Is meaningful action on guns possible?
Barack Obama shed the tears of a nation at his press conference. Who could not think for even a moment about that class of five or six-year-olds and not be moved? His understanding of any parent’s need to hug their child a little tighter expressed with just the right tone. But it is harder to take his demand for “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics” on face value.
In Britain it chimed with the moments after the Dunblane primary school massacre of 1996 when we all knew something had to be done, and after the Cullen Report guns became even less accessible to us than before. But gun control is the issue which always reminds me that we in Britain are less like the Americans than we often think. Talk to a pro-gun American and while you look at them they look at you with each thinking the other is crazy.
On my last trip to America before the election for Unreported World I met one such gun enthusiast, the owner of several hand guns including a Glock like the one reportedly used in Connecticut. But this proponent wasn’t a rural farmer, a sports shooter or a kid with too much testosterone. Joyce Kaufman was a Puerto Rican grandmother from New York who works as a talk radio host in Fort Lauderdale. Her jingle declares her “South Florida’s most heavily armed talkshow host in America”. For people like Joyce the right to bear arms is non-negotiable. She thinks we are the crazy ones for not choosing to defend ourselves in a dangerous world. As long as the murderers and thieves have access to guns she wants hers too. “Guns don’t kill, people do” is the oft repeated phrase when you talk to her about it.
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Joyce isn’t alone. There are millions of people who just as strongly believe their Second Amendment right to bear arms is as fundamental to America as their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. At a conference of Christian conservatives I watched thousands cheer Oliver North, veteran of the Iran-Contra scandal, as he told them he’d just presented his newest baby grandson with his first gun.
So when Barack Obama says “regardless of the politics” I wonder what he really means. And what he really thinks he can deliver. There are plenty of people who want gun control in the US too and plenty who see the seemingly obvious relationship between the availability of guns and the frequency of their use. But there are lots who don’t. That’s perhaps why hours before Obama made his tearful speech his spokesman Jay Carney claimed “today is not the day to talk about gun control”. Of course it turned out that he couldn’t have been more wrong – but talking about it and meaningful action are a long way apart.
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