Columns

America's suicide pact with the gun lobby

Dr Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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The United States of America has become one of the most unsafe places in the world. This statement may grate on the nerves of those who believe in the invincibility of America or in American exceptionalism. And I will concede that it sounds incongruous against the background of the military might of the country: its formidable air force and navy; the sophistication of its army; and its trillion-dollar investments in the most deadly arsenal known to man.

But this is the macro picture. On the micro level it is a nation on tenterhooks in which many of its citizens are anxious, not knowing when and from whence the next bullets from a military-style assault weapon can end their lives. On the macro level, Americans do not fear being invaded by a foreign power. They have faith in the armed forces to repel such an attack and keep them safe. But where it matters most they are not that confident that even this formidable military machinery can prevent them from being gunned down by the next deranged misfit who has some problem with a family member or co-workers, or who just has a grudge against society.

They now know that they can send their children to an elementary school, or any other school for that matter, and 20 of them can be gunned down. They now know that they can be enjoying themselves as young people in a club and a gunman with assault rifles can take out 49 of them by an act of indescribable horror. Or they can be at an outdoor entertainment event and over 50 of them can be sprayed with bullets from a nearby hotel. The same is true of sitting in a theatre. They now know that they can be sitting in a church service only to have a man walk in with assault rifles and start methodically killing everyone in sight, even children. But they had knowledge that this could happen; for it did happen earlier to a group of largely black people assembled for Bible study.

You get the picture. These are just a few of the many cases of killings by the gun that have taken place in America in recent times.

There is one common denominator in all these killings — the use of the AR -15 assault rifle. It stretches incredulity that the authorities have not seen the need to rein in this weapon of mass destruction. What fealty can one have to a gun lobby that allows what is really a military assault weapon to be available to citizens to be purchased at will? What are civilians doing with such a weapon? It cannot be used for hunting as it takes the fun out of that form of recreation. In the hands of the wrong person it can have deadly consequences — as we have seen.

The Republicans in Congress and their supporters in the conservative groups and the larger society like to point to the Second Amendment of the American Constitution as a justification for Americans to bear arms. They do not have the integrity to acknowledge that when that amendment was made it was to address a situational imperative — to empower state militias in defending the country from tyranny, even from the federal government. At the time, the founding fathers were dealing with muskets and cannons which could not fire multiple rounds in rapid succession.

Here is a brief comparison between the typical revolutionary era musket with which the founding fathers were familiar when they enacted the Second Amendment and today's typical AR-15 assault rifle. The musket had a magazine capacity of one round; it could fire three rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity (speed at which the bullets leave the muzzle) of 1,000 feet per second, with maximum accurate range of 50 metres. The typical AR-15 has a magazine capacity of 30 rounds, can fire 45 rounds per minute, has a muzzle velocity of 3,260 feet per second, and a maximum accurate range of 550 metres. One can be sure that if the founding fathers could ever have got a peep into the future and see the possibility of the evolution of such a weapon, in their wisdom, they would have relented on putting through this amendment or they would have modified it significantly with important caveats.

But today we do not have people in Congress that are imbued with a surfeit of integrity and honesty. Obfuscation and lying seem to be their tools of governance. Genuflecting to interest groups and rich sponsors is the new orthodoxy that drives them. Without the imprimatur of the National Rifles Association (NRA) many are impotent in doing the people's business. They easily outsource their brains to brainless causes such as those insisted on by the NRA and the tax purity of Grover Norquist's tax pledge which they supinely sign.

They fail to see how commitment to such orthodoxy is hurting the country, that in the instance of the insane gun killings they have virtually signed up the country in a suicidal pact with the gun lobby. This point is even more important when you consider that, aside from the AR-15 as a weapon of choice, there is yet another denominator that is evident in the use of this preferred choice — its use by people who have a mental illness. In most if not all the cases of these gun attacks the weapons were used by someone who had a form of mental illnesses. In more civilised jurisdictions, no effort is spared to make it very difficult for such individuals to have these weapons. Yet, in America they have this kind of access.

After the slaughter of the innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Barack Obama signed regulation that added people with mental illnesses to a national background check database. One of President Donald Trump's first actions on becoming president was to roll back this provision. Today, America is the only developed country that allows such easy access to military-style weapons to its citizens, whether they are mentally challenged or not.

This is insane!

What is sure is that common sense is not so common when it comes to the matter of dealing with the gun issue. In dealing with the suspension of habeas corpus during the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is purported to have said that the constitution is not a suicide pact. This was an appeal to keep a balance between constitutional restrictions on Government and that which was necessary for the nation's health and survival Where is that balance today?

Couple the easy accessibility to assault rifles with the level of mental illness, compounded by the opioid crisis in the country, and one sees this has the making of a deadly combination that should be enough to place the country on a suicide watch. It is my belief that with the opioid crisis that has now been declared a national emergency by the president, there will be a proliferation of people getting their hands on these weapons of mass destruction. Any sane society would see the wisdom of keeping such weapons from the hands of mentally challenged people, especially when there is overwhelming, empirical evidence of the tragic loss of lives due to such access.

But there is no appetite for this common sense approach. All we will hear is the customary hypocritical bleating of people like Vice-President Mike Pence that they grieve with families and victims of such tragedies, or that they resolve to fight against this evil or that they find comfort in the 'good book'. But Americans will see this hypocrisy for what it is. Such bleating from our leaders become hollow against the background of their impotence or unwillingness to show the real resolve that restricting the use of these weapons demands.

One would think that at the very least gun technology should be introduced to limit the amount of rounds that a handgun may have. Certainly, there is veracity in banning the AR-15 or similar assault weapons from the civilian population. There are over five million of these rifles in circulation and they are becoming more popular by the day. To what end? To carry out the next dastardly act at which we will once again wring our hands and declare it evil? It should not be too much to ask to make it harder for people with mental illnesses to get guns. Is this a resolve too hard to bear? When the next tragedy strikes, as it certainly will, the last thing I would want to hear from any political leader is that they are in grief or that they resolve to fight this evil. It is just as evil to see such destruction of people's lives and sit back impotently because you are interested in who will support you in the next election. This is a sickness that should bar such politicians from bearing arms. They are indeed unworthy of the office they hold.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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