Guns and poses: A barrel of deceptions
By gail collins
WELL, the Mayans were sort of right.
The world didn't implode when their calendar stopped on Dec 21. But the National Rifle Association (NRA) did call for putting guns in every American school in a press conference that had a sort of civilisation-hits-a- dead-end feel to it.
And we learnt that negotiations on averting a major economic crisis in the US had come to a screeching halt because House Speaker John Boehner lost the support of the far-right contingent of his already-pretty-damned- conservative caucus. We have seen the future, and everything involves negotiating with loony people.
Mr Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, has major sway in Congress when it comes to gun issues. So his press conference, in which he read a rambling, unyielding statement in a quavering voice, while refusing to take any questions, could not have inspired confidence that the national trauma over the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school was going to be resolved anytime soon.
Mr LaPierre immediately identified the problem that led to a young man mowing down children with a semi-automatic rifle: gun-free school zones. ("They tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem.") Then he demanded a police officer in every American school. Or maybe a scheme to recruit armed volunteers.
At around the same time he was speaking last Friday, a gunman in Pennsylvania killed three people after shooting up a rural church. We will await the next grand plan for arming ministers.
The idea that having lots of guns around is the best protection against gun violence is a fairy tale the NRA tells itself when it goes to sleep at night. But an armed security officer at Columbine High School was no help. History also shows that armed civilians tend to freeze up during mass shootings - for good reason, since usually the only way a crazed gunman gets stopped is when he runs out of ammunition. So what remains is an excellent argument for banning weapons that spray lots of bullets.
However unhinged Mr LaPierre might have seemed to the casual observer, he sent a clear message to members of Congress who fear the wrath of the NRA: No compromise on banning assault weapons or any gun control issue. That made it hard to imagine any reform getting past the great, gaping maw that is the House of Representatives.
The magic of the House Republican majority was on show when the Tea Party forces blocked Mr Boehner's plan to continue the Bush tax cuts for incomes under US$1 million (S$1.2 million) a year. This was around the time the Speaker recited the prayer, much beloved by 12-step programmes, about seeking the serenity to accept things you cannot change.
Mr Boehner's Bill was mainly a political ploy, so in a way, its defeat was meaningless. Except that it would be comforting not to believe that one of the critical players in Washington was always at the mercy of the loopy-extremist wing in his caucus.
Like Kansas congressman Tim Huelskamp who, last Friday, represented the House resistance forces on MSNBC's Morning Joe, in an appearance with great Mayan overtones. First, he gradually acknowledged he was never going to vote for anything that raised taxes on anybody, even if it was understood by the entire world to be a negotiating tactic to win massive spending cuts and avert massive tax increases on 99.8 per cent of the population.
Then the discussion turned to the Connecticut shooting, and Mr Huelskamp quickly announced that the US did not have a gun problem. "It's a people problem. It's a culture problem," he insisted. Anyone who disagreed - like President Barack Obama - was, he said, using a tragedy "to push a political agenda".
In conclusion, the congressman announced that he had an 11-year-old son, "and I have a choice whether he's allowed to play those video games. What I would suggest to mums and dads across this country is look at what your children are doing... And I'm not saying to pass a single law about that, because I think that would be politicising the issue". Which we really hate. Politicising.
There are so many ways we'd rather be celebrating the holidays. We would like to be gathering around the tree with loved ones, discussing current events in the form of that story about the theft of six million pounds of syrup from the strategic maple syrup reserve in Quebec.
But we are where we are. Mr Obama bid a Merry Christmas to the nation after announcing that he would try to re-avert the feared "fiscal cliff" with a Bill that resolves virtually nothing but avoiding tax rises for the middle class. "At the very least, let's agree right now on what we already agree on," he said. This is what currently passes for a wildly optimistic statement.
Meanwhile, a congressman from Wisconsin, angry about the failure to pass a farm Bill, warned that the nation was about to fall over "the Dairy Cliff". At least there's still eggnog. God bless us every one.
NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE
Finding courage to act on guns
MOST of the civilised world would be amazed at the parsing of the gun debate in the United States, so soon after the Connecticut school massacre had pricked the nation's collective conscience. Surely, revulsion over the killing of children in their classrooms would instigate resolute action to curb easy access to firearms, even though past mass shootings barely affected gun ownership. Moreover, tighter controls, over which President Barack Obama should push harder, could reduce crimes other than murder in which firearms are often used as an aid, like robbery, rape and grievous assault.
But far from fostering a moral distaste for guns, Americans are rushing to stock them in the event of selective proscription by Congress. How the gun lobby has tried to turn the agenda around, after an initial burst of citizen and political activism for controls, shows it knows the American people will concede that the issue is more complex than it seems. Take away half the guns in private hands, pro-gun people are suggesting, and see if the rate of violent crime will fall proportionately.
The dreadful thing is that they may have a point. Disturbed people primed to go on a shooting spree will obtain what weapons they need. One statistic has it that murder by firearms in America is 20 times worse than in 22 other rich countries with a comparable crime variety. Ready availability, surely, is implicated. But the US rate for murder by means other than guns is also higher, by seven times. The case against guns is then less than clear-cut, although anti-gun advocates will counter that this is semantic relativism. It well may be. But psychologists and criminologists advise that consideration of laws on gun ownership cannot be detached from the issue of violence depicted in films and video games that desensitises people to violence. Young people interface with peers via a computer more than face to face. How this might affect the psyche over the long term is still being studied, but ill effects are feared. There is a case for personality maladjustments to be considered too in analysing American gun culture.
Rather than let the debate get tied up in knots, good sense should prevail. After Connecticut, the Norway mass murder of teenagers and periodic knife attacks on schoolchildren in China, it is amoral to let policy paralysis set in. The issue the US faces is one of political choice. Gun lovers led by the National Rifle Association have sway over federal elective choices in many rural states. America is poised on a pre- and post-Connecticut divide. Public opinion abhors the permissiveness, but it is up to elected leaders to rein it in by changing laws in the public interest.
[Gun Control in the US is highly politicised issue. However, the majority of US citizens are in favour of some form of gun control regulations, because very simply, it is the obvious thing to do. BUT, the very powerful gun lobby, fronted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), has blocked the will of the people.
Similarly, the looming "fiscal cliff" is an issue that the US govt needs to urgently address, but the issue has been politicised. Most US citizens are in favour of raising taxes on the very very rich (top 1% or 2%), but the Republicans are blocking the will of the people.
There's democracy for you.
Democracy is about expressing the will of the people. The other part of democracy is accepting the will of the people. Except in the US, where no one has to accept anything he doesn't agree with.]