After the slaughter at Sandy Hook school, America's firearms debate intensifies
Since the outrage that shocked the world, another 500 Americans have died because of absurd gun Laws. They include a boy, just 3, a church volunteer and a victim of road rage. And the solution? More guns, says the NRA. Unbelievable...
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Sunday 23 December 2012
In the nine days since 27 people – 20 of them young children – were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, at least 500 are believed to died in the US because of the America's lax gun laws. Hardly surprising, given there are almost 10,000 homicides (and 20,000 more suicides and accidents) every year because of a nation's zealous faith in the right to bear arms, and its absurd interpretation of how to apply today a constitutional amendment framed more than 200 years ago.
Among them was three-year-old Ryder Rozier from Guthrie, Oklahoma, who found a gun in his uncle's house and shot himself in the head. Demetrius Cruz, 15, was shot twice in the back while riding in his cousin's car in Denver, and three men were found slaughtered at a mobile home in Cleburne County, Alabama: their suspected murderer, Romero Moya, 33, was shot dead by police.
Support for stricter gun control laws is at its highest for a decade. A poll by CBS News found that 57 per cent of Americans now support tighter control over weapons – a surge of 18 percentage points since the spring. President Obama seized the moment to signal change, and White House petitions have 320,000 people backing greater restrictions on gun ownership. But there's no guarantee these will follow.
In a darkly ironic twist, the immediate effect of the Newtown shooting may be a rise in firearms sales. The demand for guns tends to increase following a mass shooting, according to analysis of US government data on background checks run on prospective gun buyers in the past 13 years. The analysis, by the news agency Reuters, also shows anecdotal evidence of a rise in arms sales since 14 December across the US.
Jonathan Lowy of Washington DC's Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said: "We're the only industrialised country in the world that has collectively stood by while hundreds of thousands of citizens are gunned down and done nothing about it. The death toll at Sandy Hook is less than the national death toll [from guns] in America every day."
America's lax laws continue to be a cause of international incredulity. In 2009, firearms deaths – including suicides – were an astonishing 31,347 in the US. Homicides made up about 11,500 of those: in comparison, 39 were killed in England and Wales in the same period.
The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, used his final broadcast on Radio 4's Thought for the Day yesterday to lobby for greater control of weapons. He said: "People use guns. But in a sense guns use people, too. When we have the technology for violence easily to hand, our choices are skewed and we are more vulnerable to being manipulated into violent action."
As the leaders of the National Rifle Association prepared for their first post-Newtown public appearance in Washington on Friday, in Blair County, Pennsylvania, a man identified as Jeffrey Lee Michael shot and killed three people, before being killed by state troopers.
A running tally of all those killed by firearms in the US since the Sandy Hook massacre has been kept by the online magazine Slate, working with an anonymous Twitter account called @gundeaths. Last night the total was at 120, though the true number is likely to be much higher as they are recording only reported deaths.
A study published this week suggested shootings would likely surpass road traffic accidents as America's number one non-medical cause of death by 2015. Speaking at his organisation's press conference on Friday, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre offered a solution: more guns – specifically, armed police officers in every US school. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun," Mr LaPierre claimed, "is a good guy with a gun."
And with that, the NRA answered resoundingly the question of whether it would ever compromise on gun control. Perhaps the more relevant question now, however, is whether it matters. For years, members of Congress have lived in fear of the NRA, which awards each of them a grade ranging from A to F, based on their voting record on gun legislation. Yet even before Newtown, the organisation was beginning to lose support among previously loyal lawmakers.
Democrats increasingly see the NRA and second amendment activism as being affiliated with the GOP. "I worry the NRA has become a captive of the Republican Party at a time that it needs Democratic votes," congressman Gene Green, a Texas Democrat rated A- by the NRA, recently told The Washington Post.
Following the shootings in Newtown, many of Mr Green's fellow Democrats have distanced themselves from the gun lobby. Some, according to the Post, are emboldened by demographic shifts, as once gun-friendly rural districts become increasingly suburban. For example, Tennessee congressman Jim Cooper, whom the NRA has long considered a fellow-traveller, said last week he was "willing to consider any proposal that will keep our children safe, regardless of politics".
Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a long-standing supporter of gun rights, pledged to "engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws in a culture that allows this violence to continue to grow". Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia and lifelong NRA member, said: "Everything has to be on the table." California senator Dianne Feinstein has promised to introduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the opening day of the new Congress next month. It will, she said, be a "perfected" version of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
President Obama says he expects Congress to vote on at least three new items of legislation, all of which are opposed by the NRA: bans on assault weapons and on magazines that carry more than 10 bullets, as well as criminal background checks for all gun purchases. On Wednesday Mr Obama also announced he was setting up a commission to gather substantial recommendations.
During his first term, Mr Obama shied away from the issue of gun control, but now he may seize the moment to act. Bill Clinton did so in 1994, cajoling members of Congress to ease the passage of the assault weapons ban. Mr Clinton claims in his memoir that the NRA punished Democrats, campaigning against them so vigorously in certain seats that, at the congressional elections the same year, the House of Representatives was turned over to the Republicans for the first time since 1955.
Since then, the party has been cowed by the NRA, which claims a membership of more than four million, has an annual budget of $200m, and is described as the US's most powerful lobby group. Yet there is something of the Wizard of Oz about the organisation, whose power to sway elections has never really been proven. Many Republicans and Democrats are yet to be won over by calls for curbs on gun ownership, but they may be swimming against the tide. Michael Bloomberg, New York's Mayor and a passionate gun control advocate, has vowed to lend his support to anti-gun political candidates. On Friday, he called the NRA's press conference, "a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country".
Ryder Rozier, 3
Fatally shot, 15 December
The toddler was in his aunt and uncle's house in Guthrie, Oklahoma, when he accidentally shot himself in the head with a gun he found. His uncle, Ian Rozier, 37, is an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper and it was one of his weapons that the three-year-old got hold of. "Nobody should have to go through something like that," a resident said during a candlelight vigil.
William Harrison Rhodes Jr, 38
Fatally shot, 21 December
Rhodes Jr was the second victim of a lone gunman, who first shot and killed Kimberly Scott, 58, who was decorating the church hall for a children's Christmas party in Frankstown Township, Pennsylvania. It was the second shooting in a Pennsylvania church this month. The shooter, Jeffrey Lee Michael, 44, then killed Rhodes Jr and his father-in-law, Kenneth Lynn, in a driveway.
Aydan Perea, 4
Fatally shot, 15 December
The four-year-old was shot in the head by a gunman in Kansas City who opened fire on the parked car he was sitting in. The shooting marked the second time the boy had been involved in a gun incident; he was unhurt previously. It is thought the incident could be down to gang crime. His mother said her world has "stopped".
Demetrius Cruz, 15
Fatally shot, 15 December
The teenager was riding in a car with his cousin in Denver when the driver of a white car began repeatedly bumping into them. The car then began to chase the teenagers and Cruz was so frightened that he called his aunt. While they were on the phone several shots were fired and he was killed after taking two bullets in his back.
Veronica Soto, 30
Fatally shot, 20 December
The mother of two from Richmond, Texas, was shot in the head during an apparent case of road rage. Soto and her husband had been out getting food when they got caught in a traffic altercation, according to investigators. A 20-year-old male driver of another car, who faces murder charges, stopped, ran into his home, grabbed a rifle and started shooting as the couple drove away, according to reports.
Paul Sampleton Jr, 14
Fatally shot, 19 December
The teenager's body was discovered by his father, Paul Sampleton Sr, in the family's home in Grayson, Georgia. It is thought the teenager was tied up or restrained and police suspect he might have interrupted a robbery. "He was just always smiling, kind-hearted and everybody loved him. Nobody had problems with him," said Darius Stephens, who played football with him.
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