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US gun lobbyists miss the logic of feeling


Flowers and a 'flag of honour' for those who died in the Sandy Hook shootingsI woke up to the news on a Saturday morning. One year ago tomorrow, as we slept on this side of the world, a man walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and opened fire.

Staff in the main office heard glass breaking in the front lobby at approximately 9.35am. The gunman, later identified as Adam Lanza, shot himself in the head with a pistol around 9.40am. In the fragment between these two times, 20 first-grade students and six adults lost their lives.

I remember feeling winded in the days and weeks that followed. I stared and stared at my son, then nearly five years old. I took to cuddling him as he slept.

In the dark, holding his slender frame, I pondered the dimensions of the ammunition. Diameter 5.56mm, length 45mm. A propellant load and rifle barrel that could render bullet speeds of as much as 975m per second. In Classrooms 8 and 10, where 24 of the victims fell, a total of 130 expended casings were found.

These are the facts — the small, bloody, innocent facts — of that winter morning in Newtown, less than a fortnight from Christmas Day. While the rest of the country, and indeed the world, reeled from horror, pro-gun lobbies led by the NRA were bracing themselves for war.

The aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook were to follow the familiar pattern of frantic gun sales, insistent deflection toward mental illness and pop culture violence, and propagation of the theory that if someone — a 'good guy' — had had a gun at the scene, the 'bad guy' could have been easily taken down.

The shootings were a potential catalyst for gun reform. The Second Amendment absolutists, who had taken over the NRA in 1977, knew it. The right-wing commentariat, in close ranks with the NRA and the Tea Party, worked to detach policy implications from the incident. They seethed with high indignation that President Barack Obama was politicising a tragedy.

It is a peculiar way to frame the debate. For one thing, it invalidates the experience of grieving families — as if their truth mattered least or that it somehow exists in a vacuum where civilian access to military-grade weapons is irrelevant. Deaths such as those at Sandy Hook need no annotation from politicians. The policy questions present themselves against the backdrop of previous, comparable tragedies.

Moreover, the charge of politicisation never comes from the victims. In fact, the families of those murdered in Newtown, along with their supporters, launched the Sandy Hook Promise a month after losing their loved ones. It is an advocacy group that pursues common sense solutions for gun safety. They came close to helping pass the Manchin-Toomey Bill in April, which would have closed the internet and gunshow loopholes in pre-sale background checks. The shortfall was six votes.

Setting aside the ramifications of this defeat, individuals with no political experience had taken it upon themselves to engage in the legislative process. It is no more than an expression of citizenship in a western democracy, one with a modern history of mass shootings and assassinations in peacetime.

Yet the subtext to the claim of politicisation is that people are being emotionally manipulated, that they have abandoned sober judgement. This is hypocritical, of course, given that the gun lobby routinely stokes outrage and fear, holding up gun ownership as a patriotic marker and sacrosanct right. Such feelings are deemed a more legitimate guide for policy than any feelings evoked by tragedies wrought by a wayward semiautomatic.

The truth is that the high emotion that accompanies tragedies like Sandy Hook actually sharpens the facts. It places the death of innocents in its proper perspective: as evil and repugnant. If something can be done to minimise the risk of such deaths from arms, then it must be done. That is the logic of feeling.

But the idea of mitigating risk gets lost in the debate, muddied by pro-gun assertions of what works and what won't work. The self-serving view of the most voluble minority is that any limits on their access to certain types, size and volume of munitions would not work.

They do not see that that the extent of access creates the very conditions in which such shootings become likely. Of course this is the group that does not regard the estimated 88 private guns per 100 people as problematic. Nor are they particularly disturbed that the number of licensed dealers is almost five times the number of McDonald's franchises in the US. That is the status quo that they can live with.

It goes to show that the ones who complain about the politicisation of tragedy tend to be the ones who do not want to do anything about it.

Fatima Measham headshotFatima Measham is a Melbourne-based social commentator who contributes regularly to Eureka Street. Her work has also appeared in The Drum, ABC Religion & Ethics, and National Times. She tweets as @foomeister .

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, Sandy Hook, gun control, Barack Obama, US



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Existing comments

Well written

Susan | 12 December 2013  

I wonder the gun lobby in the USA is financed by the arms manufacturers . If so then it seems profits seem to take precedence over human tragedy. I believe that the right to carry automatic arms comes from way back when the western settlers were taking over the land from the Indians. Has the social setting changed since then ?

David | 12 December 2013  

The pro-gun lobby in the US is totally impervious to rational or moral arguments. Indeed, many pro-gun individuals have convinced themselves that Sandy Hook, Columbine and all the other school massacres never even happened - they are, apparently, elaborate hoaxes perpetrated by the US government as a pretext for "taking our guns away". In the face of this collective insanity, more mass murders, perhaps even worse than Sandy Hook, are inevitable.

Monty Rosenthal | 12 December 2013  

More than any other US tragedy, the shooting at Sandy Hook affected me deeply and immediately. It was partly to do with the age of the victims, and partly to do with the callous disregard of all victims as a self-interest group (NRA) working hard to maintain legitimacy. Largely though, I was troubled by elected representatives who used banter and sound-bites, ignoring data that don't support a viewpoint, all the while purporting to be leaders. That we are now 12 months on, with all parties fighting to maintain the status quo, speaks volumes of the land of the free and the home of the brave. The skin of those politicians unwilling to enter reasonable debate about gun laws in the US, which continue to put innocent people at risk, must surely be thick. There was no freedom for the innocents of Sandy Hook; maintaining the status quo is anything but brave. Thanks Fatima for a well considered article.

Gary | 12 December 2013  

logic of feeling... oh god my sides
please stop.

lolwut | 13 December 2013  

"the logic of feeling"?

Did you really write that with a straight face?

BHirsh | 13 December 2013  

Internet sales require the gun to be shipped to a licensed dealer, who must perform a background check before completing the sale.
Licensed dealers at gun shows must conduct background checks.
You immediately lost all credibility once you trotted out the long debunked "loophole" myth.
And your assertion that americans are clamoring for tighter regulation, while the big, bad gun companies are only out for profit, is absurd as well. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that their customers obviously support their stance, and appreciate that they kick profit back to the political groups that their customers support.
I bet immortalizing Adam Lanza will go a long way in preventing other crazed individuals who crave attention from committing similar acts. Kudos on that.

Thomas | 13 December 2013  

Monty, I'm calling you out on flat-out lying about people believing the shootings were carried out by the government just because a handful of clowns posted ridiculous videos on youtube.
It's pretty bold to sling mud like that considering just how popular it was for folks on the left to claim George Bush, after having been in office for a few months, masterminded a plot that resulted in 4 hijacked airplanes killing 3000 people.

Marcus | 13 December 2013  

"individuals with no political experience had taken it upon themselves to engage in the legislative process." Heaven forfend!

Johnny | 13 December 2013  

Feelings have absolutely no place in a logical discussion. Facts do, which is why American liberals cant even get in the front door of the debate.

Ron | 13 December 2013  

The logic of feelings? Progressive spin. The reason pro-2nd supporters keep winning is simple. We have facts on our side and more motivation. Its millions of gun owners and grass root efforts that win the day, not the NRA.

Joe | 13 December 2013  

300 million gun owners did not kill anyone a year ago on the day of Sandy Hook, yet the liberals and anti-tuner want to blame all of us who own guns. Nancy Lanza was the worst parent of the decade. She is to blame for Sandy Hook, not gun owners.

You will not blame us for Adam Lanza's mental illness.

American's do not want any more gun laws. They want the laws, that we have enforced. None of the laws that the anti-gunners want to pass, would have prevented Sandy Hook. We have guns. Your not taking them away.

freddy ramone | 13 December 2013  

In fact the NRA has power due to 5+ million members that gladly PAY DUES with real cash to keep gun grabbers from destroying the 2nd amendment that our founding fathers were wise enough to codify the God given right of self defense. Fatima, like all leftists knows nothing about guns. If you want to to strip us of the 2A there is a constitutional process to do such. Go have fun trying to make that happen.

doesky | 13 December 2013  

It is sad to see the use of tragedy to accomplish unrelated political goals. None of the proposed gun laws would have stopped Sandy Hook. NONE. Yet we are told that we must give up our freedoms because of it. Why? Because some politicians wish to disarm the people. Using emotion can sharpen facts, but that is not the case with Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook is a case where emotion is used to distort and hide the facts, in order to promote an unrelated agenda. Fortunately, America's population is much better educated about guns and crime than Australia's was. It has not fallen for the lie that gun control reduces the death toll.

It has not done so in Australia, or anywhere else in the world, as much as those who do not own guns wish to mislead themselves.

Name | 14 December 2013  

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