Editorial: Obama's chance to act on guns

The President has shown that he can make progress through compromise

Share
Related Topics

Once again, the rest of the world regards America with horror, sympathy and incomprehension. How can a rich, democratic nation have so misinterpreted one of its founding principles, "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state...", to mean that repeat-fire guns should be available to anyone of disordered mind who feels that the world is against him?

As appalled as we are by the darkness, we are moved by the shining, selfless heroism shown by several of the adults who were charged with the care of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Those are the better angels of the American nature to whom the nation's leaders should now look.

We know that the American Dream has a dark side, but we should not pretend that we are so very different. We had Hungerford, Dunblane and Cumbria in this country in 1987, 1996 and 2010. After Hungerford, we banned semi-automatic weapons; after Dunblane, handguns; and yet we still could not stop Derrick Bird, the taxi driver who killed 12 around Whitehaven in Cumbria, who used a legal shotgun and rifle.

Yet there is a correlation between the availability of guns and the frequency of multiple killings. In America, such killings happen more often because all kinds of guns are so readily available. This does not mean that the US psyche is different from ours; simply that Americans have a history of widespread gun ownership. As Rupert Cornwell points out today, it makes a sort of sense to suppose that, if everyone else has a gun, you will be safer if you have one too.

So it may be that the American political system is less broken than it looks to us outsiders. Gun control measures have been enacted in recent decades. The assault weapons ban was passed by two votes in Congress in 1994, with the support of President Reagan. Unfortunately, the act, which banned semi-automatic firearms, expired 10 years later. The time limit was a success for the National Rifle Association, a remarkable institution that transformed itself in the 1970s from a sports club into a ruthless single-issue political lobby. But it should be remembered that public opinion in the US is opposed to gun control in any case.

In other ways, too, the US seems to be going backwards. Only on Tuesday a federal appeals court struck down a ban on carrying concealed guns in Illinois, Barack Obama's home state. We have to understand the limits of the possible imposed by America's history. President Obama, even if he were the great liberal reformer of the European imagination, is never going to repeal the second amendment to the constitution.

Nor can he reverse decisions of the Supreme Court, which just two years ago found that that amendment guarantees the right of a US citizen to keep a gun. Thus, when the President speaks, as he did in his emotional address on Friday, of "meaningful action to prevent more tragedies", it will have to be action to tighten the rules and to restrict the categories of weapons that may be held.

This is an almost impossible political project, especially when the US is so polarised. And yet President Obama has shown with healthcare reform that he can make progress through compromise towards a goal once regarded as impossible. If he can achieve any restriction on the availability of guns in his second term, he would rightly stake a claim to modest greatness.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links