Well that’s nice. The four children of the gun instructor shot dead a couple of weeks ago while giving a nine-year-old lessons on firing an Uzi submachine gun at the Bullets and Burgers shooting range in Arizona have released a video telling the girl she shouldn’t blame herself and they love her. “Some day, we hope that we can meet you, hug you and tell you that it’s OK,” one of his young sons says.
Forgiveness, like second chances, is one of the fingers that rest on America’s heartstrings. When the strumming comes from children as composed and as cute-looking as those of the late Charlie Vacca it becomes irresistible. Thus, the girl with the ponytail and pink shorts, who remains unnamed, is absolved; the country can move on.
Moving on is America’s preferred response to gun tragedies. Tuesday was the first anniversary of the Navy Yard shooting in Washington when a contract worker, Aaron Alexis, opened fire and mowed down 12 people. It happened barely one mile from the chambers of Congress where the nation’s laws are made. Or, where gun control is concerned, not made.
There was a memorial service at the Yard this week, though the rest of the country barely noticed. And an email duly landed in my inbox from the White House with appropriate words from President Barack Obama. It was time, he said, for “rejecting atrocities like these as the new normal and renewing our call for common-sense reforms that respect our traditions while reducing the gun violence that shatters too many American families every day”.
There was another anniversary this week. On 15 September 1967, President Lyndon B Johnson sent a letter to Congress imploring it to pass new gun controls. One year earlier, a student, Charles Whitman, had opened fire at the University of Texas, killing 13 people. For 50 years this has been happening.
As Time magazine points out this week, the language used by LBJ then, and by Mr Obama in 2013 when he tried to push through similar laws following the Newtown elementary school massacre, is interchangeable. Both men stressed the limited nature of what they were seeking. Mr Johnson said his law, “interferes neither with sportsmen nor law-abiding citizens with a legitimate need” to own guns. Of his, Mr Obama noted: “Nobody could honestly claim that [the bill] infringed on our Second Amendment rights.”
A version of the LBJ law did get through. But Mr Obama’s efforts have come to nought. What will it take finally to prick America’s coma on guns and the Second Amendment? I was in Newtown after its school shooting and I allowed myself to think then that the moment might finally have come. Then the National Rifle Association did its thing. Nothing was passed.
Maybe the girl-with-the-Uzi incident had the potential to do it because it so vividly highlighted the gulf between gun-owning rights and common sense. Yet the forgiveness video will close debate down. If only those children had said: “This is crazy, why did our father give you that Uzi and why did the range allow it? Why does the law allow it?”
The video closes with them holding up signs spelling “L-O-V-E”. They should have spelled out “S-T-O-P”.
There is some good news; Bullets and Burgers has voluntarily tightened its rules so that only guests who are 12 years or older and at least 5ft tall will be allowed in future to play with Uzis.