JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Weighing the price of gun freedom

ANALYSIS

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Town grieves in Connecticut

As Newtown grieves, worshippers attend church services to mourn the victims of the horrific school shooting in Connecticut.

PT0M0S 620 349

It is easy to get lost in the numbers. In Connecticut on Friday, 20 primary schoolchildren and six adults were shot dead by a man with a military-style rifle.

So far this year, more than 140 people have been killed or injured in mass shootings in the United States. There have been 70 mass shootings in America since 1982, and seven of those occurred this year.

According to an analysis by the US's The New Republic, 45 per cent of fatalities in mass shootings in the past 30 years were killed since 2007.

Rising toll ... more than 140 people have been killed or injured in mass shootings in the United States.

Rising toll ... more than 140 people have been killed or injured in mass shootings in the United States. Photo: The New York Times

But these numbers don't tell the story. Each year nearly 100,000 people are wounded or killed by gunfire in America and according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 1 million have been killed since the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968.

Despite the carnage, the gun lobby has never seemed more powerful; each week it wins new victories. The day before the shootings in Newtown, politicians in Michigan ignored the protests of school boards and passed a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons in schools.

Now that even the most basic background check regulations have been neutered by the exemptions granted to purchases made at gun shows - where, by some estimates, 40 per cent of guns are sold - the gun lobby is concentrating on expanding ''concealed carry'' rights.

Anne Marie Murphy Click for more photos

Victims of the school shooting identified

The identities of those who died when a gunman opened fire at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut are revealed. Photo: Supplied

At some level, America and its leaders have decided that this level of bloodshed is a fair price to pay for the defence of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

But it was not always this way. After the assassinations of 1968, governments across the nation began introducing restrictions on gun sales and ownership. In the following years, even the National Rifle Association's leadership was co-operating with governments to help restrict the sale of the cheap handguns that were flooding inner cities.

That all changed in 1977, when a group of hardliners led by Harlon Carter staged a coup and replaced the entire NRA leadership overnight during a Cincinnati convention. Suddenly an organisation that was once concerned with safety training and recreational shooting became a fierce single-minded lobby dedicated to defending the Second Amendment.

By the 1990s, the group was so powerful that Bill Clinton declared in his memoir that ''the NRA was an unforgiving master: one strike and you're out. The gun lobby claimed to have defeated 19 of the 24 members on its hit list. They did at least that much damage and could rightly claim to have made [Newt] Gingrich the House Speaker.''

Today, America's political right can rely on the NRA to provide it with a rump of single-issue voters who are easily scared up to the polling booth to vote against Democrats. In turn Democrats are mute.

In courts across America, where benches are still replete with conservative appointees of the Bush administration, the literal interpretation of the constitution remains in vogue.

Despite all this, a survey conducted just after a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, by the Pew Research Centre (which has tracked attitudes to gun ownership for 20 years) found that 47 per cent of respondents said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 46 per cent said it was more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns.

In his address on Saturday, the US President, Barack Obama, declared the time had come for ''meaningful action''. It is not yet clear what that means, but it is the strongest language he has used on the issue during his presidency.

His comment has spurred the usual pro- and anti-gun debate in the US.

Some of the arguments are tired, some are preposterous - if only the teachers were armed - and some make grim sense. It is a fair point to make that given there are 300 million guns in the US, it could be too late to try to control them.

Either way, Newtown's grief cannot be ignored.

Now it is for Americans to decide whether the literal interpretation of the Second Amendment - and the occasionally fanatical defence it engenders - is worth the price in blood the nation is paying; and whether the possibility that reform might fail is reason enough not to try it.

Related Coverage

Town grieves in Connecticut (Thumbnail) Town grieves in Connecticut

As Newtown grieves, worshippers attend church services to mourn the victims of the horrific school shooting in Connecticut.

Emilie Parker Victims of the school shooting identified

The identities of those who died when a gunman opened fire at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut are revealed.

Slain children were shot multiple times

NEWTOWN, Connecticut: As teams of investigators continued to comb through the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman killed 26 people on Friday, officials finally released the names and ages of the dead.

Australians still sticking to their guns

THIRTEEN years after John Howard's historic gun reforms, a woman with a history of chronic paranoid schizophrenia walked out of the Sydney Pistol Club with one of its weapons, a .22 calibre Ruger semi-automatic pistol. Shamin Fernando, a probationary club member, used it to pump bullets into the head of her 70-year-old father, Vincent Lalin Fernando, in August 2010. He was her only target.

'Our hearts and our prayers go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter'

THE father of one of the children shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School has extended his sympathy to all the families touched by the tragedy - including that of the killer, 20-year-old Adam Lanza.

'There are bad guys out there': acts of heroism emerge from shooting tragedy

NEWTOWN, Connecticut: A worker who turned on the intercom, alerting others in the building that something was very wrong. A custodian who risked his life by running through the halls warning of danger. A clerk who led 18 children on their hands and knees to safety, then gave them paper and crayons to keep them calm and quiet.

Bomb threat scares town after mass shooting as gun debate continues

Worshippers hurriedly left a church on Sunday, after they were told there was a bomb threat not far from the elementary school where 20 children and six adults were massacred.

Related Coverage

Featured advertisers

Special offers

Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo