The National Rifle Association (NRA) has remained uncharacteristically muted since the appalling mass murder that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday. The NRA is a powerful lobby dedicated to championing the right to bear arms in America as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. The NRA Twitter feed has not issued a single comment. The killings of 20 children and six adults were the latest so-called spree attack to take place inside an American school. On previous occasions the NRA have been quick to apportion sole blame on the killer, not the fact that Americans have such ready access to lethal weaponry.
This morning BBC Radio Five Live featured two callers who brought polarised voices to the debate. A Tea Party supporter stated that the Second Amendment symbolised American freedom. His Democrat opponent decried this gun policy, siting mental illness as the root cause.
The right-wing argument is that removing any of the amendments from the Constitution will set America on a slippery slope away from the democracy it has cherished for over 200 years. However, the original right to bear arms was set up at the end of the 18th century, so that the citizenry of the fledgling American state could form militias to defend themselves from British redcoats. This meant muskets. The weapons used in the Newtown school included a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle. According to State Examiner H Wayne Carver: “the bullets are so fast that they break up and spray the targets with bits of lead”.
As for the theory that the perpetrator was mentally ill, this is such a complex area that making that statement equates to a knee-jerk reaction. Obviously no sane person would aim a Bushmaster at a six-year-old and squeeze a trigger. But even the most apparently normal people are capable of committing the most emphatically crazy actions.
Offering Americans a blanket right to store guns
under their beds will do nothing to pre-empt future
One of the most chilling films I have ever watched on TV wasn’t a re-run of Poltergeist. It was a slice of classified cockpit gunsight footage from an Apache helicopter, decrypted during the publication of WikiLeaks. This showed a US military ambush in a Baghdad suburb in which 12 civilians, including two Reuters correspondents, were murdered by 30mm cannon fire. During the video the radio chatter amongst the crew carries on while these human beings are routinely picked off, like something from Call of Duty.
There is an argument that war is different. But just because war makes it even easier for supposedly sane people to press triggers doesn’t alter the fact that the end result is murder. And cold-blooded murder is cold-blooded murder wherever it takes place, on a dusty street in Baghdad or in a school in a leafy American suburb.
The extreme viewpoints don’t provide solutions, only excuses. Offering Americans a blanket right to store guns under their beds will inevitably lead to more Newtowns. Simply blaming these shooting sprees on crazy people is equally inept.
The US needs to take a long, hard look at its willingness to condone the use of guns. It seems absurdly ironic that in a nation so quick to claim divine right as a core driving factor behind its laws the Second Amendment is held in high esteem, while the Biblical quote that goes ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’ has been forgotten.