UPDATE December 16th
MEANINGLESS DRIVEL FROM OBAMA AT NEWTOWN
In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.
Obama had the opportunity at the inter-faith service at Newtown, Ct. last night to seize the initiative on the issue of gun insanity and announce some really meaningful initiative that would put the gun loonies in the NRA and their allies in the outer reaches of America’s equally lunatic right-wing on the defensive. There will be some who say it would be wrong to use highly-charged emotions in such a way and those who would say it would be wrong, nay immoral not to do so considering the issue that is being debated. I am firmly, immovably in the latter camp, as any sane person should be. Obama could, for instance, have announced that he would ask Congress to re-institute the ban on automatic weapons. That would have put the Right on the spot. But he didn’t. All he offered was his office’s best efforts to change things and a conversation with those most directly involved. How utterly, utterly pathetic. How Obama’ish. The inevitable thought occurs: was he more concerned keeping the Republicans on board for the fiscal cliff debate, more concerned to get them trade a few percentage points in tax rates for the wealthy for the swingeing cuts in medicare, social securty etc that everyone suspects he is planning? Before the election his aides leaked that he had held a dinner with notable Presidential historians to ask them what he could do to make his presidency go down in history. Well it looks as if he has just done that; his presidency will go down as the “what might have been, could have been presidency”. Some legacy.
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I was watching the coverage of the Connecticut school slaughter on MSNBC late last night when something happened that demonstrated how deeply embedded the gun culture is in American society. MSNBC is a liberal, even progressive cable channel, a sort of antidote to Fox News and as you might expect a good deal of the coverage was devoted to the prospects of gun control in the wake of this disaster and President Obama’s weepy performance in the White House.
As a perceptive piece in the New York Times pointed out this morning, the financial and electoral clout of the National Rifle Association combined with the fevered rantings of the American Right have almost made the phrase “gun control” redundant in the national conversation. Instead “gun rights” dominates the discussion and the curbs have melted away. The result is that you can, in most States, buy the most advanced and deadly weapons over the counter as restrictions have been rolled back under administrations of both stripes.
I remember my shock when a few years ago I went into Gander Mountain, an outdoor pursuits megastore, in Binghamton in upstate New York and found myself wandering curiously to the back of the store where the guns were sold. There were scores and scores of them, all sorts, handguns, rifles, automatics, single shots and so on. But pride of place was reserved for a weapon that I have to say took my breath away when I saw it.
Veteran observers of the Troubles in Northern Ireland will recall that there was no weapon in the IRA’s arsenal that was more coveted than the Barrett Light Fifty, a massive automatic sniper’s and anti-aircraft rifle that fired a huge .50mm slug with unerring accuracy for over a mile. The IRA expended considerable resources acquiring several of the weapons on the American black market and eventually smuggled three into Ireland. One was sent to Belfast where it was betrayed almost immediately and two were sent to South Armagh where they were used in the killing of several soldiers. The last British soldier killed in the IRA’s war, L Cpl Stephen Restorick was felled by a bullet from a Barrett Light Fifty.
Anyway there at the back of the store in Binghamton was the Barrett Light Fifty’s close cousin. I can’t remember the brand name but it too was a huge weapon, fired a similar sized bullet over a similar distance and I am sure the IRA would have been very happy to have acquired such a deadly weapon during the Troubles. It was a gun made for killing not target practice as the manufacturer claimed. It was on sale for, I think, around $2,000 or $3,000. I asked the assistant how easy it would be to buy it. “If you’ve you’ve got a driving license and your credit card clears you can take it away now”, he replied. No checks on my criminal or mental health background.
Weapons like the Barrett Light Fifty were banned from public sale in America during the Clinton presidency but since George ‘Dubya’ Bush’s time the restriction was lifted and despite some talk from Obama about reimposing it nothing has happened, as with so much of this President’s spiel. On MSNBC last night, re-banning automatic weapons scarcely rated a mention; instead it was about trying to stop people with psychiatric problems from buying guns and this because the shooter at Newtown had a history of mental instability (no-one on the programme seemed to have registered the fact that it was his (apparently sane) mother who bought the guns he used to kill her and twenty-six other people).
Anyway the conversation prattled on and then came the commercial break. I kid you not but the following advert, presumably timed for the Christmas market, was the first to be aired and I just thought the connection it illustrated between guns, happiness and making money in America showed just how deeply embedded this sickness is, and it is a sickness, and how hard it is going to be to change things for the better.