Newtown School Shooting – How American Gun Culture Is Systemic

UPDATE  December 16th


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.

Ken Barrett, owner of the company that produces the Barrett Light Fifty advocates unrestricted ownership of his deadly weapon in America.

Ken Barrett, owner of the company that produces the Barrett Light Fifty advocates unrestricted ownership of his deadly weapon in America.

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.

7 responses to “Newtown School Shooting – How American Gun Culture Is Systemic

  1. The way todo this, despite the difficulties involved, is either a repeal or modification of The Second Amendment. Otherwise you’re confronted with the Supreme Court and it’s interpretation of it.

    • you are right of course but that is the endpoint of a long journey. it has to be built, public opinion changed and mobilised. a start can be made. why, for instance, was the media not parked outside the NRA HQ yesterday demanding answers or a response/reaction to this awful event? but there was no sign of them at all. leadership is needed, more than just wiping away a tear.

  2. Clearly there is no need for assault weapons. We have a major problem in this country, just count all the recent past mass shootings and all the rest. I am not only horrified each time, but really tired of our useless responses to this problem, especially how the media will go over and show the poor victims, WHERE IS THE OURAGE?, When are we going to say enough is enough, or really when are any of these politicians, the President, or someone have the guts and brains to stand up and no more assault weapons at least.
    And yes another issue that we need to look at is mental illness. In this country we are ashamed of it, it is still hidden, but most importantly we still don’t provide enough funding, have decent services, or in so many cases even families abandon the mentally ill. If your poor and mentally ill, in this country your life can be hell. This is where they cut the budget.
    I will stop my rant for now, but I just can”t watch any more coverage of the shooting and the children, especially when i KNOW that nothing will change in regards to guns and compassion for the mentally ill in this country.

    • you are so, so right john. where is the outrage? why weren’t the media parked outside NRA HQ from the moment we knew babies had been killed thanks to their lobbying efforts? why weren’t they there to demand the NRA justify this? why weren’t the media outside the HQ of Cerebrus asking the same questions? who is cerebrus? it is the private equity company that owns bushmaster, they are the manufacturers of the semi-automatic rifle that was the principal weapon used in Newtown. as far as i can see they haven’t even been mentioned in media reports, not even in profiles of the weapon even though cerebrus makes millions out of this death & slaughter. and you’re right about the mentally ill. why are the resources there for them? because they carry no financial and therefore political clout in this country. i was furious with obama last night. he could have been angry. he could have said the founders never intended babies to be killed by their amendment. he could have said that automatic weapons are not needed and should be banned except for the military. he could have said lots of things but he didn’t. i noticed as well no weepiness either. that had gone. hard cold political realism had banished that, after all need to keep the GOP on board for this damned cliff thingie! makes you sick, but you’re right to rant john. keep on ranting. it’s the only way change will happen.

  3. Obama is a hypocrite and a fake. His weepy BS did not convince me one bit. How many innocent women and children has he murdered with this ‘drone’ strikes. No tears for them. The gun culture here in the states starts with the chief murderer the President.

  4. I’m quite sure how you and I define assault rifle and high power is going to differ but the jackass that did the shooting was using a run of the mill rifle with plastic goodies attached. Speaking of the NRA… How many legally owned weapons were not used for criminal activities today? Good you mentioned the mentally ill as well. Did you see the article about the Chinese fella slashing those little kids? With their efficient gun control there they better get to banning those knives, sticks, rocks, Molotov cocktails, Lima beans for fear of ricin, etcetera etcetera. The media should come to a full stop with the reactionary mumbo jumbo, good Lord as the years pass by my patience grows weary of such drivel spewing from television and radio on a daily basis. Is there no end to the whiny point scoring from both sides of the debate? We shall not ever become slaves to a police force and/or a foreign oppressor telling us what to do with no recourse. Yes thankfully myself and many other households in this country are well armed as is the right of the Constitutional militia and the bonus is that it keeps the right and left wing nutters at bay ultimately. I was not raised as a beaten coward to any oppressor foreign or domestic nor shall any such person define nor attempt to redefine the Bill of Rights.

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