Mon, Apr 23, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Made in the US: The pride that keeps gun law in place

The trouble is, despite everything that happened last Monday, nobody with the power to do anything substantial on gun control is interested in having a substantive debate about it

By Gary Younge  /  THE GUARDIAN , RICHMOND, VIRGINIA

Dave Hancock talked about his .38mm Smith and Wesson as though it were US$3,800 of Dolce & Gabbana.

"It's light, easy and comfortable to carry," he said, easing the snub nose pistol out of his pocket and gazing at it nostalgically.

"They don't make it in the nickel finish any more," he said.

Hancock, who works at the Bob Moates Sports Store in Midlothian, Virginia, loves guns. Over at the handgun counter he slipped out a jet black 9mm Glock 19 -- the kind that Cho Seung-hui used to slay 32 of his fellow students and then himself last Monday -- and handed it to me. It was heavy, and doubtless felt all the heavier for its immediate associations. Hancock showed me how to reload the magazine. Then pulled the trigger and watched me flinch.

The relationship between this weapon and the massacre that took place on Virginia Tech campus 320km away is not moral but functional, he insisted.

"They flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, but nobody is saying we should stop flying," he said. "They drove a truck into the building in Oklahoma with a bomb made of fertilizer but we're not going to do away with trucks and fertilizer. One person who's mad enough and determined enough can kill 30 people; you can't blame that on guns."

Hancock believed there might be a case for stronger checks on the mental health of prospective gun owners. But if anything, he argued, what happened this week is an argument for more people to carry weapons, not fewer.

"If one single professor had been carrying a legal weapon they might have been able to stop all this," he said.

The main problem with the obvious retort that if guns were less easily available Cho's insanity would probably have been less deadly is that it is obvious. The debate between advocates of gun rights and gun control reached a painful stalemate long ago.

Painful because, in a country where more than 30,000 people die every year from firearms -- more than one every 20 minutes -- there is a lot to talk about. Stalemate because neither the arguments, nor the balance of forces of those who make them, seem to change sufficiently to break the logjam.

"The right to bear arms" is enshrined in the US Constitution. The founding fathers intended it so that citizens could protect themselves against state tyranny. Now gun lobbyists argue that they want them to protect themselves from other citizens.

However, in the more violent cities in the US there is hostility to that view.

"When they wrote the Constitution I don't think they really had this crazy kid in mind," said Debbie Yorizzo, a student-teacher at Hunter college.

"Martin Luther King couldn't sort this shit out back in the day," said Genesis Moore who lost his brother, Jason, to gun violence in Las Vegas in November.

"Everyone wants to have one so they feel like they're tougher than the next person," said Curtis Perkins, who was with Jason when he died.

In 1966, after Charles Whitman shot 14 people dead in Texas, the New York Times wrote: "Whatever the motivation, it seems clear that the way is made easier by the fact that guns of all sorts are readily available to Americans of all shades of morality and mentality."

It would have been no less prescient had they published it last Tuesday.

A Pew research poll, taken before the shootings, showed that while public support for greater gun control had waned over the past 10 years, most people still backed it.

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