IS THIS TRIGGER FOR GUN CHANGE? in the Wake of the Mass Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School David James Reports on the History of America's Gun Laws and the Debate Gripping a Grieving Nation Today

Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales), December 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

IS THIS TRIGGER FOR GUN CHANGE? in the Wake of the Mass Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School David James Reports on the History of America's Gun Laws and the Debate Gripping a Grieving Nation Today


Byline: David James

IT is hard to imagine a Welsh politician publicly calling for school head teachers to keep assault rifles in their offices to gun down anyone who threatened their charges.

Yet that is exactly what Congressman Louie Gohmert declared on Fox News as a stunned USA digested the news that 20-year-old Adam Lanza had fatally fired on 20 children and six adults at an elementary school.

"I wish to God she had had an M-4 [assault rifle] in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn't have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," said Gohmert.

The Republican Congressman for Texas was far from a lone voice.

Larry Pratt - the executive director of Gun Owners of America - echoed the same view to Brit export TV host Piers Morgan on his CNN news talk show.

"We only have the problem in our cities and unhappily in our schools, where people like you have been able to put laws on the books that prevent people from defending themselves," he said.

Pratt didn't mention that it isn't just gun-loving rural parts of America that don't have a frequent problem with horrific shootings in schools. In countries like the UK, where people won't find the law on their side if they tuck an automatic weapon under their belt, massacres like that at Dunblane are far less common.

If anything shows the vast gulf between the perception of guns on either side of the Atlantic, it is these colourfully expressed arguments.

To the minds of many Americans, the best way of dealing with the threat of guns on America's streets is... to give more people guns to protect themselves.

Yet, as Newtown joins Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood military base and the Aurora cinema in Denver in the roll call of recent American infamy, that view is coming under intense scrutiny.

Will this time be any different? The names Clackamas, Oak Creek, Tucson, Meridian, Carson City, Cupertino and Colorado Springs may not mean much to readers in Wales.

Yet, across the Atlantic, these names - of just some of the places that have witnessed fatal public shootings in the last 18 months - now clearly show just how big a problem guns have become.

With the grief in Newtown at the shootings in the Sandy Hook Elementary School still fresh in American minds, the extent of the anger at these unnecessary deaths is giving gun control advocates new hope.

President Barack Obama has pledged to make preventing gun violence a second-term policy priority and he has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead this process.

Yet there is no certainty of how far he will be able to go in changing the attitudes of a nation in which there are strongly entrenched views about the right of self defence.

And even some supporters of gun control have little hope, remembering the way the prospect of reform was dashed after the Columbine shooting, in which 13 died in 1999.

The first enemy of reform: history As with so many intractable world problems, if you go back far enough, the Brits can be blamed.

When the founding fathers of the United States came to draft their constitution in the late 18th Century, they were influenced by the English Bill of Rights of a century earlier.

Specifically, they took a lead from a clause included in reaction to the pro-Catholic manoeuvrings of the ousted and exiled king James II.

It ended: "Subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by Law."

This principle - now little more than a historic curiosity in the legal history of England and Wales - became enshrined in the far less fluid US legal system as the Second Amendment.

It declared, alongside a declaration of the importance of militias, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" - and generations of future lawyers were kept in gainful employment. …

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