Boldness needed to break death grip of US gun lobby

MICHAEL COX
Last updated 05:00 08/09/2012
RISING COST: The body count continues to climb in the US where indiscriminate killings have become an international disgrace.
REUTERS

RISING COST: The body count continues to climb in the US where indiscriminate killings have become an international disgrace.

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Michael Cox

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The gun-homicide rate in the United States is 30 times that of Britain and Australia, 10 times that of India and four times that of Switzerland.

The reason for this is not that the US has 30 times more mad people than Britain or Australia, but rather that in the US 89 per cent of people own a firearm, and they fire them at each other.

The US gun-ownership rate is 70 per cent higher than that of Yemen, the country with the next highest rate.

Indiscriminate killings have become an international disgrace and an embarrassment to the people of the US. And yet no-one will pick up the challenge to change those provisions of their constitution which allow citizens to own and carry firearms.

Gun control has become the unsolvable political problem of America. It is just too big and too politically risky for any aspiring president to put on his or her agenda.

The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, said: “The policy of the American Government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining them nor aiding them in their pursuits.” As he was instrumental, along with John Adams and others, in writing the American Constitution I wonder what he would think about the senseless and indiscriminate gun slayings that are an almost weekly occurrence in his United States of America. Surely he didn't mean them to be an integral part of "leaving his citizens free" and "not restraining them".

In an essay, Fareed Zakaria laments the fact that since 2000 every other crime statistic has fallen in his home country of the US except that of firearm homicides. He tells us motor vehicle theft has dropped by 44 per cent, violent crime rates by 20 per cent, aggravated assault by 21 per cent and non-firearm murders by 22 per cent.

So why doesn't President Obama or Governor Romney take this issue by the scruff of the neck? The answer is easy; the gun lobby is too powerful, claiming that to change the gun laws to make the United States a safer place would be unconstitutional.

Another entity that would be pretty disappointed with any gun control measures would be a Russian organisation called Izhevsk Machine Works, which produces Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles.

The New York Times reports that, despite the gun's violent history, or perhaps because of it, American hunters and other gun enthusiasts are snapping up tens of thousands of Kalashnikovs, buying them at their street-corner gun shops. Apparently the demand is so brisk that the Russian factory has recently shifted its focus from military to civilian manufacture.

Even so, Russian weapons account for only a very small proportion of the US$4.3 billion (NZ$5.4b) American gun market. Mind you, the American demand is keeping Izhevsk alive. Apparently, since the collapse of the Russian army, used military AK-47s have flooded the home market and, shock horror, the Chinese have produced a cheaper knockoff version for sale in Russia. I wonder whether they give away a free Gucci knockoff handbag with each sale.

Fareed Zakaria has an interesting take on what future American presidents could do to limit the supply of weapons and thereby the weekly gun-murders. During President F D Roosevelt's presidency he instructed his solicitor-general to challenge the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which gives his people the right to bear arms. He took it to the US Supreme Court and argued that the right is not one that may be used for private purposes but only where arms are borne in the militia for the protection of the state. The Supreme Court agreed unanimously. Sadly, various right-wing groups overturned this "highest court in the land's" interpretation in their state legislatures, leading us to where we are today; a mass killing a week!

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President Jefferson said about another US issue that defied resolution, slavery: “We have the wolf by the ears; and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is on one scale, and self- preservation in the other.”

His counterparts today still have that wolf by his ears.

- Waikato

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