Mon, Sep 23, 2013 - Page 9 News List

US gun violence is out of control

The death toll from firearms in the US suggests that the country is gripped by civil war, killing 213,000 more Americans than have been killed in all wars in just the past 45 years, and may require international intervention before thousands more die

By Henry Porter  /  The Observer

Plainly, there is no equivalent effort in the area of privately owned firearms. Indeed, most politicians do everything they can to make the country less safe. Recently, Democrat US Senator Mark Pryor ran a TV ad against the gun-control campaign funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — one of the few politicians to stand up to the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby — explaining why he was against enhanced background checks on gun owners, yet was committed to “finding real solutions to violence.”

About their own safety, Americans often have an unusual ability to hold two utterly opposed ideas in their heads simultaneously. That can only explain the past decade in which the fear of terror has cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars in wars, surveillance and intelligence programs and homeland security. Ten years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, homeland security spending doubled to US$69 billion. The total bill since the attacks is more than US$649 billion.

One more figure. There have been more than 3,000 terror-related deaths on US soil between 1999 and 2010, including the Sept. 11 attacks, and about 364,000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms. If any European nation had such a record and persisted in addressing only the first figure, while ignoring the second, which is 100 times larger, you can bet your last dollar that the US Department of State would be warning against travel to that country and no American would set foot in it without body armor.

However, no nation sees itself as outsiders do. Half the country is sane and rational, while the other half simply does not grasp the inconsistencies and historic lunacy of its position, which springs from the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and is derived from English common law and England’s 1689 Bill of Rights.

The UK dispensed with these rights long ago, but US gun owners cleave to them with the tenacity that previous generations fought to continue slavery. Astonishingly, owning a gun is mostly seen as a matter of personal safety, like the airbag in the new Ford pick-up or avoiding secondary smoke, despite conclusive evidence that people become less safe as gun ownership rises.

I happened to be in New York for the Sept. 11, 2001, anniversary: It occurs to me now that the city that suffered most dreadfully in the attacks and has the greatest reason for jumpiness is also among the places where you find most sense on the gun issue in the US. New Yorkers understand that fear breeds peril and, regardless of tragedies such as Sandy Hook and the Washington Naval Yard, the NRA, the US gun manufacturers, conservative-inclined politicians and parts of the media will continue to advocate a right, which, at base, is as archaic as a witch trial.

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