Thoughts and prayers

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In response to the Florida mass shooting which killed 17 people in a school, several US politicians, especially those against gun control, offered their “prayers and condolences”. The killings, just as the sympathies, have both become predictable and disturbingly normal.

As tragic as the shooting in Florida was, looked at from another angle, it was merely America’s 18th school shooting this year alone. It was the country’s 1,607th mass shooting since 2012. In other words, America has had more than one mass shooting every day since, costing 1,846 lives. This makes the US home to the most mass shootings in the world.

America’s gun ownership is enshrined as a right in its Constitution. A brief paragraph in the Second Amendment gives its citizens the right to own guns, so many guns that the US has by far the highest number of guns in the world: almost one privately owned gun per American.

To buy an AR-15 rifle, the model used by the Florida shooter, takes only a few minutes, requiring a background check so cursory the authorities almost might as well not bother.

America has become resistant to doing anything about this issue, in large part due to a decades-long public campaign by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to convince the US public and politicians that, in fact, the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms and that more guns will actually make people safer.

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun” has been the NRA catchphrase that has underpinned the key legislative priorities of the NRA, which has huge support across much of the US. Almost non-existent laws and other mottos by the NRA – the original is “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” – have put guns in the hands of shooters who killed 14 people during an office party in California in 2015, 49 people in a Florida nightclub in 2016, and 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.

But it was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting which left 20 children and six teachers dead that was not only the most tragic but the one in which it was thought action would be taken. If 20 dead first-graders won’t spur people to action, what will? There was a huge public outcry at the massacre, and renewed calls for gun control, but the NRA pushed heavily in the opposite direction, and won.

The results: The Florida school assault is the 18th US school shooting of 2018, and it’s only seven weeks into the year. Shooters have increasingly been using guns with high-capacity magazines, allowing them to fire off dozens of rounds without having to reload. Attacks are also now carried out in places with a large number of people - such as the Las Vegas concert venue with 22,000 people. With that type of crowd, the shooter didn’t even have to aim.

In every country, people get into arguments and fights with friends, family and colleagues. But in the US, it’s likely that someone will get angry during an argument, pull out a gun and use it. They have a “right” which results in more Americans killed by fellow citizens armed with guns than in any other high-income nation in the world. More guns mean more gun deaths.

The mass shootings reignite the debate over gun control. And after every such shooting, those politicians in favor of gun rights say it is not the right time to talk about gun control. Give the families time to grieve, they plead. Give them your “thoughts and prayers”. Then they turn around and pass still more laws that ensure more “thoughts and prayers” to come.


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