In America, violence and guns forever
Another American mass shooting. Another rush to buy more guns.
On the Monday after the latest of the bloody rampages that are part of American life, gun sales in Arizona shot up by more than 60 percent and rose by an average of five percent across the entire country. The figures come from the FBI and speak volumes about a gun culture that has long baffled much of the world.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation compared January 10, 2011, with the corresponding Monday a year ago.
So what would prompt Americans to stock up their arsenals in the wake of the shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 14, including Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was the target of an unhinged 22-year-old who has since been charged with attempted assassination?
To hear gun dealers tell it, demand went up because of fears that the Tucson shooting might lead to tighter gun laws. There was a similar spike in sales after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, where a deranged student killed 32 people and himself in the worst such massacre in American history.
Fear of regulation also drove up gun sales after President Barack Obama won the presidency in November 2008. In the first two months of 2009, about 2.5 million Americans bought guns, a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2008.
According to a CBS poll taken two days after Jared Loughner shot congresswoman Giffords in the head, Americans are almost evenly divided on the issue of gun control – 48 percent said gun laws should remain as they are or be made less strict, 47 in favor of more regulation. That is down from 56 percent in 2002 and confirms a Gallup analysis this week that found public support for stricter gun laws has declined over the past two decades.
That prompts one to wonder how many Americans see gun violence as the inevitable by-product of a free society – and whether the gun lobby has been right all along in saying that gun control advocates are out of touch with much of the country.
As one of the staunchest opponents of more gun regulation, John Lott, puts it in a book entitled More Guns, Less Crime: “American culture is a gun culture – not merely in the sense that in 2009 about 124 million people lived in households that owned a total of about 270 million guns but in a broader sense that guns pervade our debates on crime and are constantly present in movies and the news. So, we are obsessed with guns…”
WORLD LEADER IN PRIVATE GUNS
That obsession has long secured the United States the number one position on the list of gun-owning nations. There are more guns in private hands than anywhere else on earth. On a guns-per-capita basis (90 guns per 100 residents) it is comfortably ahead of second-ranked Yemen (61 per 100), according to the authoritative Small Arms Survey issued by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.
That obsession, in the eyes of gun control advocates, borders on insanity and some of the wrinkles of America’s permissive gun laws are so bizarre they beggar belief. To wit: “Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law.” Neither does inclusion on the government’s ever-growing terrorist watch list.
So found the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the research arm of Congress, after looking into the background checks of prospective buyers gun dealers are required to file to the FBI. According to a GAO report read at a congressional hearing last May, sales of guns and explosives to people on terrorist watch lists totaled 1,119 in a period of six years.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, came out in opposition to proposed legislation that would have barred people on the list from buying guns. Why? They are placed there on “reasonable suspicion” of terrorist links and the NRA argues that suspicion is not enough for Congress to take away the constitutional right, enshrined in the second amendment to the U.S. constitution, to own and bear arms.
After the Tucson attack hurt one of their own, members of Congress are worried about their safety but whether that will translate into greater willingness to tighten gun regulations remains to be seen. The test will come when a New York Democrat, Carolyn McCarthy, introduces a bill to ban extended magazines, such as the 33-round clip used by Loughner.
Such magazines were illegal from 1994 to 2004 as part of a ban on assault weapons the Bush administration let lapse, a move that prompted gun control advocates to predict a sharp increase in the number of gun deaths. That did not happen. The rate of gun deaths – by murder, suicide or accidents – has held steady at around 31,000 a year and the murder rate has actually dropped.
Which is an argument gun enthusiasts and their lobby are certain to field when McCarthy’s bill is debated. After that, the topic will fade – until the next mass shooting.
(You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com)