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Is there no end to shooting massacres?

Last week’s horrific shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut, which caused the deaths of 27 people, including 20 children aged six to seven, has once again reignited the debate over gun control in the United States.

The US is certainly not the only country to have witnessed a mass shooting – there have been similar incidents in Europe, one of the most recent being Norway – but in America such killings are becoming increasingly common.

This massacre comes shortly after a mass shooting in a Colorado cinema, which claimed 12 lives. Only three days before the Newtown shootings a man began firing randomly at shoppers in a mall in Oregon, killing two.

Of the 12 deadliest shootings in US history, six have taken place over the last five years. Furthermore, this year has been full of such incidents in different parts of the US: there have been mass killings in Georgia, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Oklahoma, Seattle, Wisconsin, Minneapolis and Texas.

The gun statistics coming out of America are indeed horrifying. This year alone there were almost 17 million applications to buy guns in the US; since 1998 there have been nearly 157 million such applications.

The US has by far the highest gun ownership rate in the world – there are 89 guns for every 100 Americans. The murder figures are even starker: Last year 8,583 people were killed by guns in the US, compared, for example, with 58 in the United Kingdom.

How many more massacres need to take place before something is done to bring about a meaningful level of gun control in the US? What justification is there, for example, for allowing the sale of semi-automatic military-style assault rifles? There have been attempts at gun control such as when Congress in 1994 passed bills proposed by US President Bill Clinton to restrict the sale of certain kinds of assault weapons. Unfortunately the ban was allowed to expire in 2004, during George Bush’s presidency.

It is also evident that gun control advocates face a very strong opponent in the National Rifle Association, which has 4.3 million members, and which is one of the most powerful and effective lobby groups in Washington.

What’s more, the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2008 that the Bill of Rights included a guarantee of the personal right to own a gun was a major victory for the NRA. The landmark ruling overturned the District of Columbia ban on handguns, the strictest gun-control law in the country.

Will public opinion in the US now shift in favour of gun control after this latest massacre at an elementary school? Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic Senator from California, has declared that she plans to introduce an assault weapons ban bill on the first day of the new Congress. A number of conservative Democrats, traditionally not in favour of gun control, have hinted they may change track and back new legislation. Republicans, who traditionally do not favour gun control, have been largely silent.

After the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School a tearful Barack Obama appeared on television and pleaded for “meaningful action” in the wake of this latest outrage. “As a country we have been through this too many times,” he said.

Two days later Mr Obama told a memorial service in Newtown that America had not done enough to protect its children from such attacks and that there was no “excuse for inaction”. He now has a historic opportunity to support, and push for, landmark gun control legislation.

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