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US gun law change can't come soon enough


The same day that eight students and an English professor were killed and nine others injured by gunfire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, this tweet popped up online:

NRA article Australia: There Will Be Blood with Australia shaped bloodstainThe day after the Roseburg event, five more were shot and one killed in a Baltimore shopping mall, and another four shot, three of them killed (including the shooter) in Inglis, Florida. They were the 295th and 296th mass shootings (defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot) in the United States in 2015. That's more than one per day so far this year.

There have been 45 gun-related incidents in American schools in 2015. Of these, 32 involved one or more people getting shot; in 16 cases, at least one person has died. As of today, half of the country's 50 states have already had at least one such incident.

America has become a country of startling statistics like this. After every successive shooting, a hundred new articles rattle off the latest, or the same. Post-shooting conversation has become its own genre.

Personally, I don't know how our country moved past the murders of 20 six- and seven-year old children in 2012 in Newtown, CT, without any change happening. But it did.

There have been moves on the local level in some places — Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and San Francisco have all banned high capacity gun magazines (more than eight bullets), as have six states, the District of Columbia and a number of smaller cities.

But there have been 142 gun related incidents at schools since Newtown. Of the 12 worst shootings ever in US history, six have happened since 2007. The Oregon shooting is the sixth-worst school shooting in US history.

Also, every American state now permits at least some gun owners to carry concealed weapons. In seven states, you don't even need a permit to do so. In five other states, you don't need a permit, but there are restrictions, such as you have to be a citizen of that state or you can only conceal a handgun.

Yes, in the first seven states, you can conceal any gun that you legally own, which at this point seems to include everything short of a bazooka. And the bazooka lobby is no doubt growing.

I've listened to American schoolteachers talk about the plans that run constantly in their heads about what they'll do should shooting begin. Recently I was doing an interview with a university administrator about environmental practices on his campus; when he described having to make tough decisions as 'only having so many bullets in the chamber' I found myself shrinking into my chair with discomfort.

Australia comes up frequently in the aftermath of these incidents — the decision John Howard made after Port Arthur, and the impact it has had. In July the National Rifle Authority published in its America's 1st Freedom newsletter a piece entitled 'Australia: There Will be Blood'.

The article describes Australia's buyback as a 'mass confiscation' that has left guns in the hands of criminals while leaving everyone else defenseless. The visual that accompanies it depicts a piece of white gauze with a red blood stain in the shape of Australia. It's a crazy, threatening piece of work.

It's hard to imagine how much longer any of this can go on. But again, that's what we thought after Newtown.

My hope is that in the US, we are in that time of unsustainable stasis that Malcolm Gladwell talks about; that stretch during which nothing seems to be changing, despite mounting pressures, while deep beneath the surface that apparent stability is being eroded, so that at some point soon, everything will suddenly and permanently change.

That change can't come soon enough.

Jim McDermott is an American Jesuit priest and screenwriter with a keen interest in Australian politics.

Topic tags: Jim McDermott, America, gun laws, Roseburg, Newtown, John Howard, Port Arthur



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Existing comments

Thank you, Jim. . But I hope the sudden change of which Jim writes doesn't come here, in Australia, away from the post- Port Arthur Howard gun laws. These gun fanatics never give up.

tony kevin | 06 October 2015  

This article made me think about the similarities of and differences between USA and Australia. We share a language but it's not the same language. The colonisation of the two countries was different and our senses of humour differ, and, quite possibly, Australia has felt a bit inferior, in times past, to the USA. Our gun laws were changed after a terrible, shocking incident and President Obama has frequently alluded to this. Change can be difficult and fraught but worth it.

Pam | 07 October 2015  

On this issue as on a number of others (e.g. universal health care as a "right"), a majority in the US live in an alternate universe. What seems intuitive and obvious to the average Australian or Brit, just does not to the more than 50% of Americans who believe in the classic conservative position which currently dominates the Republican Party. At one level the argument that a person needs a gun with them to protect themselves against the bad/mad guys with guns is sort of logical; until one reads the empiric evidence as presented in this article. Even worse than the mass killings are the 12,000 suicides by bullet in the US and the 15-20,000 other gun-related homicides, very many household "accidents" involving children. Unfortunately, the balance of political opinion and the strength of the US gun lobby, means not much is going to change, probably ever!

Eugene | 07 October 2015  

The world suffers because of America's love of guns. To me there is a strong correlation between the domestic use of guns in the US and the country's military forays across the globe with even bigger guns, often on the flimsiest of pre-texts. The rest of the world did "not" vote the US as the world's sherriff! If my gut feeling is wrong, I'd be very happy for someone to 'prove' it.

MargaretMC | 07 October 2015  

Do guns make a society more violent, or are guns a symptom of a violent society?

Ginger Meggs | 11 October 2015  

The American people are protected by the 2nd Amendment. We have the right to bear arms to protect ourselves against individuals who would do us harm, and governments both foreign and domestic. When the government fears the people we have freedom. When the people fear the government we have tyranny. In the states that have the most restrictive gun laws we have the highest crime rates. Education and gun safety are important, but stupidity on the part of any one individual should not initiate a revocation of one of our fundamental rights, as US citizens. There are cases of vehicular homicide, stabbings, and any number of other methods through which murder can be accomplished. Do we take then, from all US citizens, cars, and knives and any other type of object that can cause the death of someone else? It's preposterous. If someone is set upon murder they will find a means to accomplish their end. A tool is very simply a means to an end. A gun is a tool. No amount of restriction will prevent the type of murder that you lament. The only thing that you would change is the method used to commit these murders.

Tabitha | 15 March 2016  

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