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Alabama hostage standoff enters sixth day

The hostage standoff in Midland City continues, as the town prepares to bury the school bus driver killed by the suspected gunman.

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It has been a bloody few days in America. There is no evidence that it has been any bloodier than usual, but some of the crimes committed have been unusual enough to have added even more fuel to the fire of the gun control debate.

Last Tuesday in Alabama, Jimmy Lee Dykes, a Vietnam veteran, shot dead a bus driver and then took a five-year-old boy hostage in a bunker. “He don't care too much for the government,” said the local police chief, James Arrington. The siege has not yet been broken.

Two days later a prosecutor in Texas was gunned down in a car park near his office in the small town of Kaufman. Two masked gunman escaped. Police are investigating the possible involvement of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.

And on Saturday America's most celebrated military sniper, Chris Kyle, was shot dead at a Texas gun range.

Kyle, 38, a former Navy SEAL who is reported to have killed at least 160 people and as many 255 as a sniper in Iraq, was shot at around 3.30pm on Saturday along with his friend, Chad Littlefield, 35.

Police have arrested and charged another veteran, Eddie Ray Routh. It is understood Routh had been visiting the gun range with Kyle, who sometimes took fellow veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder shooting as a means of support.

On the face of it this last shooting would appear to contradict the National Rifle Association's position that places where more people carry guns are safer than what it calls “gun free zones” such as schools and churches where guns are often banned.

Appearing on Fox News on Sunday morning, the NRA's controversial chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, did not answer a question about Kyle's murder, instead saying children could be kept safe only by putting armed guards in all schools.

A recent NRA ad accusing the President of being an elitist hypocrite for wanting to introduce new gun control laws – including a ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines – while his own daughters are protected by armed guards, attracted significant controversy.

The debate will spill into tonight's Super Bowl with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the advocacy group founded by the New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to air an advertisement that shows old footage of LaPierre saying he supported universal mandatory background checks for people trying to buy guns.

The NRA now opposes such checks, which LaPierre recently described as “an unworkable universal federal nightmare bureaucracy," even though polls show most of the NRA's members support them.

And last week the White House released a photograph of the President firing a shotgun, apparently in an effort to demonstrate that he was not against all gun ownership.

Chris Kyle survived four tours of duty in Iraq before retiring and writing his autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. Later he said he did not want write about the number of “kills” he was credited with in the book, but rather, the number of American soldiers he says he saved.

''It was my duty to shoot the enemy, and I don't regret it. My regrets are for the people I couldn't save: Marines, soldiers, buddies. I'm not naive, and I don't romanticise war. The worst moments of my life have come as a SEAL. But I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job,'' he told Texas Monthly.

Travis Cox, director of FITCO Cares, a non-profit group Kyle helped start to help fellow veterans, told the Associated Press that the former sniper and Littlefield had taken Routh to the range trying to help a veteran "who was struggling with PTSD to try to assist him, try to help him out, try to, you know, give him a helping hand and he turned the gun on both of them, killing them."

"Chris died doing what filled his heart with passion — serving soldiers struggling with the fight to overcome PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. His service, life and premature death will never be in vain," Cox said in a statement.