The Newtown killer’s weapon of choice was his mother’s Bushmaster .233. One selling feature of this deadly semi-automatic weapon is its light weight – good for women. It is “surprisingly easy to manoeuvre, even for a novice,” said a New York Times report. “It doesn’t have to be recocked after it’s fired: You just squeeze the trigger over and over.”
The killer’s mother, Nancy Lanza, was just another ordinary American mom with an arsenal. In the sprawling semi-rural exurbs where she lived, plenty of homeowners have guns for self-defence. Nancy would not have been a fan of gun control. She came from New Hampshire, whose official motto is Live Free or Die. I doubt that when she took her son out target shooting, she ever worried he might kill her with one of her own weapons, then take the Bushmaster to the local school.
“These tragedies must end,” Barack Obama told a grief-stricken nation Sunday. Don’t count on it. Guns are more American than mom and apple pie. Gun ownership is entwined with the nation’s DNA. Every time more innocents are massacred, we hear: The answer isn’t fewer guns, but more! We should repeal gun bans in school zones! If only their teachers had been armed to the teeth, those kids would be alive today. “Gun control supporters,” insisted Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, “have the blood of little children on their hands.”
This love affair with guns is not susceptible to logic. And Americans’ beliefs about their right to weapons are essentially religious. For them, the Constitution is a sacred document that can no more be altered than the Ten Commandments. Their foundation myth is of a citizen army of brave patriots who took up arms to free themselves from a distant tyranny. Unfortunately, the Second Amendment was written in the age of flintlocks. It never anticipated the Bushmaster and the Glock.
When it seems every other mommy’s got a Glock, gun reform is hard. The U.S. is awash in 270-million weapons. Forty-seven per cent of U.S. households have a gun, and only 25 per cent of Americans want stricter gun laws, according to a recent Gallup poll. Three other myths fuel Americans’ bond with firearms. One is the wild frontier, where lone heroes brought justice to a savage land. (I can still hum the theme song from Have Gun, Will Travel.) Another is the fear that violent criminals lurk everywhere. (If guns are controlled, only police and criminals will have them.) The other is that a catastrophic breakdown of society could occur at any time, probably when the economy collapses. This view is not confined to nutty people who live in the backwoods. It is also held by people who live in nice neighbourhoods and have safes full of weapons, just in case.
Irrational fears are hard to dislodge with facts. Crime rates are way down. Yet many states, by popular demand, have expanded gun rights. Even Barack Obama has expanded gun rights. He signed a law allowing firearms to be carried in national parks, and another allowing guns in checked baggage on Amtrack trains. Gun opponents call his record on gun control an “abject failure.”
The U.S. is the most heavily armed nation in the world. Fortunately, it is by no means the most trigger-happy. According to one of the many surveys out there, this one published in the Guardian, that distinction goes to Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, South Africa, and a bunch of countries in the Caribbean, where rates of gun murder are 10 or even 20 times higher. The Swiss, by contrast, have a lot of guns but very little gun crime. So does Canada.
What sets the United States apart is not the amount of weaponry, or the crime rate. It is the nature of the crime. Only the United States specializes in the kind of unfathomable horror we saw this weekend – the horror that stretches from Columbine to Virginia Tech, Tucson to Aurora, and repeats itself over and over.
And then everyone says never again, until the next time.