Gun controls in US vital to stop killings

By Jay Kuten

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In the spirit of the season I had intended a light-hearted column. Maybe next time. For now I'm still trying to absorb the slaughter that took place in Newtown, Connecticut, of 20 kids and six teachers.

Like many Americans, I looked to the leadership of President Obama. Like him, too, I thought of my children and grandchildren and the hope for their continued safe lives. After an initial sense of outrage and sadness came a sense of personal helplessness. Then I thought of the parents of those kids. They've got to live through the worst nightmare that any loving parent can experience. And it's not one that stops with wakefulness. It goes on for days and nights that turn into years of grieving pain.

In the name of those kids, these massacres must cease, and we will need to overcome collective helplessness to make that happen. Obama said that things have got to change. But what? And how?

Despite the fact that 12,000 Americans die annually from gun-related violence - more than have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in 10 years - neither party, and especially the Republicans, has shown any inclination to legislate gun curbs. This despite the fact of one of their own - Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords - becoming the victim of a madman with a gun and a high-capacity magazine.

Congress's cowardice is attributed to fear of electoral loss as retribution from the National Rifle Association, a lobbying group that exerts far more power by fear than its four million hunter members should naturally warrant. The fear comes from lobbying money from the deep pockets of gun manufacturers.

Obama never addressed gun control in his election campaign, and if he is to address this issue now he will need to overcome Congressional resistance. That fear-based resistance is enhanced by the NRA's successful framing of the gun issue as "the right to bear arms". Congress has effectively yielded its Constitutional regulatory responsibility to the gun lobby.

As a result, it is harder to buy some over-the-counter cold medications than semi-automatic assault weapons over the internet. These weapons - semi automatics and high-capacity magazines - are not for hunting.

They are for killing human beings.

And despite the influence of the NRA, and polls that claim the country is evenly divided on "gun control" versus "gun rights", Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster activist, found that 74 per cent of the current and former NRA members and 87 per cent of the other gun owners supported criminal background checks of anyone purchasing a gun. A large number also favour banning semi-automatic weapons and a good case can be made to these hunters to prohibit high-capacity cartridge magazines.

These three measures; background checks, semi-automatic and high-capacity magazine bans, would not end all gun violence but would go far to prevent massacres.

Meantime, the world is watching. China's news agency urged US action on gun control, as did several world leaders.

The credibility of the country is at stake. In Newtown, Obama admitted that a country that fails to protect its children is failing in its most important task.

A nation that acts as the world's policeman, which seeks to be the example of democracy and good government but which fails to protect its young, undermines its own credibility in the world. That makes the securing of the country against such wanton slaughter by virtue of a few reasonable limitations on guns a foreign policy issue, a homeland security issue, and an issue as significant as any other in the national defence.

Obama can't fight this battle alone, even if he is so inclined. The last election saw the American electorate choose fairness over failed ideology, despite billions spent to persuade otherwise. Americans, along with their well-wishers from abroad need to write to the White House and to Congress to urge their courage in curbing future massacres like Newtown.

If electoral fear from constituents won't move them, perhaps shame from abroad will. If not now, when?

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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