Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Legal Menace

After the murder of 12 people and the wounding of 58 by a seriously deranged shooter in Aurora, CO I decided to let the dust settle before broaching gun control - or lack thereof.

But with the country awash in upwards of 300 million guns it’s hardly surprising that the carnage continues unabated. A white skinhead supremacist, so stupid that he couldn’t tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim, took out 6 more people in their house of worship scarcely a week later.

How can a criminally insane person manage to acquire an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 12-gauge 870 shotgun, two 40-caliber Glock handguns and 6000 rounds of ammunition?

A simple answer – without breaking a sweat; James Holmes, the Colorado suspect, was perfectly within his rights. Guy could have bought 60,000 rounds through the Internet with little more hassle than ordering a dozen albums from his favorite bands.

Just as Wade Michael Page could legally purchase a 9-millimeter handgun at a local gun store, despite the fact that he had a criminal record, a long and storied history of involvement in the white supremacist movement, and was dismissed from the US Army “without an honorable discharge.”

Ever met a white supremacist skinhead bigot? Well, let’s just say they’re not exactly the type you’d take home to Mom. But what’s a gun store employee to do. This creep had the law on his side – no matter how crazy, hateful and ignorant he may have been.

When will this madness end - this craven bending of the knee to the National Rifle Association? Well, not while we have the current brace of politicians running in the presidential elections.

One could hardly have expected any principled stand from Mr. Romney – while Governor of Massachusetts he supported an assault weapon ban and embraced strong anti-gun laws. However, as soon as he departed Red Sox Nation he joined the NRA and now boasts of his skill at blowing the hell out of “small varmints.”

President Obama, on the other hand, supposedly supports a renewed ban on assault rifles along with background checks on those purchasing weapons at gun shows. But, hey, a guy’s got to get elected in the fall. So mum’s the word on requiring the like of Holmes and Page to prove that they’re sane enough to be entrusted with the death-dealing sophistication of modern firepower.

In fairness to Mr. Obama, he’d have plenty of time come November to pen a new memoir if he did speak out. Or would he?

Hillary Clinton would now be president if she’d had the courage to speak out against the soon-to-be disastrous invasion of Iraq back in 2003. A week can be a long time in politics, nine years an eternity.

Why so? The Internet – where ideas of taste, manners and opinion can be swept away in a manner unthinkable a decade ago. A lone gunman with an AR-15 in rush hour Grand Central Station could trigger some first class national soul searching.

The ban on the sale of such weapons of mass-destruction was let slip into abeyance in 2004 by a cowardly congress afraid to speak up for fear of provoking NRA financial and organizational muscle.

The Second Amendment is now seen as untouchable, though its original conceit was that citizen militias bearing their own weapons could be quickly summoned, thus negating the need for an expensive standing army.

The truth is, the mania for gun ownership is of pretty recent vintage. For instance, there are few mentions of gunfire during New York’s 1863 Draft Riots.
Despite Hollywood fantasies, guns were not that prevalent on the Western frontier and cowboys were required to check theirs in with local sheriffs on their occasional visits to towns.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) estimates that 1.5 million guns were produced in the US in 1950, while this figure had shot up to over 5 million by 2010.

Those figures speak for themselves; just as the murder and general mayhem will continue until the myth of the gun and the invincibility of the NRA are challenged by ordinary citizens willing to confront a legal menace that threatens us all.

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