May 19, 2013
CommentarySunday, December 16, 2012
Gun madness in the US
By Robert Cox
From Where I Stand
Charleston, South Carolina — When I began working as an editorial writer in the United States as assistant editor at The Post and Courier here in 1982, the 200-year-old newspaper was a supporter of gun control. The newspaper was traditionally conservative as its editorials reflected, but the editor took pride in the paper’s political independence. The paper did not hew the Republican Party line.
The newspaper’s policy in support of gun control was partly inspired by the fact that its most famous editor, Frank Dawson, had been murdered by a local doctor, who shot him in the heart with a revolver.
The romantic and tragic story of Dawson, an Englishman who fought for the Confederate cause, but was a liberal at heart, is beautifully told by his great grand-daughter Roxana Robinson (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/20/the-strange-career-of-frank-dawson/).
I mention this because I have observed over 62 years as a journalist that great wrongs are righted by survivors who were related or knew the victims.
Writing editorials calling for sensible laws to end the slaughter that has resulted from easy access to guns led to my first encounters with the National Rifle Association, which is the “big gun” in the gun lobby. I also came in touch again with people who sent us hate letters and phoned in death threats.
But I didn’t make any connection with my experience as an editor of the Buenos Aires Herald during the military dictatorship until now.
The horrendous massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown of 20 young children, as well as six school staff who tried to protect the kids, by a young man armed with two automatic pistols and an automatic rifle who went on a killing spree, made me realize how similar the arguments are that are made to justify or deny evil.
The main argument put forward by ordinary people who have been unwittingly brain-washed by NRA propaganda is that: “Guns don’t kill people. It’s people who kill people.” Like “por algo será” (“there must be a reason”) that ominous phrase that was commonly heard in Argentina when “disappearances” began, these phrases allow people to deny, dismiss or ignore terrible realities.
In Argentina, eventually, the truth became too obvious to ignore or deny. The terrible truth about the toll in lives taken because of US society’s failure to react and take action to prevent mass shootings is also becoming too obvious to deny. Those tears shed on Friday by President Barack Obama when he said, “As a country, we have been through this too many times,” cannot have been shed in vain. “Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or a temple in Wisconsin or a movie theatre in Aurora (Colorado) or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children,” he said as he wiped tears from his eyes.” “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
The hope is that President Obama will take advantage of the fact that he will not be running again, and as a “lame duck” president can afford to pay no regard to politics and will campaign to secure sensible legislation to control the guns that are being used to kill people.
By my estimate there have been more than 60 mass murders in 30 states across the United States and including Hawaii made possible by the use of firearms, particularly high-powered assault weapons. That may have had some influence on public opinion, because the Pew Research Centre reports that support for stricter gun laws appears to be growing. Roughly equal numbers of Americans value “the right to own guns” (46 percent) as those who want to “control gun ownership” (47 percent).
Writing in the Washington Post, Ezra Klein observed “If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.
“Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. “Too soon,” howl supporters of loose gun laws. But as others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t “too soon.” It’s much too late.
But not too late to do something about it. There is a petition you can sign at the White House website https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/seriously-respectfully-and-quickly-work-end-violence-committed-assault-weapons/ZJQwY22g
To be fair there is also a petition to put a gun in every classroom and arm all teachers: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/gun-every-classroom-arm-every-teacher-and-principal-defend-themselves-and-their-students-during/BR1Wj8cc
I assume that petitioning is only open to US citizens, although this is not stated.
My working title for this column was “Gun Madness.” In the light of the latter petition proposal, I think it was apt. I was a British citizen when I took on the gun lobby at The Post and Courier, which made me even more unpopular with people who value their guns, or who profit from the gun industry. Another Brit, Piers Morgan, who took Larry King’s place at CNN, has also run into trouble for opposing gun madness. He received posts similar to the threats I received. But, as an outsider shocked by the slaughter, Morgan’s indignation has expanded the forum on gun control. Altogether a good thing.