Heavy price for the right to bear arms

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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WE can't begin to imagine the excruciating pain being felt by the families and friends of the 27 human beings so brutally slaughtered by 20-year-old Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last week.

We are encouraged, though, by the overwhelming support for the grieving families from people across America, and the world, and we too express our deep sorrow at their loss.

The massacre has expectedly triggered soul-searching in the US and, most important, fresh political debate about the ease of access to assault weapons.

Some commentators believe that support for the pro-gun lobby has been significantly eroded because of the fact that among the gunman's victims were 20 children aged six and seven.

Indeed, gun rights activists have so far remained largely quiet as it appears that America has reached a tipping point on this most controversial issue.

Whether there will be any significant change in gun laws is left to be seen, as firearm advocates have demonstrated an almost fanatical adherence to their constitutional right to bear arms.

In fact, a Texas Republican member of the House, Mr Louie Gohmert, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary, who died trying to overpower the shooter, should herself have been armed.

President Barack Obama, however, has said he will use "whatever power" he has to prevent similar massacres.

"What choice do we have?" he asked on Monday. "Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

Those are very pertinent questions which we hope the president will urgently address when the Congress resumes. For it can't be that Americans, and indeed, the many immigrants and foreigners -- among them Jamaicans -- are made to continue living in fear of a repeat of this kind of slaughter.

Interestingly, Mr Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, is reported as saying that the chances of being killed in a mass shooting are probably no greater than being struck by lightning.

Mr Duwe, though, is reported to be sympathetic to the public perception when mass shootings are carried out in places like schools and shopping malls. "There is this feeling that it could have been me. It makes it so much more frightening," he is reported by The Associated Press as saying.

He is, of course, correct. However, he needs to also examine whether there is any justification for civilians to be in possession of assault weapons that are capable of creating such large fatalities with a mere squeeze of the trigger.

The pro-gun lobby should also state whether it supports civilians having access to the type of ammunition designed to break up inside a victim's body and inflict the maximum amount of damage, as was the case with Adam Lanza.

We note the caution issued by White House spokesman Mr Jay Carney on Monday, that "no single piece of legislation or action will fully address the problem".

However, we believe that President Obama, who has never wavered in his support for gun control, should make that a centrepiece of his second term in office.

After all, he has a strong mandate from the American people.




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