - any schools - being routinely equipped with an arsenal of weapons to repel gun-weilding invaders boggles the mind.

 The statistics are just as mind-boggling. There are some 33,000 gun deaths in the USA each year; and some 12,000 of those are gun-related homicides. In 2009, there were an estimated 310 million non-military firearms in the United States. Some 47% of Americans, in a 2011 Gallup poll, said they had at least one gun at home. As far back as 1993, Seanator Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that gun control in the USA was near pointless. A comprehensive ban on new sales of weapons would not diminish the existing supply. In a too-real sense, "a gun is forever".

Consider also a report in August of this year from Bloomberg News; "background checks for gun purchases spiked 41% in Colorado after 12 people were killed inside a Suburban Denver movie theater, according to state data."

And so, as Kurt Vonnegut might have said, "it goes."

President Obama said that "We have been through this too many times", and that the nation has to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies of this kind.

But what kind of action is possible, and will any action have a significant impact on the situation? Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has promised to table legislation on the first day of the new Congress. A report in the Globe And Mail said the legislation would prohibit the sale of most semi-automatic rifles that enable users to rapidly fire multiple rounds of ammunition. (Adam Lanza, the Newtown killer, was armed with, among other firearms, a .223 Bushmaster rifle, a rapid-fire civilian version of a military weapon.) Senator Feinstein added, though, that her bill would exempt more than 900 types of weapons - did you even know there were more than 900 types of guns out there? -  and would not apply retroactively; meaning that present owners of assault weapons could keep their guns.

And one can just imagine the retail bonanza for gun dealers if this bill is tabled, and even moreso if the legislation looks like being passed, as people line up at stores and gun shows to stock up on available weaponry.

So what could be the outcome, if Feinstein's legislation actually made it into the lawbooks? Not very much would change, I don't think. Try and wrap your mind around those 300 million-plus non-military weapons that already exist in private hands in the United States. And the millions more that might well be sold in the months of debate on any federal bill to limit future sales.

An effective gun-control regimen in the United States? Sadly, tragically, that boat may already have sailed - and may now be far out of sight of land.

Will there even be a serious debate at the federal or various state levels about gun control? I am very much in sympathy with the words of Charles M. Blow, penned two days ago in the New York Times: "A tragedy of silence is killing us....I only hope that in coming days we flesh out what "meaningful action"  [President Obama's term] means in policy terms. If not now, when? After the next shooting?"

It should happen.

But I will believe it only when I see it, and read about it.

For a Canadian take on the situation, go to:

The piece is titled:  Death and delusion in a nation of assault rifles, and it is by veteran CBC News Washington correspondent, Neil Macdonald.


Charlotte Hinger said...

Tom, I'm glad you wrote about this. Obama got it right when he said "our hearts are broken." We're weeping as a country for the precious souls who were lost.

Hannah Dennison said...

I am still in shock. Good post.