I have recently been reading some excellent fact and fiction on the American War of Independence – or the Rebellion of the British Colonies or the War of Liberation, depending on your personal viewpoint. Consequently some important points concerning the recent massacre of the innocents at the school in Connecticut in light of the ‘right’ of all US citizens to carry (and use) a gun need some consideration.
Incidentally, the books I refer to and which I can highly recommmend, are first; the fictionalised but true account of the siege of a makeshift British fort by the American insurgents towards the end of the rebellion (you can see where I stand!) by Bernard Cornwell, called ‘The Fort’ and secondly an excellent and very readable summary of the war contained in ‘All the King’s Men’ by Saul David.
During the latter stages of, and resulting from, the war, the Americans, having fought for and gained their ‘liberty’ from the yoke of central government in London located thousands of miles away (reminiscent of the demise of the Roman Empire), they drew up their historic constitution. The Constitution, amongst other things stated that man was created equal – although that didn’t prevent them from espousing slavery for at least another 150 years – but also the Second Amendment ‘appeared’ to give all the ex-colonists the right to bear arms. This has been interpreted in different ways over the years, the most recent being that nearly every individual was entitled to have, and to be able to use, a gun (non-specified). In fact, apparently, the wording of the Second Amendment referred to the right of all Americans to bear arms as a result of them being in the militia, in other words in defence of their country (against initially the imperialist, colonising British) and not as individuals against their fellow Americans.
The very strong right-wing (predominantly Republican) gun lobby in the USA, the National Rifle Association – and very nationalistic it appears to be – advocates the most recent interpretation of the gun laws. Some US states, particularly those where gun crimes were particularly rife, such as New York and Chicago, had managed to ban semi-automatic weapons, but those sensible laws were overturned in the mid 1990’s by the Supreme Court. Hence the gun ownership in the USA is astronomical and gun-induced deaths run into the thousands annually, compared to say the UK, which is well below 100, even allowing for the difference in population size, so clearly the USA’s death rate is exceptionally high (perhaps comparable to Columbia and some south american countries, although probably not Africa or war zones like Afghanistan.
It is rather difficult to understand why law-abiding non-military citizens need to own semi-automatic weapons, multi-round ammunition magazines, or indeed any guns at all, unless they happen to live in particularly lawless areas. An American professor, providing his opinion on BBC Radio 4 the other night, while deprecating the ownership of such powerful weapons by American civilians (or indeed any citizen), provided the widely held belief of most Americans that theirs is a God-given right to carry a gun because of their history, their constitution and because of the insecurity engendered by the fairly recently ended Cold War with the former USSR, and the threat of terrorism. It may have escaped their attention that apart from the two outrages against the World Trade Centre, first the bombing then later the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001, continental USA has had virtually no external terrorist attacks in the past, whereas European countries, particularly the UK during the many IRA and Moslem extremist campaigns, have.
Despite these events in Europe and the UK, no requirement for arming the civilian population has ever been mooted or is seen as being in the least bit desirable. Some people who are farmers or belong to gun clubs do require weapons, but they are a tiny minority. In Britain there is also a lot of resistance to arming the police, even during periods of heightened tension, apart from the highly trained armed response teams. Inevitably, when a shooting does occur involving any of these people there are long drawn-out, detailed enquiries into the exact circumstances, despite the legitimate, instant responses required, which have sometimes resulted in premature or mistaken identity deaths.
Following the Connecticut murders, the first two 6-year old victims being buried only yesterday, America is still debating the means of preventing more cases. Some say, ‘it isn’t the gun, it’s the man’, which is not entirely accurate as without the gun the man wouldn’t be able to massacre so many people in such a short time. Others say ‘arm the teachers’, somewhat overkill, literally, but many in the USA take it seriously. Even Obama in his speech following the deaths wouldn’t or couldn’t mention more gun controls and at least the banning of anything larger than a handgun! In some ways, although we lost the war with the Colonies, at least we didn’t inherit the love of the gun by the common people, that perhaps being a rather corrosive inheritance of their war for freedom to kill each other with relative ease….