America's Gun Outrage: 276 Killed Or Wounded A Day
Major Hasan simply walked into the Guns Galore shop in Killeen, Texas, and bought the gun he used, an FN Herstal Five-seven, quite legally. They sell for about $1,000 and are about the most murderous handgun it is possible to buy, designed to shred body armor and favored by the Mexican drug cartels.
[Global: United States]
By now you will have heard of Major Nidal Malak Hasan, the US Army psychiatrist who shot 13 of his colleagues dead and wounded 31 inside the army's largest base, Fort Hood in Texas, last Thursday.
Taryale Petter, John Herman, Jason Rodriques and Marcus Gonzalez are names you may not know.
Taryale was only 15 years old. Early on Friday morning, aboard his Philadelphia school bus, he pulled a handgun from his bag and shot another child.
On average guns kill or wound 276 people every day in America.
Hermann, a Minnesota cop, on Tuesday shot dead a man who ran over a plastic traffic cone in a car park. On Friday morning, Rodriquez, 40, walked into the Florida engineering consultancy from which he had been sacked and opened fire, killing a young father and wounding five others.
Gonzalez, 29, who was jilted in love, shot dead four people on Wednesday in the North Carolina town that inspired fictitious Mayberry – the almost crime-free, one-traffic-light town, inspired by the 1960s Andy Griffith Show.
There are more, a lot more, from the past week. Such as Robert Appointee who, on Sunday, the opening day of the Maine deer-hunting season, attached a rope to his rifle and tried to haul it up to his treetop hideaway. He shot
Or poor Michelle Valentine of Rhode Island who, this week, distraught over a broken love affair, held a gun to her head. When she wouldn't put it down, the police shot her.
Or New York policeman James Pileggi, who, on Thursday night, was showing his new laser-guided pistol to his best friend. It went off. His best friend died.
I could go on, of course. Another week of guns and blood across America and before a public and polity so astonishingly impervious to the carnage that it is treated almost as if it were measles.
After 15-year-old Alex Bolar was shot and killed while playing in a park near his Memphis school on Wednesday, the Reverend Joe Hunter, who helps teens in the neighborhood, railed against the deafness.
“Give me a break,” Hunter said. “If we can't get in an uproar about that, what can we get in an uproar about?"
On average, guns kill or wound 276 people every day in America. Of those shot, about 75 adults and nine children die.
That adds up to just over 100,000 victims of gun violence a year. The rate of firearm murders in the United States is about 16 times that in Australia and 26 times that in Britain.
In 2000, Britain's Home Office published a study that compared murder rates in the world's capital cities. Canberra had 0.64 homicides per 100,000 people. London had three times that rate. Washington, DC's, murder rate was 93 times that of Canberra's.
Martin Bryant was the Tasmanian misfit who, on an April afternoon in 1996, used two military-style assault rifles to take the lives of 35 people in eight, dreadful minutes.
To his lasting credit, the then newly elected prime minister, John Howard, seized the moment and stared down the gun lobby to give Australia one of the tightest sets of gun ownership laws in the world. He declared at the time:
''I hate guns. One of the things I don't admire about America is their slavish love of guns ... We do not want the American disease imported into Australia."
Australia endured 11 mass shootings in the decade leading to the day Bryant ran amok. There have been none since.
It is, of course, wishful thinking to expect that an American president could, or would want, to intervene in the way Howard did to curtail gun ownership.
Emboldened by the Second Amendment which, they contend, still protects their right to bear arms, many Americans, in the words of one of their greater jurists, Joseph Story, consider gun ownership to be the palladium of the
liberties of the republic.
Nevertheless, past presidents and the Congress have certainly tried to reduce the insanely high level of gun violence; the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King led to bans on mail order guns; the 1981 shootings of Ronald Reagan and his press secretary James Brady spawned the criminal background check and cooling-off period for handgun buyers and, when Bill Clinton became president, 20 types of assault rifles were banned.
Given the red-necked rage of the National Rifle Association whenever somebody tries to block the sieve of US gun law - and the many politicians beholden to the association's millions of dollars in funding - the changes achieved in the past are no small thing.
Just last Thursday, as the deranged Hasan pulled out his gun in Fort Hood, the leadership of America's biggest anti-gun lobby, The Brady Campaign, happened to be meeting in Washington to work how to counter the gun lobby's
latest campaign to overturn a law that bans mentally incompetent and incapacitated military veterans from owning guns.
There are 116,000 of them. Hasan will be one more.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the very few leading politicians who has stood up to the National Rifle Association. He may be hated for it, but Bloomberg has made it very hard to own a handgun legally in New York.
New York police frisk hundreds of thousands of people annually to enforce his law. In September, Bloomberg sent out undercover investigators with hidden cameras, to prove how easy it was for people who would fail a background check for gun ownership to simply roll up to weekend gun shows in other states and buy whatever weapon they wanted.
When the undercover agents warned they wouldn't pass a background check, 19 out of 30 gun sellers took their money anyway and handed over the guns. One thing the National Rifle Association can't explain is why New York's murder
rate is on track this year to dip below 500 - the lowest since 1963, when reliable figures became available. In 1990, the bloodiest year in the city's history, there were 2245 murders.
However Bloomberg can't change America's relationship with guns by himself. Will President Barack Obama help?
The likelihood, for now, is not much. Consumed by two wars, recession, and health care, there is no stomach within the Obama Administration to open up a new front with opponents as rabid as the US gun lobby.
During his campaign for the presidency, Obama promised to restore a federal ban on several of the most lethal semi-automatic assault rifles. A bill to close the gun-show loophole is stalled in Congress.
When Newsweek put questions to the White House in April about what had happened to gun law reform, it was told by White House spokesman Ben LaBolt: "There isn't support in Congress for such a ban at this time."
LaBolt said: "The President supports the Second Amendment, respects the tradition of gun ownership in this country, and he believes we can take commonsense steps to keep our streets safe."
He pointed to $US2 billion in new funding for state and local law enforcement in the stimulus package.
It doesn't help that Hasan simply walked into the Guns Galore shop in Killeen, Texas, and bought the gun he used, an FN Herstal Five-seven, quite legally. According to the website, they sell for about $1,000 and are about the most murderous handgun it is possible to buy, designed to shred body armor and favored by the Mexican drug cartels.
The US anti-gun lobby has been vocal for several years about why these weapons - marketed by the gun industry as elevating the power of a handgun to a high-powered rifle - should be banned.
The national anti-gun Violence Policy Centre was the most vocal and began a long report it published last year
<http://www.vpc.org/studies/bigboomers.pdf> into why the weapons should be stopped, with a quote from San Jose gun dealer Jim Reed: "These new guns generate the incentive for the consumer to be the first among his buddies to
own the 'biggest and the baddest' handgun on the market, which computes into sales ... The consumer who buys the big boomers will continue to purchase the new big calibers as long as manufacturers keep building them. This is
good for business!"
Bernard Lagan is an Australian journalist living in New York.
The Sydney Morning Herald
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