Editorial: Mr Obama's one chance to bring in gun control


Related Topics

The numbers made this school shooting the most horrific in America's long and painful history of such tragedies – but not just the numbers. The young age of so many of the victims, the self-sacrificial efforts of their teachers, the proximity of Christmas and the picture-postcard New England setting all combined to propel the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown to the top of the dismal US roll call of gun carnage. But the response was as divided as ever.

From Europe came the standard explanation that it was all about the availability of guns and the endemic violence of US society – condemnation that found an echo with those many Americans who favour stricter gun control. Then from the powerful US gun lobby came the defence that it is not guns that kill people, but people that kill people. Thus simplistically – too simplistically – are the battle lines drawn up.

It is not as though either Europe in general, or Britain in particular, has not had its own gun massacres, despite very strict firearms laws. Mass shootings in Britain did not end with the slaughter of 16 children at Dunblane, though the law was subsequently tightened further. What price, too, the apparent social calm of Scandinavia, when one fanatic could kill 77 people at a Norwegian youth camp? Connecticut, after all, has some of the strictest gun controls in the US. Laws cannot prevent everything.

They can, though, do a lot. There is no comparison between the number of gun deaths each year in Britain and the US, either in absolute terms or in proportion to the size of the population. The atrocity at Newtown was the third multiple shooting in the US this year. And, unusually, the US has a President who was elected and re-elected despite his unapologetic advocacy of gun control. That he is starting a second term and cannot seek another gives him more freedom of manoeuvre on this divisive topic than he would have had four years ago.

He seemed also to take the Newtown shooting very personally, showing a rawness of emotion unusual for him. And he suggested a readiness to use his authority to curb US gun excesses. "We have been through this too many times," he said. "We're going to have to … take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."

That, though, will be easier said than done. For a start, "the politics" cannot be so summarily dismissed. Gun control is an even more sensitive issue in the US than healthcare, and we saw how difficult it was for Mr Obama to enact even a modest extension of health insurance. Nor has he shown himself especially adept at reaching out to his Republican opponents.

Even in the unlikely event that support did emerge in Congress for a radical change in the US attitude to guns, it would take an amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees all Americans the right to bear arms. This in turn would require a two-thirds majority in both Houses, plus a vote in favour by 38 state legislatures – which would be nigh-impossible, with so many Southern and Midwestern states against – or a constitutional convention, which would be without precedent.

With passions running so high, however, and a strong impetus from the President, some reform might be possible. The Governor of Connecticut called yesterday for assault weapons to be outlawed federally, noting that it was hard for one state to enforce a ban that did not exist nationally. Less variation in state laws might not have prevented these deaths, but if it helped to thwart the malign intent of another disturbed individual in future, it would be a worthier legacy for Newtown than no action at all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power