Tucson, Arizona

January 15, 2011 — Leave a comment

There’s been a lot of talk this week in the press about “playing nice” in the school yard, due wholly to the horrific shootings in Tucson last weekend. It’s been a heart-wrenching week for the families of those murdered, and those struggling to survive. It would take a very hard heart not to empathise with the unbearable anguish Christina Green’s parents must be going through. The poignancy of their daughter’s birth on 9/11 and her violent death only 9 years later has been lost on no-one.

It has shocked and seemingly surprised Americans. When a small number (just under 700) were canvassed for their opinion on the possible cause of Jared Loughner’s killing spree, 58% believed it was random violence and 28% thought it might have had something to do with political anger. The rest didn’t have an opinion. The randomness of the act has since been discounted now the authorities have recreated Loughner’s movements for the 24 hours prior to the shootings. There was no mention of gun control in the survey.

The question many would like answered is, how was it possible for a young man, who spurned his friends the previous March and was tossed out of his community college for showing erratic anti-social behaviour and prone to crazed rantings, able first to purchase a semiautomatic weapon in November and then, six weeks later, wander into a Walmart and purchase extended magazine clips of ammunition? I wonder if the bullets were a short aisle away from the bubble gum and baby-wear.

Gun purchase is insanely easy in the United States, added to which are the differing laws relating to weapon sales at a gunsmiths and at a gun show. For example, if your name happens to be on the terrorist watch list you could not buy an AK 47 from a gun shop, but you could buy one from a gun show. There was one such show in Pima County, Arizona last week with the Arizona Arms Association reporting increased sales.

Of course it wasn’t just the militaristic rhetoric peppering the airwaves, or the cross-hairs of a rifle hovering over Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords constituency that triggered Loughner’s rampage. But add those factors together with the fudging of political truths, (is there such a thing?) the general loss of civility and the ridiculous ease with which guns, semi-automatics included, can be purchased, it might strike some as amazing there are not more horrible tragedies like Tucson, or Columbine, or Virginia Tech.

Anyone arguing for gun control tends to be labeled a rampant liberal going against the Second Amendment? Let’s remember that was written at a time when single-shot rifles, loaded through the muzzle and fired by means of a flintlock were the norm, not the semi-automatic weapons of today that can discharge a 30-bullet clip in seconds. The 19-millimeter Glock used by Loughner was described by Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign, as not suited for hunting or personal protection. What it’s good for is killing and injuring a lot of people quickly. Loughner did not break any laws with the purchase of his Glock or the ammunition, because in 2004 the law restricting the sale of semiautomatic weapons was allowed to expire, due to the unwillingness of Congress to take on the NRA (National Rifle Association).

A lot of mothers-to-be go through the I won’t allow my son or daughter to have a gun phase. Most learn very quickly that sticks become guns, golf clubs purloined from dad’s bag become guns and, if all else fails, fingers become guns. Little Jimmy is finally allowed a plastic pistol with the danger of guns being impressed on him even as he champs at the bit, longing to go out and shoot the cat. It’s only pretend Mum, he explains plaintively. But in America Little Jimmy is taken huntin’ sometimes before he can even spell it. He will certainly have the camouflage gear often before he’s out of nappies, and while he may not be able to purchase a rifle or shotgun until he’s 18, or a handgun until he’s 21, he will have easy access to any of his family’s. By then it is not just pretend.

I know guns won’t go away but it would be encouraging to think the toxic exhortations of don’t retreat, reload might be heard less. That maybe the collective ‘we’ will pluck up the courage to stand up, civilly, to the NRA. Gail Collins, a columnist for the New York Times, said on the MSNBC Rachel Maddow Show that politicians do not want a bad grade from the NRA. She discussed the intensity of preference of those against gun control and pointed out that until those for gun control have got the numbers on their side they would not have the political leverage.

Hopefully the tenor of President Obama’s speech at the Tucson Memorial will have resonated around the nation. Sounding more pastoral than presidential he spoke healing words, and asked that a little girl’s murder not be in vain.

For that to happen politicians, pundits and people in general have to start playing nice in the school yard, and it also means having the courage to take on the NRA and effect more stringent gun controls.

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