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America must take a stand against gun lobby

Date

Sunday Canberra Times

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THE mindless slaughter of nearly 30 people at a Connecticut primary school, the majority small children, will send shockwaves far beyond the shores of the US.

How such atrocity can occur in this age in such a prosperous country will be beyond comprehension for most. But the horror must certainly reignite debate around the country about gun control.

As the world weeps for the families of those killed, it must surely be time for America to accept what has become blatantly obvious to most other civilised countries - that firearms should have no place in the general community.

While it must be remembered that the US does not have the highest per capita rate of homicide by firearms (that dubious distinction belongs to Honduras, El Salvador and Jamaica, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), the figures make for sober reading.

Excluding suicides, more than 10,000 people on an average are deliberately shot dead in that country every year. Two-thirds of all homicides are by firearms, and the US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world - nearly nine guns for every 10 people.

The American people's long, deep-seated distrust of government control has led the country to an untenable position where its treasured right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US constitution, has put the ability to inflict mass murder on the community within easy reach of unhinged and dangerous individuals.

Columbine, the Colorado movie theatre killings and this primary school tragedy must surely be enough for the majority of Americans to realise that enough is enough. If they do not want to see their children and families slaughtered on a semi-regular basis, they must move away from the mutually assured destruction mentality where many feel they have to carry a weapon to protect themselves.

It is difficult to underestimate just how powerful the gun lobby is in America. Guns are also deeply ingrained in the psyche of the general population, and convincing the broader community to give up weapons and allow changes to the constitution has been attempted and failed.

Societal change on this scale requires great leadership, but it is not impossible. President Barack Obama's response to the news of the tragedy was both moving and genuine. It is now time for him to use his re-election mandate to prove he is a great leader and drive this change.

The first responsibility of political leaders is to protect their citizens from harm. Should he succeed, it would be the finest legacy any president could deliver.

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