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Obama’s historic gun control opportunity

The massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 27 people, including 20 children aged six to seven were killed, sent shock waves around the world and once again reignited the debate over gun control in the United States.

Last year 8,583 people were killed by guns in the US
- Anthony Manduca

Sadly, these types of massacres are becoming increasingly common in the US. Two days ago, barely a week after the school killings, another shooting spree took place, this time in Pennsylvania, when a gunman shot dead three people before being killed himself. Only three days before the Newtown shootings a man began firing randomly at shoppers in a mall in Oregon, killing two; in July a mass shooting took place in a Colorado cinema, which claimed 12 lives.

This year alone similar shooting incidents which resulted in mass killings also took place in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Oklahoma, Washington state, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Texas. When one looks at the gun statistics coming out of America such mass shootings are hardly surprising. In 2012 there have been 17 million applications to buy guns in the US; the figure since 1998 is almost 157 million. There are 89 guns for every 100 Americans and last year 8,583 people were killed by guns in the US.

How many more massacres need to take place before meaningful gun control measures are enacted? Yes, many Americans are attached to their guns, there is a constitutional right to bear arms (outdated in my opinion) and the National Rifle Association, with 4.3 million members, is one of America’s most powerful lobby groups. However, it is about time that some soul searching takes place in the US over such easy access to firearms. How can one justify, the sale, for example, of semi-automatic military-style assault rifles?

President Barack Obama, who knows how to rally Americans and to make a good case for a cause he believes in, must now take the lead in convincing his nation that some sort of gun control is badly needed. In 1994, for example, Congress passed bills proposed by President Bill Clinton to restrict the sale of certain kinds of assault weapons. Unfortunately the ban was allowed to expire in 2004, because President George W. Bush did not believe in gun control and was too sympathetic to the NRA.

Obama now has a historic opportunity to support, and push for, landmark gun control legislation. He should lead a nation-wide campaign, along the lines of his healthcare reform package, aimed at convincing Americans on the need for changes to the country’s gun laws. He should not be afraid to take on the NRA if necessary, whose leaders have now demanded armed guards at every school as a way of preventing such massacres.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA vice president Wayne La Pierre said on Friday in response to the Newtown massacre. Flooding the country with more guns, however, hardly seems the ideal solution to the problem of having too many guns around.

After the Connecticut killings Obama called for “meaningful action” to stop such massacres, pointing out that “there was no excuse for inaction”. He must now be true to his word. Michael Bloomberg, the moderate and level headed mayor of New York, has urged Obama to bring about gun control legislation, and attacked the NRA’s “paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America”. The President should listen to Bloomberg.

Furthermore, Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic Senator from California has declared that she intends to introduce an assault weapons ban bill on the first day of the new Congress. A number of conservative Democrats, who traditionally have not been in favour of gun control, have hinted they may back new legislation. The ball is now in Obama’s court.

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