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Little comfort for gun victims as wannabe-presidents shoot for goals

Tragedy ... friends and family of the victims mourn their loved ones.

Tragedy ... friends and family of the victims mourn their loved ones. Photo: AP

Before the dead had even been carried from the cinema in Colorado on Friday afternoon a CBS broadcaster said in a solemn radio editorial:

''We'll eventually find out who James Holmes is, but he's not a terrorist, we're told, and thousands of other showings were peaceful, so really we have to start seeing these things as natural disasters, like an earthquake or a tornado.''

The NRA ... has convinced a wider constituency that the right to keep and bear arms is not a singular right, but is freedom from tyranny itself. 

That this view was swept away in the deluge of sad commentary on Friday was surprising to me, an outsider.

By this standard James Holmes was not a young man armed more heavily than the soldiers the US fields in Afghanistan, but an event, an act of god, to be weathered rather than countered.

This, even though he was carrying two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun and an assault rifle with a clip that let him fire 100 rounds without reloading, and though he was wearing body armour from head to toe, and a gas mask, and though he carried a tear gas grenade to disorient his victims, and though he bought all this equipment - plus 6000 rounds of ammunition - legally from discount stores and websites.

After mass killings in schools, universities, offices, restaurants and even a military base there is no real debate, let alone political action, to restrict the free sale of any guns - even military weapons - in America.

It is difficult to understand how a country that so truly values its citizens' rights to life - and uniquely to their pursuit of happiness - can tolerate such a situation.

If you can't grasp the geography you look to the landmarks. In 1994, Congress approved a 10-year ban on 19 types of military-style assault weapons, a few months later some Democrats blamed the laws on their loss of the House of Representatives.

Five years later, Al Gore, then the vice-president, cast a tie-breaking Senate vote on legislation to restrict sales at gun shows.

Gore lost the 2000 election. Still, since then both Obama and Romney have shown some resolution on guns.

Before the last election Obama advocated closing the loophole that allows for gun purchases without background checks at gun shows, and for reinstating the assault weapons ban.

In April 2008 he described some angry voters of small town America as people who ''cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them as a way to explain their frustrations''.

Bad move, it confirmed the worst for his gun-advocate opponents.

As governor of Massachusetts Romney banned assault rifles in his state. But he has had a change of heart since.

As he prepared for his first presidential run in 2006 Romney became a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and this year he told the NRA national convention: ''We need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners.''

So what changed?

Perhaps realpolitik.

The NRA boasts only 4 million fee-paying members. But its reach is far further. Its members and surrogates have convinced a wider constituency that the right to keep and bear arms is not a singular right, but is freedom from tyranny itself.

This organised minority can be relied upon to vote on guns alone, while liberal voters will consider other issues like healthcare or the economy.

The NRA is aware of the power of single-issue voting and directs its propaganda to support it.

On Friday at the association's headquarters in Virginia, the flags were at half-mast. In the lobby there was a stack of the group's most recent journal. On page 5 there was a full-page ad for an AR-15, the assault rifle used in the killings in Colorado.

There was also a two-page editorial about the Obama administration's ''arrogant disregard for the law'' in suggesting the Justice Department should gather information on people who purchased two assault rifles in a five-business-day period, a feature claiming the Obama administration was risking the lives of servicemen in the wake of the assault that killed Osama bin Laden and an eight-page feature railing against a United Nations treaty against small arms.

These are not issues that would resonate among swing voters.

There are politicians who brave the message.

''Soothing words are nice, but maybe it's time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they're going to do about it,'' the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said.

But he is a rich man with a liberal constituency.

On the other side of the country Republican congressman Louie Gohmert said he thought the problem was more about lack of access to God rather than the availability of guns.

''What really gets me as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs and then a senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place,'' he said.

''It does make me wonder, you know, with all those people in the theatre, was there nobody that was carrying.''

In good times an American president can hope to shoot for one or two goals in a term.

In hard times they hope to nail one.

Obama's options are limited.

If he wins a second term he will defend his healthcare reform and perhaps tackle another issue - probably nuclear arms reduction.

It is an admirable goal, but little comfort to the 100,000 odd people killed or injured by guns in America each year.

Nick O'Malley is the US correspondent.

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123 comments

  • Senator Feinstein, a long time advocate for gun control, stated earlier that she thought little would be done unless people expressed outrage and demanded results. Unfortunately there are a significant portion of Americans who still cling to a literal interpretation of the Second Amendment without taking into account that it was written more than 200 years ago when America's Founders travelled by foot, horseback and carriage and guns were single shot muzzle loaded flintlocks that were used to protect an agrarian frontier society from bears, cougars and varmints. This issue is not helped by the immorality and voracious greed of the American Arms Industry and National Rifle Association who continue to manufacture paranoia and hysteria in the US community.

    These events have been proven that an armed society is far more dangerous than an unarmed society. America has the highest rate of incarceration of any developed country in the world. The truth is clear and unfettered and even the simplest of people should understand...that guns do not deter crime, guns encourage crime. Guns facilitate, aid and abet crime.

    One of societies most important roles is to protect the innocent. The victims in Aurora Colorado were innocent. Guns did not protect them. Guns killed them. A person with a gun did not protect them. A person with a gun murdered them.

    A country dominated and manipulated by fear is not a free country. The American Gun Lobby's slogan is that "Guns don't kill people. People kill people"...is farcical...the truth is that people with guns shoot people. People without guns don't.

    Commenter
    Alph Williams
    Location
    Red Rock
    Date and time
    July 23, 2012, 8:42AM
    • I couldn't agree more, Alph. But why does this message fall on deaf ears when it hits the US? Their attitude is ludicrous and no amount of logic, facts or tragic incidents seem to change it, if anything, it makes them more defiant.

      Commenter
      sdc
      Location
      inner west
      Date and time
      July 23, 2012, 10:14AM
    • "...It is difficult to understand how a country that so truly values its citizens' rights to life - and uniquely to their pursuit of happiness - can tolerate such a situation..."

      Please get a clue. Seriously. Why do all the Australian US based correspondents exhibit such ignorance with respect to the idea of liberty, natural rights and the basis on which the Republic was founded? To make it easier, I will list some quotes from the founding fathers and their view on the right to bear arms:

      * George Mason: "To disarm the people [is] the best and most effectual way to enslave them."

      "Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined" (Patrick Henry, 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836)

      "The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." -- (Thomas Jefferson)

      In the link below you can read all the terrible things which have occurred when the government disarmed the people. It's far worse than some occasional random mass shootings.

      http://rense.com/general2/right.htm

      Commenter
      Informer
      Date and time
      July 23, 2012, 11:37AM
    • @informer. Not exactly convincing using antiquated quotes regarding guns. This American jingoism regarding the Constitution is absolute nonsense....under the Constitution you are guaranteed due process and a fair trial...but currently under the Patriot Act you have indefinite detention without due process or fair trial. Currently you exercise in defiance of the Geneva Convention...torture and water boarding. Currently, in your wonderful free America Bradley Manning languishes in prison isolation and has yet to be brought to trial for exposing the absolute horrors and abuses of the US's acton in Iraq. Currently in your wonderful "free" America you have more people in prison than any other developed country. And I have lived in America. I was born there and educated there and I can assure you there are lots of countries which provide more freedom than America: freedom from want, freedom from fear....among them. Like your quotes...I'm afraid you live in the past....a past that had no automatic weapons with clips that held a hundred rounds of ammunition...

      Commenter
      Alph Williams
      Date and time
      July 23, 2012, 11:59AM
    • Alph

      Your points are mostly non-sequitur, however I agree with you that other constitutional rights are being routinely abused by the US government and should be defended.

      Freedom only makes sense in the sense of negative rights. Let me give you two examples: I should have the freedom to be protected against arbitrary police searches (freedom to be left alone).

      Freedom from want means that someone is positively obliged to give you something. That is, it imposes an obligation upon another person to be drafted as your personal slave (they must work for the benefit of you). This is a baseless right and it is in conflict with a the real right of private property and the right to not be enslaved to another man.

      Commenter
      Informer
      Date and time
      July 23, 2012, 12:30PM
    • @informer...non-squitur? No. My points and examples are perfectly reasonable and logical. You can govern successfully in the twenty-first century astride a horse and communicate by telegram. The point is clear. The American Ideal and the American system no longer inhabit the same space. It's time to look at today's problems in context with today's technologies. So I would suggest that the use Patrick Henry, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson quotes from centuries before are non-sequitars when addressing the issues that pertain to technologies that didn't exit in their day.

      Commenter
      Alph Williams
      Date and time
      July 23, 2012, 1:50PM
    • Alph

      The concerns regarding governmental overreach are timeless. The enlightenment thinkers had a much clearer headed understanding of the proper role of government in a free society than most voters today.

      As Jefferson said:

      "...The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.."

      This one point must be reiterated: the right to bear arms is as a last resort against a government that has overstepped its bounds. That was the framers' intention.

      After you have petitioned and peacefully protested and written letters (all of these avenues were exhausted by the framers - read the declaration of independence) you must meet naked tyranny with force.

      "...It's time to look at today's problems in context with today's technologies..." I agree. therefore, if the government and its enforcers have access to a rapid fire weapon then it follows that the citizenry should have access to such a weapon as well. This is consistent with the intent of the 2A and the technological reality we now face.

      Commenter
      Informer
      Date and time
      July 23, 2012, 2:57PM
    • @informer. We have a ballot box. We elect our legislators. Americans have not exhausted their access for change. Hell, less than half of them even bother to show up on polling day and most of those who do are influenced by 30 second sound bytes and bumper sticker rhetoric. Guns are not the answer.

      Are you talking armed insurrection? Timothy McVeigh no doubt envisioned himself a freedom fighter when he bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma. He wasn't...he was a military malcontent that didn't make the grade for special services and he ended up killing innocent women and children.

      Bradley Manning and Julian Assange have made a far larger strike for freedom and truth than murderers like Timothy McVeigh and they didn't do it with bombs and assault weapons.

      Sure, James Holmes was a madman...but what kind of society provides access to that kind of weaponry to a madman and calls it "freedom"? A decent society protects the innocent and the US didn't do that.

      The Constitution is fine document, it is a frame work for governance...it is not written in stone, nor was it intended to be. Quote Jefferson all you want...but one thing you can't do is qote his response to this recent massacre, a massacre that America's lack of gun reform has facilitated.

      Governments have a duty to protect their citizenry. James Holmes and Jared Loughner legally purchased guns and committed mass murder because they had legal access to assault weapons. They weren't freedom fighters. They were murderers and our lack of gun laws was the accomplice and every bit as culpable. The defence for Holmes and Loughner will be insanity...will that be the gun lobbies defence as well?

      Commenter
      Alph Williams
      Date and time
      July 23, 2012, 3:46PM
    • I don't think an all out insurrection is in the best interests of anyone at this point. But an armed citizenry definitely makes any would-be tyrant think twice before expropriating or exterminating sections of the public.

      You fail to see the once in a hundred year mega murders committed by democratic states. Perhaps you should read up on some Rummel and familiarise yourself with the statistics of democide before you advocate for the wholesale disarmament of peaceful law abiding people :

      http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DBG.CHAP1.HTM

      Commenter
      Informer
      Date and time
      July 23, 2012, 4:06PM
  • I get quite irritated at this ' blame the gun ' nonsense that surfaces following these tragic events. In simple brief terms, the focus should be on MENTAL HEALTH, or the invisible disease as it should be referred to. Yes, the same disease that politicians have been neglecting for decades. These killers are obviously suffering from mental illness and yet there is virtually nowhere they can go to get help. THIS IS WHERE THE FOCUS SHOULD BE.

    Also, use your computer to get the facts on gun ownership and gun deaths per capita per country. You will be very surprised. And make sure you incorporate the 'per capita'.

    Commenter
    kanga
    Date and time
    July 23, 2012, 8:53AM

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