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READER REPORT:

Why America embarrasses us all

HAMISH DICK
Last updated 09:30 23/01/2013

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As the media is momentarily distracted by the no-longer-so-private life of Lance Armstrong, we mustn't forget the other firestorm that's occurring in the US - firearm restrictions.

The starkly divided opinions between not only Republicans and Democrats, but also within the two parties is indicative of the enormity of the fight at hand, due to the deep entrenchment of the second amendment in American culture.

What we mustn't forget though, during the course of the debate, are the facts of the situation. As a non-American, the USA's problem shouldn't concern me. But, it does concern me, and it should concern you. It should concern everyone because how this problem is addressed by the USA has implications for the entire world.

Aside from the fact that our nation is under the influence of America, the firearm debate facing congress is somewhat symbolic. If the laws involving firearms nationally do not significantly change it would show us several things about the USA.

Firstly, it would show us the influence that firearm-lobby groups, such as the NRA, have over the government. The fact that any lobby group has influence over any government is startling and frightening. Over the past few years alone the NRA and other pro-firearm lobby groups have donated millions of dollars to the campaigns of candidates (usually Republicans) to government at all levels, and who are more often than not, successful. Thus, influencing the political geography of the country. These elected officials then go on to vote on issues regarding firearms, with a significant bias. They do not follow a mandate to their constituents, they follow a mandate to their donors. What democracy?

Were firearm laws to not significantly change it would also show us that America is afraid of change. The constitutional right to bear a firearm was relevant when the Bill of Rights was officially ratified in 1791, but the USA was an entirely different country then. In 1791 it was imperative to one's safety to have the right to act in self-defence, even if that self-defence involved a firearm. In 1791 America was a deeply divided country and that division then was the cause of great violence. There was no 'police force' to protect the citizens. That is not to say that America was an anarchist nation with no law enforcement whatsoever, but law enforcement was very much up t individual communities.

Times have changed now and law enforcement is highly developed. So are firearms. It is no longer necessary for US citizens to constantly be armed - this is creating more, rather than less violence, and subsequently deaths by firearm. Unfortunately, one of the biggest flaws of the US constitution is that it cannot be changed, only amended. So as times change, the constitution does not change as well. 

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Let us not forget the facts. Over 1000 people have been killed by gun violence in the USA since the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. Over 30, 000 people are killed by gun violence annually in the States. The type of firearm semi-automatic assault rifles used in the Sandy Hook Elementary and the Colorado theatre shootings were restricted, and banned for personal use by Bill Clinton during his term as President. When these restrictions expired during George W. Bush's presidency, no attempt was made by him to extend them. Firearm sales have increased in many areas since the recent tragedies. 

So what if firearm laws in America do successfully change? Were America a true democracy, they would have already as support for greater firearm control is about 60 per cent. It would, at least, prove to some extent that America is prepared to move in to the future.

But the effects of the law changes would not necessarily be immediately felt. Beyond a law change, a mindset change is also needed. The violent, extreme, right-wing minority of America would not go away. If there is one thing that you can be assured of, it is the violent 'hissy-fit' that will be had by this faction of American citizens. They love their guns. They love their guns as much as they love their own children. Or more.

Most significant is the question of how this relates to us in New Zealand. With recent brutal attacks on police officers in New Zealand, such as the one on Kawhia's sole police officer, the debate over arming our police officers is once again reignited. Arming our police officers in no sense heads us on a path to becoming to new America. But, all the same, we mustn't forget the deadly force of firearms. An arms race with criminals is the last thing that New Zealand needs, and America has simply proven that is possible. What we must recognise is the importance of the safety of our public defenders, the police force. So we must be cautious with both sides of this coming debate. Firearms are machines, specifically designed to kill. Nevertheless, they also have the capacity to save lives. Firearms in the hands of professionals prevent harm. Firearms in the hands of criminals cause harm. New Zealand does not want the disgusting firearm culture of the States, so if we were to allow our police officers to carry arms, we must do it with caution. Extreme caution.

Thank goodness this is not America. Thank goodness ours is a relatively safe country, not at the mercy of the criminal. Thank goodness our politicians aren't insane, heartless, or at the mercy of equally-insane, and heartless lobby groups.

God bless America. It'll sure need it.


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