Alexander Chancellor

Long life | 28 December 2012

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At the time of writing, a few days after the school massacre in Connecticut, the National Rifle Association remains creepily silent. This normally loud-mouthed, blustering organisation has made no comment on the killings and has even taken down the Facebook page on which it was boasting at the time of having 1.7 million ‘likes’, meaning people who approve of the NRA. Never has it been so self-effacing in response to a gun rampage of this kind. It normally goes straight on the offensive, reiterating for the umpteenth time that guns don’t kill people, people do, and that the right to bear arms is the inalienable constitutional right of every American. Maybe by now, with Christmas behind us, it will have recovered its nerve and resumed its pro-gun propaganda, but for a while at least I have been able to take some solace in its discomfiture.

Compare this to the reaction 12 years ago of a NRA spokesman to the shooting in a Michigan primary school of one six-year-old by another child of the same age, the youngest gun murderer on record. ‘I suspect this tragedy may say more about parental responsibility than any little old gun law,’ the spokesman said. The ‘little old gun law’ to which he was referring, and which was then languishing in Congress, contained nothing more than a watered-down safety-lock provision that might have made it just a bit more difficult for tiny tots to pull triggers on each other, but the NRA saw even this as a threat to a constitutional right. At that time, when a study had shown that 100,000 American schoolchildren carried a gun to school every day, its position seemed barely credible.

Despite the level of accidental gun deaths among children, described in 2000 by President Clinton as ‘nine times higher than in the other 25 biggest countries combined’, and, of course, despite the tragically frequent gun massacres carried out by the mentally diseased, more or less nothing has been achieved in the field of gun control. Even a ban on the carrying of concealed weapons was lifted by an appeals court in Illinois three days before the Newtown massacre. And each tragedy seems merely to fuel the demand for guns by frightened people seeking a means of self-defence. It is now estimated that there are about 300 million guns in America, where the population, at between 311 and 312 million, is only slightly more than that; and it seems likely that the number will continue to rise. It remains absurdly easy for practically anyone, however deranged, to acquire a gun, and there are more gun-sellers than McDonald’s restaurants in the United States.

The NRA constantly tries to dissociate gun crime from gun ownership, blaming it on film violence and other malign influences on the young, and on its website, frozen by the horror in Connecticut, the main item before Christmas was a commentary on the situation in Virginia, where a professor had claimed that while gun sales had risen by 73 per cent in six years, violent crime involving guns had fallen by 27 per cent during the same period. ‘For years we’ve heard the shrill voices of those who hate your guns,’ wrote this NRA pundit. ‘“More guns on the street means more crime!” “More guns equals more murder!” So now the gun ban crowd is changing its tune...Gun owners and the NRA have been right all along. It’s the criminals, not the law-abiding gun owners, who are the issue.’

The NRA is, however, right about a couple of things. Far more gun crime in America is committed by cold-blooded criminals than by crazy psychopaths like Adam Lanza. And parental responsibility also has something to do with it all when someone such as Lanza’s mother had acquired a large arsenal of weapons to protect herself after the collapse of civilisation that she believed was on the way, thus preparing the ground for her own murder as well as for that of the children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Such is the cycle of fear that fuels the demand for guns that the shooting range nearest to the school was particularly busy after the massacre.

Still, there are grounds for hope that some gun control, however modest, may finally come. As Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, has pointed out, Barack Obama comfortably won the presidential election despite it having been the NRA’s ‘number one objective’ to deny him a second term. Its power was ‘vastly overrated’, he said, and ‘this myth that the NRA can destroy political careers is just not true’. And Barack Obama, now secure in the White House for another four years, has given us to believe that he will no longer try to dodge the issue.