Letters: The right to bear a flintlock musket

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I find it astonishing that the Supreme Court of the United States interprets the amendment to the constitution concerning the right to bear arms in the way that it does.

When this amendment was introduced, the only firearms available were single-shot, muzzle-loading muskets and pistols. Rifling such weapons was only beginning to be developed and breech-loading, multi-shot weapons were more than a century away.

In the environment of the day, when in the vastness of the new West no one was ever far from a wolf, mountain lion or unfriendly native American, it was obviously considered reasonable that people should be entitled to have and carry one of these weapons.

But to construe the right to bear arms as an absolute when the nature of weapons has changed so much is just ridiculous.

It is interesting in the USA that this curious interpretation exists alongside fundamentalist interpretations of religious books which are even more obsolete than the Constitution. When the hardware and knowledge changes you have to change the rules.

Dudley Dean

Maresfield, East Sussex

The response of Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, to the Newtown shootings is absurd to the point of being pitiful.

His vision of American schools patrolled by armed guards and monitored by metal-detecting security equipment is positively dystopic, reinforcing the dismal fantasies peddled increasingly by Hollywood and the video games industry.

The mindset of the students subsequently to be churned out of such an environment hardly bears thinking about.

It's about time some bright legal spark in the US brought about a class action against the NRA for incitement to violence and worse.

Ian Bartlett

East Molesey, Surrey

The annual death rate per 1,000 by gunshot in the USA is 32 times that in the UK. To quote Wayne LaPierre, NRA chief: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun". To quote Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken".

John Green

Milton Keynes

Rod Raso (Letters, 17 December) is right: guns did not create these killers. The question for America is "So why do you continue to allow these killers to arm themselves with guns?"

Should all people be allowed all guns? Should some people be allowed no guns? Should all people be allowed some guns? It's not black and white.

When America tires of its innocents being slaughtered it will act. May it be soon.

Mike Bersin

Allendale, Northumberland

Further to Ramji R Abinashi's assertion (letters, 22 December), guns do enable people to kill more efficiently, but the gun does not make the decision. That is the prerogative of the shooter.

Norman W Foster

Duxford, Bedfordshire

Unemployment is a matter of public health

At the winter solstice, thoughts often turn to our hopes for the new year. I suggest that we try to make 2013 the year in which we tackle involuntary unemployment by recognising it as totally unacceptable, a preventable public health problem.

We see it only as an economic problem. If we consider the ways in which it damages not only the would-be workers but also their families, few would think that the rational way for society to respond is through thousands of prescriptions for anti-depressants, tranquillisers and hypnotics.

We should remember that many would-be workers and members of their families not only develop clinical depression, some commit suicide. Occupational rejection can be lethal. And bad economics kills.

As is often the case with major public health problems, effective prevention is through tackling the hostile environment directly, for example as was achieved by building the amazingly expensive sewers or creating smoke-free zones.

The kind of changes in the wider environment that are called for in relation to massive unemployment can mainly be the creation of thousands of "green jobs". There is also much-needed work in different kinds of social caring, such as visiting the isolated or organising lunch clubs, and, not least, in terms of the arts.

We can't afford to waste the work of so many people and in the process damage many. Much of the money needed to pay the wages involved would come from the welfare payments that were no longer needed.

Dr Peter Draper

London N6

David Blanchflower ("Ideology rules the Coalition's jobs policies", 3 December) criticises the Government for closing the Future Jobs Fund just 17 months after its launch, on the basis of early data and no proper assessment of its impact. He then criticises the Work Programme, 17 months after its launch, on the basis of early data and no proper assessment of its impact.

As yet, there is no robust evidence that the Work Programme is "less effective than doing nothing", and it will be some time before there will be. The impact assessment of the Future Jobs Fund that Blanchflower references arrived three years after the programme was launched, while the Job Training Partnership Act evaluation that he cites was published 11 years after.

Our analysis of the early data for the Work Programme suggests that it is performing no better, but probably no worse, than the programmes it replaced. But it could and should be doing a lot better.

Like Mr Blanchflower, we want to see a proper economic assessment of the impact of the Work Programme (which the Government has committed itself to carry out). We also want to see much more being done, by the Government and those delivering the programme, to drive up performance and to support more long-term unemployed people to get back into work.

This should include learning the lessons from the Future Jobs Fund, which we set out in our independent evaluation last year, as well as from other measures to stimulate more jobs for young people.

Tony Wilson

Policy Director, Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, London SE1

In your report "Union anger as Coalition halves job-cut notice period" (19 December) halving notice periods to speed up the collective redundancy process was unsurprisingly supported by business leaders, but it will punish workers as it increases job-insecurity and undermines their rights.

Retaining the 90-day consultation period would give people a much better chance of finding alternative employment in a severely depressed labour market. Employees are also more likely to take chances to further their careers and increase productivity when protected from suddenly losing their jobs. People need to be able to protect their living standards through employment protection and, when jobs are lost, through social welfare. Both are under attack by the Coalition Government and big business.

This latest assault on workers, in the guise of "greater flexibility", will not stimulate economic growth, because workers are less likely to spend money if they don't know how long it might be before they are told "You're fired".

As the gap between rich and poor is ever widening so is the gap between the employer's rights and the employee's.

Jos van Heugten

Beckenham, Kent

No time for compassion

Compassion and kindness are casualties of the cuts to nursing provision.

It is pointless, as Christina Patterson suggests (5 December), that nurses be trained to be compassionate if the ethos of the hospital militates against this. In a prevailing culture of "economies", "throughput" and "efficiency" there can be no time for compassion.

If there is no box to tick for the time spent sitting with a dying patient or reassuring someone frightened or in pain, how can even a kind and gentle nurse justify such compassion?

Barbara Pensom

Finstock, Oxfordshire

The Pope fails to understand human sexuality

It's fascinating that the Pope, in his condemnation of gay marriage, includes the father as a "key figure of human existence" (report, 22 December).

Anthropologists have documented plenty of human societies where the role of the father in making babies is not recognised; in such societies the uncle, the mother's brother, is the key male figure in the child's life. Boudicca's tribe were matrilineal (tracing the child's lineage through the mother).

The Pope is demonstrating the fact that monotheism is linked to patriarchy, replacing the Mother Goddess with a male, adult god.

He's also mistaken about human sexuality, of course, which is as diverse as other aspects of being human: there is a spectrum from very het through to very homo, with every variety in between, which is why the human genome project will never find the "gay gene". "Essential elements of the experience of being human", yes indeed.

My favourite Christmas message comes from the carol "Unto us a Child is Born". To me, the meaning is that every child's birth, every gender and every aspect of sexuality, is both a miracle and an opportunity to save the world; to make the world a better place.

Henrietta Cubitt


Any questions?

I must agree with Kartar Uppal's rebuttal of the claim that Muslim science students refuse to question the printed word (letters, 21 December). This claim makes no sense in higher education, particularly in science, which is primarily engaged in studying and questioning, in a systematic way, the behaviour of the physical and natural world.

Patrick Tansey


Cliché corner

Bob Heys (letter, 21 December) thinks that the cliché, "the beautiful game", should be consigned to the "waste-bin of history". Surely that is now two clichés, but with potentially nowhere to go?

Peter Wing

Manuden, Essex


Why was a semi-obscured picture of a naked woman considered to be the best way to illustrate an article (21 December) about the risks to children of their accessing online pornography?

K Jones

London SW19