MORE AMMUNITION FOR GUN CONTROL
ANOTHER WEEK, TWO MORE HORROR SHOOTINGS IN AMERICA AND STILL THE COUNTRY PREVARICATES ON RESTRICTIONS, WRITES ANNA CALDWELL
THE world watched a brutal murder on social media this week.
And, in that moment, the haunting footage of Vester Lee Flanagan’s black pistol trained on two oblivious journalists depicted the gravest of problems for the greatest of nations.
Flanagan had filmed himself stalking his prey – Virginia’s WDBJ-TV’s Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward – and stealing their lives. Then, in one final act of horror, he uploaded it to Twitter and Facebook for the world to see. It was the picture of senseless gun crime, condensed into less than a minute.
Suddenly, all the talk about gun control – the politics, the facts, the spin – meant something as the pure terror of the final moments of innocent lives were beamed on to smartphones and computer screens around the globe.
That two bright young things, working a pre-dawn shift in a small town, could become caught up in some deranged self-made horror movie in the warped mind of one of their former colleagues should be unthinkable to all of us.
But the even more horrifying truth is that US history suggests they will die in vain.
Because when it comes to guns, the US doesn’t change.
Of the world’s most developed, wealthy nations, none are as violent as the US. On the same day Parker and Ward were killed, a separate gunman shot a police officer dead in a convenience store stand-off in Sunset, Louisiana.
Living in the US, I think about people carrying guns all the time. When I’m on the subway. When I go to the movies. When I accidentally stumble into Times Square. What if someone is about to crack? I think about where they could come from, where I’d hide and what my chances of survival would be. All thoughts I never had when I lived in Brisbane.
The most recent figures show the US recording 29.7 gun homicides for every one million people, compared with Australia at 1.4, New Zealand 1.6 and Ireland 4.8.
And since President Barack Obama tried – and failed – to crack down on gun laws in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school massacre, when a gunman killed 20 children, six teachers and himself, there have been a further 855 mass shootings resulting in the deaths of 1144 people and the wounding of 3180 more.
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton weighed in this week, declaring something needed to be done.
“We have got to do something about gun violence in America. And I will take it on,” she said.
“There’s so much evidence that if guns were not so readily available, if there were universal background checks, that maybe we could prevent this kind of carnage.”
Parker’s father has also staked his daughter’s legacy on gun control, saying he will crusade for change until it happens.
But can they succeed where Obama has already failed?
Last month, I found myself in a tiny town deep in America’s south that just so happened to have the most liberal gun laws in the US.
In Kennesaw, Georgia, almost everyone is armed. The law requires it. That’s right – the law states that “every head of household residing in the city limits is required to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition therefore”.
Having lunch at a pub, the owner pointed out to me that probably three men sitting at the bar were carrying guns.
They were slumped over their beers. Barely capable of the motor skills required for simple hand to mouth transactions – let alone the sound, decision-making nous required to be in possession of a gun.
But, that’s the reality. The reality also is that it’s easy to buy a gun in the US. In some states, it’s as easy as buying a toy at a fair.
Background checks are lax or non-existent. Guns are passed around between family and friends. You can buy one on Craigslist.
In America’s story about gun mass murders – one of horror followed by inaction that’s been told over and over again – something different happened this week.
For the first time, the terror of that final moment – that showdown between a lethal weapon and its innocent victim – landed in front of millions of Americans in excruciating detail.
It’s footage that’s impossible to forget. And maybe searing that terror into the public conscience is enough to spark a change.
We know that one gun crime routinely breeds the next.
Flanagan told in a rambling manifesto how he’d put down a deposit for his gun on June 19 – two days after white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people in a church in Charleston, calling for a race war.
He blamed Roof for the carnage saying it “set” him “off” and appeared to idolise the killers from the Virginia Tech shooting and the Columbine massacre.
When Ward and Parker watched with anguish the events in Charleston just two months ago, they had no way of knowing how a chain of events was set off that would end with their brutal slayings on a warm August morning.
But when Roof called for more deaths it was almost inevitable someone would take him up on it. And now, someone will follow Flanagan.
Unless Congress tries to stop it.
The reality is that it’s easy to buy a gun in the US. In some states, it’s as easy as buying a toy at a fair