Source: The Guardian Unlimited
Only a revolution in thinking can stop the media, politicians and firearms lobby from having to trot out their well-rehearsed lines after every mass shooting
Within the American polity there is a cyclical requiem in the wake of each mass shooting – a predictable collective lament for a calamity that ostensibly everyone regrets and nobody can resolve. Profiles of the victims emerge as reporters opine in front of police tape, wringing every last detail from tear-stained survivors. Gradually facts about the shooter emerge, followed by endless speculation about his (they are almost always men) motives before the president calls for prayer and healing.
Everybody knows their lines. With 45 mass shootings already this year they have rehearsed them often enough. Indeed, the tragedy lies not only in the trauma of the victims but in the apparent helplessness of the political class and the hopelessness that the deathly cycle might be broken.
On Thursday night, following the shootings in Oregon, Barack Obama once again changed the tenor. Alongside the tone of sorrow and despair there was anger and frustration. “As I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he said. “It does nothing to prevent this carnage being inflicted some place in America, next week or a couple of months from now. Somehow this has become routine.”
To the outside world the solution seems straightforward: less guns, more gun control. With roughly 90 guns for every 100 inhabitants, America has far more guns per capita than any other nation and fewer controls on how many guns you can buy, how you buy them, who can own them. Nowhere else in the world has this kind of problem on this kind of scale. This is one example of American exceptionalism few are keen to emulate.
But these arguments, when pitted against the cultural allure of the settler-frontiersman and rugged individualism, the profits of the gun lobby and a tendentious interpretation of the second amendment, rarely get a hearing beyond the comfort zones from which they emerge. “None of us in the free world would have what we have if it were not for guns,” David Britt, a gun rights advocate, once told me. “It’s about freedom, it’s not about violence.”
So however it looks from the outside, from within America the landscape on which these debates are held – when they are held at all – are more thorny. When it comes to specific remedies Obama’s speaks for the nation. A Pew poll last month showed that 85% of Americans support background checks for gun shows and private sales, 79% back laws to prevent mentally-ill people form buying guns, 70% are in favour of a federal database to track gun sales and 57% support a ban on assault-style weapons.