Menu Close

The gun lobby, the Second Amendment and the Sandy Hook shootings

Once the shock of the Connecticut shootings has receded, will US law actually change? EPA/Justin Lane

It is a form of warfare in urban settings. The recent spate of shootings in the United States have seen the assailants dressed in combat gear – in Aurora, Colorado, an Oregon shopping mall and the latest in Connecticut at an elementary school. And there is every reason to see the US as having an internal war which costs tens of thousands of lives on an annual basis.

The latest, most lethal round was the attack on an elementary school on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 26 individuals were killed by the gunman, 20 of those being children. (Additionally, the the suspected gunman, Adam Lanza took his life and his mother Nancy Lanza was found dead at her home.)

Adam Lanza might well have regarded himself as an urban guerrilla. He certainly behaved as one:

“Witnesses and officials described a horrific scene as the gunman, with brutal efficiency, chose his victims in two classrooms while other students dove under desks and hid in closets.”

The idea of having the most lethal weapons available to the public is not merely archaic but linked to a demonology of security and government. The more heavily you are armed, the safer you are not merely against your private citizens, but against foreign enemies - including the government of the day. The anti-federalist logic is unmistakable – government is the enemy, and the “feds” ought to mind their own business.

This translates into the most absurd logic: the killings might be averted if everyone else had had a gun to shoot down the gunman. The reductio ad absurdum of this is mayhem and the fragmentation of the state. The armed can only be deterred by the armed. Disarmament is tantamount to treason.

This logic has assumed its own political correctness, with the gun lobby becoming the unchallenged, the untouchable. Moving speeches might be made by Presidents of the day, but that’s the extent of that. After the January 2011 shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, the Democratic member of the US House of Represenstatives in Tucson, Arizona, left six people dead and 13 injured, President Barack Obama did just that, but avoided discussion about stricter gun laws.

His position, in fact, has been to support a stricter enforcement of existing statutes, a position in harmony with the aggressive and unrepentant National Rifle Association.

After the Connecticut shootings, Obama has similarly given little room for comfort in terms of what will be done. “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney provided a perfect illustration of political inertia, deflecting questions on whether issues of stricter gun control should be discussed at all.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was unimpressed. “What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today.”

Even conservative figures such as David Frum have expressed concern at the pervasive influence of the gun lobby. After each massacre, he said, “there follows a great hushing: don’t you dare mention the most obvious reason for this unique American horror”.

For Frum, this had to stop: “It’s bad enough to have a gun lobby. It’s the last straw when that lobby also sets itself up as the civility police.”

Federal administrations have found effective regulation of the gun market difficult. Legal challenges over perceived encroachments of the US Constition’s Second Amendment are frequent and often successful.

At the state level, more favourable laws for the carrying of guns have been passed. There are more gun stores in the United States than grocery stores. While his programs and interviews tend to be more fluff than substance, Piers Morgan managed to put the enormous gulf between purchasing items for living and those for killing in perspective on his CNN program.

After the shootings, Morgan called for an internally affected disarmament program. A minimum of three references would be required, and “detailed vetting over 6-8 weeks.” No one under 25 should have a gun, nor should anyone with any mental health history. Other proposals include placing re-institutionalisation back on the table, given the chronic mental health issues that afflict various assailants.

Immediately, this is misunderstood as an assault on the Second Amendment, a blurring of the military and civilian lines of force. “If America were to ‘ban guns on anyone under 25’ then how would we have a military?” asked a confused Melissa Melton.

Frum’s own bitter riposte on Twitter to such a position is apt.

“Obviously, we need to lower the age limit for concealed carry so toddlers can defend themselves.”

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 174,800 academics and researchers from 4,810 institutions.

Register now