Any­thing less than to­tal sub­servience to the gun lobby is viewed as sup­port­ing gun con­fis­ca­tion

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Caleb Keeter, a gui­tarist who played at the mu­sic fes­ti­val last Sun­day in Las Ve­gas, Ne­vada, the site of the largest mass shoot­ing in US his­tory, posted a note to Twit­ter the fol­low­ing day. “I’ve been a pro­po­nent of the Sec­ond Amend­ment [‘the right of peo­ple to keep and bear arms shall not be in­fringed’] my en­tire life. Un­til the events of last night,” Keeter wrote.

“I can­not ex­press how wrong I was. We need gun con­trol RIGHT NOW. My big­gest re­gret is that I stub­bornly didn’t recog­nise it un­til my brothers on the road and my­self were threat­ened by it.”

The re­al­i­sa­tion that the guns aboard his tour bus were fu­tile in de­fence against a lone sniper who killed 58 peo­ple and wounded some 500 from a ho­tel room win­dow, brought Keeter around to the po­si­tion. If this is the stan­dard for con­ver­sion, it is very high. Hun­dreds of thou­sands Amer­i­cans have not yet, may not ever, un­dergo such an about­face. Many of them are elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, chas­tened, per­haps, by the ag­gres­sive back­lash to the in­ad­e­quacy of his re­sponse to events in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, in Au­gust — when a car ploughed through a crowd of peo­ple protest­ing a white na­tion­al­ist rally, killing one — ad­dressed the na­tion on Mon­day with stud­ied self-con­trol and heavy, suf­fo­cat­ing pi­ety.

The po­lice re­sponse was “mirac­u­lous”, Trump said. God was called on, “scrip­ture” in­voked and prayers of­fered. It was a speech about bless­ings, grace and strength to carry on. The “great flag”, over which there is con­sid­er­able con­ster­na­tion in Amer­ica in 2017, was dropped to half-mast. “The main pol­icy re­sponse to mass shoot­ings is to lower the flag to half-staff,” re­marked Ryan Lizza, a staff writer at The New Yorker.

“We’ll be talk­ing about gun laws as time goes by,” Trump said in the days that fol­lowed the at­tack. “Look,” he told a group of wait­ing re­porters, “we have a tragedy. We’re gonna do…” he then raised his hands as though telling some­body else to stop. He pursed his mouth, pulling it across his face, catch­ing him­self from ut­ter­ing any­thing ap­proach­ing a com­mit­ment to act. In a split sec­ond fol­lowed an empty and clumsy syn­tac­tic de­tour: “And what hap­pened in Las Ve­gas is, in many ways, a mir­a­cle.”

A former New York con­gress­man, Steve Is­rael, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that shed light on Trump’s blind­ingly in­elas­tic re­sponse. “Any­thing less than to­tal sub­servience to the gun lobby is viewed as sup­port­ing gun con­fis­ca­tion,” Is­rael noted. “The gun lobby score is a lit­mus test with zero mar­gin for er­ror.”

A stark pre­sen­ta­tion by the ed­i­to­rial board of the same news­pa­per was headed: “477 Days. 521 Mass Shoot­ings. Zero Ac­tion From Congress”. The num­bers are galling. On Mon­day, 477 days took the United States back to June 12, 2016, when 49 peo­ple were killed by a gun­man at a night­club called Pulse in Or­lando, Florida.

There were shoot­ings dur­ing his time in Congress, Is­rael wrote, that made him think: “Fi­nally, we will do some­thing.” If he didn’t know bet­ter, Las Ve­gas would have been one of those shoot­ings. Or­lando was one of those shoot­ings. San Bernardino, where 14 peo­ple were killed in De­cem­ber, 2015, was one of those shoot­ings. Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School in New­town, Con­necti­cut, where 20 chil­dren and six mem­bers of staff were killed in 2012, was one of those shoot­ings.

An acrid tweet from 2015 by Bri­tish colum­nist Dan Hodges was dredged up last week and put back in cir­cu­la­tion: “In ret­ro­spect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun con­trol de­bate,” Hodges wrote. “Once Amer­ica de­cided killing chil­dren was bear­able, it was over.”

I at­tended Sandy Hook for two years in the 1990s, aged seven, then eight. Had I been a zeal­ous “pro­po­nent” of the Sec­ond Amend­ment, per­haps re­ceipt of that news — 15 years later, at my desk in Dublin — would have been my “Fi­nally”. My Caleb Keeter mo­ment. Per­haps.

How can there be any doubt? That I was once a child en­rolled at Sandy Hook is not what dev­as­tates me. It dev­as­tates me par­tic­u­larly, but the min­i­mum in­for­ma­tion about what hap­pened at the school that morn­ing is, I sub­mit, ad­e­quate to the task. Time af­ter time, though, Amer­ica has been forced to ac­cept that this is not the case.

My con­nec­tion to New­town is ten­u­ous and it is old. It is one seg­ment of a five or six-seg­ment child­hood. Since 2012, how­ever, it is the seg­ment I cling to most tightly. It is the one most at risk; the school build­ing was razed in 2013. I track through the cor­ri­dors in my mind, re­play rem­nants of the hap­pi­est and most un­com­pli­cated scenes. The sense of loss is sick­en­ing, and my loss is ab­stract, not real.

The reg­u­lar­ity of mass shoot­ings in the US, their ex­tent, and their no­to­ri­ety, mean that place names alone be­come an ac­cept­able short­hand. Nouns aren’t ap­pended to Sandy Hook, or Or­lando, Charleston, Aurora, Vir­ginia Tech, or Columbine.

Ad­vo­cates for re­form are no longer very am­bi­tious — how could that be sus­tained? — in­stead they pro­pose clo­sure of mi­nor loop­holes, or changes that seem small enough or tech­ni­cal enough to be palat­able, but rarely, if ever, are.

Each mass shoot­ing presents an as­pect, or quirk, that is hope­fully seized upon for sin­gling out. In the case of Las Ve­gas, ad­vo­cates for gun con­trol iso­lated the avail­abil­ity of “bump stocks”, ap­pa­ra­tus ca­pa­ble of turn­ing a semi-au­to­matic ri­fle into an au­to­matic ri­fle, which the shooter in Las Ve­gas used. De­spite a not-hos­tile re­cep­tion from some Repub­li­cans last week, one as­sumes the pro­posal to ban bump stocks will wind up in the same scrap heap as other pro­posed checks, bal­ances, and bans on as­sault weapons or the sale of guns to cer­tain de­mo­graph­ics.

There is no short­age of am­bi­tion among those in favour of ex­pand­ing gun rights, who for the last year have been work­ing to re­move re­stric­tions on ar­mour-pierc­ing am­mu­ni­tion and si­lencers, and to bring in “con­cealed carry rec­i­proc­ity”, al­low­ing a con­cealed carry per­mit from any state to work na­tion­ally.

In Fe­bru­ary, for­go­ing a photo op, Trump signed a bill that did away with re­stric­tions on the pur­chase of firearms by peo­ple who are men­tally ill, put in place by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Trump said in the past that he be­lieved a school zone with­out guns was “bait”.

While Trump and his serv­ing press sec­re­tary, Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, and oth­ers, were crit­i­cised for their me­thod­i­cal and thor­ough eva­sion of the ques­tion, the in­stinct to avoid the sub­ject is not at all the pre­serve of a na­tion­al­ist or Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion. The day af­ter Sandy Hook, Barack Obama’s press sec­re­tary, Jay Car­ney, said in a state­ment: “To­day is not the day to talk about gun con­trol.”

The late-night TV host Jimmy Kim­mel pow­er­fully dis­agreed with this sen­ti­ment last week, and — in a devel­op­ment in­dica­tive of the short­age of fresh pub­lic dis­sent — was widely praised for an open­ing mono­logue about the mas­sacre in Ve­gas.

His voice cracked as he spoke about his home­town; be­hind him were pro­jected faces of the sen­a­tors who voted against tighter con­trols in the wake of Or­lando. On prayers of­fered by politi­cians, Kim­mel said: “You should be pray­ing to God to for­give you for let­ting the gun lobby run this coun­try.”

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