Mass shootings: 11 years later, President Obama's questions bear relevance
Law enforcement officers stage near the scene of an active shooter on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 in Atlanta. Atlanta police said there had been no additional shots fired since the initial shooting unfolded inside a building in a commercial area with many office towers and high-rise apartments. (Photo: AP)

In the aftermath of the brutal slaughter of 27 human beings — 20 of them children aged six and seven — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012, then US President Barack Obama provoked that nation's conscience with two profound questions that we can never forget.

"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?" he asked.

At the time we had hoped that the massacre — committed by a 20-year-old man armed with an assault rifle firing ammunition designed to break up inside a victim's body and inflict maximum damage — would have given gun advocates in America cause to say, "Enough!" We hoped that they would have at least looked at tightening the rules governing the sale of high-powered weapons.

However, they have maintained their almost fanatical defence of their constitutional right to bear arms, even as more Americans are growing increasingly fearful in the face of increased mass shootings.

The latest episode in this deadly series of lunacy unfolded last Saturday in Texas when a gunman opened fire at a shopping mall, killing eight people before being shot dead by police.

This week the Gun Violence Archive in the US reported that this year is shaping up to be the worst in terms of mass shootings in that country. As of May 7, we are told, there have been 22 mass killings since the start of this year. The archive is forecasting that the number will increase to 60.

Mass shootings are defined as those in which at least four people, excluding the shooter, are killed or injured by the use of firearms.

Data from the archive show that last year there were 36 mass shootings in the US, 28 in 2021, a total of 21 in 2020, and 31 in 2019.

As it now stands, the country is experiencing, on average, more than one mass killing weekly. Nowhere, it appears, is exempt from this madness as the merchants of death turn their guns on schools, shopping malls, neighbourhoods, nightclubs, and parties.

Despite the grim recurrence of mass shootings, the US Congress has repeatedly failed to agree on tighter gun regulations, even as many Americans clamour for such measures.

In April, gun control advocates got a sense of hope when the Washington state legislature cleared a ban on dozens of semi-automatic rifles, which the governor was expected to sign into law.

The ban, which came after many failed attempts, blocks the sale, distribution, manufacture, and importation of more than 50 gun models, including AR-15s, AK-47s, and similar style rifles — the AR-15 being the weapon of choice among the demented individuals responsible for most of the mass shootings.

Not surprisingly, Republican state lawmakers opposed the ban, with some arguing that school shootings should be addressed by remodelling buildings to make them less appealing as targets, while others insist that it infringes on people's rights to defend themselves.

This controversy will not end any time soon, But America, we hope, will find the will to address the questions posed by Mr Obama 11 years ago. For it can't be that Americans, as well as the many immigrants and foreigners — among them Jamaicans — living there are made to continue living in fear.

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