At this still rather early juncture of the year, the headline issue above economic woe, civil strife in the middle east, and runaway Popes, is guns.
We in the non-American slice of the western world can not fathom how a country as powerful and proud as the United States of America, can possibly allow itself to be ravaged by gun violence and stand idly by while more guns are supplied to any who seek them. It is an incomprehensible tragedy that of the total amount of children killed in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world, 87% of them are American. It is a sick and twisted argument that the answer to bad guys having guns is to have good guys packing too. It is an argument divorced from reality, as former space shuttle commander Mark Kelly (husband of the former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head in Tucson, Arizona in 2011) reported recently in an interview with Diane Sawyer, there was a “good guy” with a gun in the Tucson car park that day. He almost killed the person who took down the murderer.
It is arguments that do not meet common sense, that the opponents of gun control hide behind. The same people who would claim that proponents of gun control hate guns, by definition. This is demonstrably not so, as both Giffords and Kelly remain proud gun owners. President Obama has been reported to shoot skeet to relax at Camp David. It is not inconceivable that someone can be for guns, and in favor of sensible gun laws. Holding both opinions does not condemn anyone to untenable hypocrisy. One’s head will not automatically explode, although in the USA one might expect it to fall prey to a shattering bullet. Nearly twenty thousand people experienced that from 2010-2011.
Overall crime has decreased in the United States, as it has elsewhere in the west. Gun crime too has decreased. But major mass shootings are on the rise, whether it be in Tucson, a Colorado movie theater, or an elementary school in Connecticut. In response to these shootings a paranoid population rushes to arm itself, fueling greater profits for manufacturers (the gun industry was worth $31 billion in 2011) and higher stakes overall. The decline of crime including gun crime since the 1990s must not be taken for granted. 270-300 million guns in the country raises the risk of the crime trend reversing; 62% of online gun retailers reporting they probably could not pass a background check, demonstrates that the flood gates have opened and guns are more readily available than ever before.
The tinderbox is stocked and the fuse lit. It has not yet gone off, but we are running out of time to deactivate it. President Obama is in his most powerful position after the first State of the Union address of his second term. He clearly intends to pursue gun legislation this year, but by the end of the next year he will already start lamely quacking. If he can’t make gun control happen this year, he never will. In the meantime schools will become more like fortresses or prisons, everyone will have a gun and no-one will be safe.