Our anger following the Washington Navy Yard shooting lacks the ferocity for change that followed Sandy Hook

It obviously takes a person to discharge the gun, but in the words of Eddie Izzard, ‘I think the guns helps’

Related Topics

Another year, another devastating gun massacre in America. On Monday morning 34 year old Aaron Alexis walked calmly into the Navy Yard military facility in downtown Washington DC, and shot dead twelve people before being shot himself by police.

It is a painfully familiar tale, only the public reaction to Monday’s tragic events as they unfolded was characterised more by stoic resignation than feigned shock and horror. Monday’s massacre appears to be part of a new norm; at the most conservative estimate, it was the seventeenth mass shooting to take place in the US since a similar gun rampage at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut claimed the lives of twenty schoolchildren less than a year ago. Each tragic incident seems only to raise the bar of what will shock, to desensitise the American public to the horror and senselessness of gun violence.

It may be that the apparently sacrosanct ‘right to bear arms’ is one of those instances of real cultural impasse between the US and much of Western Europe – one of those unfathomable, peculiarly American perversities that continues to mystify those outside its borders. The shooting in Washington DC has admittedly elicited anger and hand-wringing from politicians and lawmakers, and revived the dormant debate about implementing tougher gun control measures across the US. Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns have already commented that the U.S. has reached a 'tipping point' on firearms. But it is a more subdued anger, lacking the ferocity and determination for change that followed the Sandy Hook shootings. Any real political will to expand firearm regulations will inevitably become entangled in the quagmire of gun lobbying, constitutional interpretation and the same inane arguments against gun control.

There will be those who argue the dubious efficacy of gun control measures. They may point out, understandably, that the firearm regulation in the District of Columbia, where the Washington Navy Yard is situated, is actually far stricter than in most states. The gun laws allow firearms to be possessed at home only by those over the age of 21 who register their weapon with police, take a written exam and online safety course, and consent to background checks and fingerprinting. Yet the day before the shooting Aaron Alexis was still able to legally acquire a six-round 12-gauge shotgun from a suburban store in neighbouring Virginia, despite a history of mental illness and a criminal record in Texas. The fact that he was able to go on a gun rampage in DC in spite of these laws should not lead to the conclusion that gun control doesn’t work. It should instead lead us to the conclusion that token gun control measures that vary from state to state don’t go far enough. Instead of firearm regulation being the exclusive preserve of state legislatures, tougher federal legislation is needed. 

The ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ mantra of the National Rifle Association and frequently cited defence of the gun industry is an argument of unsurpassed inanity. It obviously, or at least usually, takes a person to discharge the gun (the same could be said of a bomb or nuclear missile), but in the words of Eddie Izzard, ‘I think the guns helps’. Guns are simply more deadly than any other legally available weapon; they facilitate murder, particularly mass murder, with so much more ease and immediacy than a knife or a baseball bat. It is possible, of course, to kill people with a round cheese carton and some sticky back plastic, but it is far easier to use a specialist tool designed for the purpose of killing.

Of course there are those for whom the effectiveness of gun control in stemming gun violence is almost an irrelevance; those who object to gun control in principle and cleave instead to the vainglorious fantasy that guns are the key to their freedom and independence.  That if the American government, with the largest arsenal of nuclear weaponry in the world and the most powerful military in human history, were to suddenly ‘turn’ on its own citizens, their own AK-47 would protect them against tyranny. 

The fact remains that the USA has a homicide rate greater than France, Germany, the UK, Spain and Italy combined, and 68 per cent of those homicides every year are firearm homicides. In the last 50 years, 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings worldwide occurred in the United States, and of the 11 deadliest shootings in US history, five have happened since 2007. The US firearm homicide rate is approximately 20 times the average of all other countries of comparable economic development. Shooting deaths in the US are projected to exceed automobile deaths by 2015.

That America has a huge problem of gun violence, and this problem is intimately and inextricably associated with its almost uniquely relaxed laws concerning firearm ownership, is beyond dispute and beyond argument. The existing gun laws are woefully inadequate, quixotic and ludicrously lenient, and the arguments against tighter legislation vary from the inane to the insane. With every fresh tragedy, the public capacity for shock and horror is numbed and the political will to change these laws is deadened.  Meaningful action to curb the epidemic of gun violence in the US has never been more critical.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'