The (dis)United States of Amer­i­can gun con­trol

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The Las Ve­gas mas­sacre and its af­ter­math are pure Amer­i­cana. A de­ranged per­son lugs nearly two dozen high­tech as­sault weapons to a 32nd-floor ho­tel room to spray death upon con­cert­go­ers in a mass mur­der and sui­cide. In re­sponse, the cul­ture wars flare anew, with gun-con­trol ad­vo­cates in pitched bat­tle against gun en­thu­si­asts. Yet there is con­sen­sus on one deep truth: noth­ing much will change. After a week of tele­vised, heart-wrench­ing fu­ner­als, Amer­i­can life will go on un­til the next mas­sacre.

Mass vi­o­lence is deeply rooted in Amer­i­can cul­ture. Amer­ica’s Euro­pean set­tlers com­mit­ted a two-cen­tury-long geno­cide against the na­tive in­hab­i­tants, and es­tab­lished a slave econ­omy so deeply en­trenched that only a dev­as­tat­ing civil war ended it. In al­most all other coun­tries, even Czarist Rus­sia, slav­ery and serf­dom were ended by de­cree or leg­is­la­tion, with­out a four-year blood­let­ting. When it was over, Amer­ica es­tab­lished and en­forced a cen­tury-long sys­tem of apartheid.

To this day, Amer­ica’s homi­cide and im­pris­on­ment rates are sev­eral times higher than Europe’s. Sev­eral large mass shoot­ings oc­cur each year – in a coun­try that is also wag­ing sev­eral seem­ingly end­less wars over­seas. Amer­ica is, in short, a coun­try with a past his­tory and cur­rent stark re­al­ity of racism, eth­nic chau­vin­ism, and re­sort to mass vi­o­lence.

The Las Ve­gas shoot­ings make clear once more the need to ban as­sault weapons. When Amer­ica had such a ban, from Septem­ber 1994 to Septem­ber 2004, it helped to limit mass shoot­ings; yet Congress failed to re­new the ban, ow­ing to in­tense lob­by­ing from gun en­thu­si­asts. Nor is the ban about to be re­in­stated any time soon at the fed­eral level. A pro­hi­bi­tion against “bump stocks,” the de­vice used by the Las Ve­gas killer to en­able his semi-au­to­matic ri­fles to fire like fully au­to­matic weapons, ap­pears pos­si­ble; but there will be lit­tle more fed­eral ac­tion than that.

When Aus­tralia banned as­sault weapons in 1996, mass shoot­ings stopped abruptly. Amer­ica’s gun lovers re­ject such ev­i­dence, and mass shoot­ings like the one in Las Ve­gas serve only to re­in­force their be­lief that firearms are their only true pro­tec­tion in a dan­ger­ous world. Ac­cord­ing to com­pelling re­cent sur­vey data, the at­tach­ment to guns is es­pe­cially in­tense among less-ed­u­cated white Repub­li­can men re­sid­ing mainly in ru­ral and sub­ur­ban ar­eas in the South and Mid­west – the same de­mo­graphic that forms the core of sup­port for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

De­spite the deep ide­o­log­i­cal di­vi­sions in the coun­try, there is a glim­mer of hope. Un­der the US Con­sti­tu­tion, states have the au­thor­ity to ban as­sault weapons and reg­u­late firearms (though not to ban hand­guns and ri­fles out­right, given the Supreme Court’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Sec­ond Amend­ment’s “right to bear arms”). My own state, New York, al­ready bans as­sault weapons, as do a hand­ful of other states. Rather than fight­ing an­other ill-fated bat­tle in Wash­ing­ton, it is more promis­ing to en­cour­age many more states to ex­er­cise their pre­rog­a­tives.

States that do will have lower rates of mass shoot­ings, more se­cure cit­i­zens, and more vi­brant economies. Las Ve­gas will suf­fer not only from the trauma of the re­cent mas­sacre, but also from a di­ver­sion of tourism and con­fer­ences, at least un­til Ne­vada cracks down on as­sault weapons and can guar­an­tee vis­i­tors’ safety.

Amer­ica to­day doesn’t just have red (con­ser­va­tive) states and blue (pro­gres­sive) states, but de facto red coun­tries and blue coun­tries, that is, dis­tinct re­gions with dis­tinct cul­tures, he­roes, pol­i­tics, dialects, economies, and ideas of free­dom. In New York City, free­dom means not hav­ing to fear that the thou­sands of strangers shar­ing the city’s side­walks and parks with you on any given day are car­ry­ing deadly weapons. In Texas or Las Ve­gas, free­dom is the com­fort of car­ry­ing your trusty firearms any­where you like.

It’s time to let red states and blue states go their own way. We don’t need to fight an­other civil war to agree on an am­i­ca­ble and lim­ited move to much looser link­ages across the states. In this, the con­ser­va­tives have it right: let’s re­duce the power of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and turn more rev­enues and reg­u­la­tions back to the states, sub­ject to the con­sti­tu­tional lim­its on the di­vi­sion of pow­ers and fun­da­men­tal rights. That way, each side of the cul­ture wars can move closer to its pre­ferred out­comes with­out im­ped­ing the other side from do­ing the same.

My own state would thrive in such a looser fed­er­a­tion, us­ing its in­creased mar­gin of ma­neu­ver to tighten its own reg­u­la­tions and to scale up its so­cial ser­vices with the sav­ings in taxes now paid to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. And the weaker fed­eral gov­ern­ment would mean fewer US “wars of choice” in the Mid­dle East.

At some point, the US will end up with fed­eral gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion. When more Con­gress­men come to re­alise that their own lives are on the line – which, sadly, they are – we will fi­nally see na­tional ac­tion. Two mem­bers of Congress have al­ready been shot this decade (Gabrielle Gif­fords in 2011 and Steve Scalise ear­lier this year). For now, how­ever, mem­bers of Congress will re­main caught in the po­lit­i­cal cross­fire of mad gun­men and pro-gun lob­by­ists. This is ter­ri­fy­ing, but sadly the case.

In Trump’s Amer­ica, gun vi­o­lence and in­sta­bil­ity are be­ing stoked daily. A rapidly im­ple­mented, na­tional-scale so­lu­tion would be ideal. But un­til that hap­pens, more US states should be en­cour­aged to choose gun san­ity for them­selves.

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