Weapons reform not for the faint-hearted

Last updated 09:41 20/01/2013

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OPINION: Our PM falls over but spare a thought for Barack Obama.

There is no rest for the wicked. Nor for those in high places. This can add a degree of duress to those condemned to a life of intercontinental travel. For no sooner had Prime Minister John Key and his wife, Bronagh, stepped off a flight from Hawaii, returning from a well-earned Christmas break at their holiday pad on the island of Maui, was he due to hop on to another - out of Christchurch and bound for Antarctica.

Delayed by poor weather, Key and his entourage took their evening victuals in a Merivale trattoria reassuringly called Tutto Bene. But evidently all was not well. Key, according to reports looking tired, pale and perspiring - although still able to crack the odd joke with fellow diners - fainted as he got up from the table.

He was taken to hospital and subsequently cleared for travel to the ice, where he is being accompanied by his Diplomatic Protection Squad should something similar befall him, or in case there should be any grudge- bearing whackos with twitchy frost-bitten trigger fingers hiding out down there.

"You never know where there's a trained assassin, I suppose, do you?" he quipped when questioned about the DPS last week.

Although it might seem excessive to be hauling the silent, besuited squaddies and their Dirty Dog sunglasses off to the deep south, I reckon it, and the associated costs, comes with the territory of being prime minister. Quite rightly, there'd be hell to pay if some disaffected and unhinged research wallah who'd spent too much time in isolation at Scott Base lashed out with an ice pick.

But it has to be said the risks to Key are minuscule in comparison to those faced by other world leaders. Take Barack Obama in the United States. Some are calling his moves to introduce the most aggressive and far-reaching gun control laws in more than 40 years "brave". Others are muttering "foolhardy" - in a personal sense.

And with the pro-gun lobby limbering up and stretching to its full height of indignation, with its various cohorts of gun manufacturers, activists and owners, doubtless including the odd unhinged extremist in their midst, Obama just drew afresh the assassin's target about his person - and quite possibly his family too.

The National Rifle Association was quick out of the blocks sponsoring television advertisements calling Obama a hypocrite for having his children protected by presidential security detail bearing appropriate weapons. Never mind, that for obvious reasons, the families of US presidents have had such protection for decades.

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Nonetheless, a television clip quoted a gun lobbyist repeating mantra-like this line, and doubtless there will be, in the months to come, the usual parade of logic-defying non-sequiturs about the president tearing up the Constitution - which does not actually give citizens willy-nilly the right to bear military-style automatic assault weapons designed specifically as efficient modern killing machines.

Logic doesn't really come into it. But emotion and a determined campaign of obfuscation does, much of it emanating from the corporate weapons manufacturers and their proxies. One such is the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has just sponsored one of the world's largest firearms shows in Las Vegas.

"It's the mother of all gun shows, a gun show on steroids," an official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in media reports on the event. The same sources indicated that one of the most popular exhibits at this and similar shows are those featuring assault weapons, including the AR-15 and the Bushmaster rifle.

It was armed with a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle and high- capacity magazines - two of the targets of Obama's proposed control initiatives - that a young man massacred 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last month.

But at such shows these semi- automatic assault weapons are rebranded by organisations like the NSSF as "modern sporting rifles". Presumably they are so- named in case you happen to be out hunting one day and find yourself in the path of a stampeding herd of enraged wild stags - and have to let off a large number of rounds in rapid-fire succession. What's it going to be, them or you?

Obama will have his work cut out. The determination and effrontery of the corporate arms industry that nourishes American gun ownership culture knows few bounds. The headquarters of the NSSF just happens to be about 5km from Sandy Hook Elementary School. The vast show it has just sponsored was promoted as "The Event That Keeps On Giving".

Yeah right.

- Sunday Star Times

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