Cyprus Mail

Revisiting gun control

I FEEL I must revisit gun control as the situation is worse than I had previously thought. First, the Republicans had offered President Obama a deal in which the bulk of the new gun control regulations would be left out of legislation. 

The Democrats would still be able to submit a bill on strengthening background checks and preventing the mentally ill, or those with criminal histories, from purchasing guns.

Then in a dramatic turn of events that is surely one of the lowest points in American politics, and a crushing blow to Obama’s Presidency, the vast majority of Senate Republicans, plus a few Democrats from rural states, killed the bill by invoking the filibuster.

We had just passed the nine month anniversary of the Connecticut tragedy which prompted this bill, in which a mentally ill youth gunned down twenty schoolchildren under the age of seven and six teachers before killing himself.

Earlier, using the ultra-powerful guns that his mother had collected [some of which were purchased through the Internet], he murdered his own mother.

Although his bill was defeated, Obama hasn’t given up, contrary to what some commentators and observers think. On August 29th, he announced that he would invoke executive powers in the face of “a do nothing Congress” [Truman’s words, 1948] and implement two gun control measures unilaterally.

An important loophole, in which former convicts and the mentally disturbed could evade background checks by registering their purchases to a trust or corporation, was closed. This is important, as a troubled young man, whose parents own a family business, ranging from a convenience shop to a specialised agricultural equipment factory, could build up an arsenal of guns through this procedure. It also prevents released felons and undetected criminals from building up an arsenal by setting up a dummy company.

The second measure is a ban on the re-importation of surplus American military grade firearms sold overseas into the country. This may seem like a pinprick, but even pinpricks help. Consider this statistic: Since the 2005 expiration of Clinton’s Assault Weapons Ban, the government Okayed 250,000 private requests to purchase these surplus guns from overseas.

This was an extremely dangerous situation. For example, say that in 1994, a gun manufacturer exported around 5000 military grade rifles to Colombia, so that its special forces could use them as they battled the narco-terrorists in the rainforest.

Today, because of changes in technology and because the Colombian Civil War is in a phase where it might actually end, the Colombian Army decides it doesn’t need these guns any more. However, because it is a disorganized place, these weapons, instead of being destroyed, end up in the hands of gun dealers, who can be either legitimate businesses or criminals. A gun shop owner in a state with no gun regulations whatsoever, could re-import these guns, and then sell them willy-nilly to every Tom, Dick and Harry.

It is even possible for Tom, Dick and Harry to purchase these ‘Colombian’ guns over the internet, and then, if they are criminals, use them, or traffic them to the drug cartels in Mexico. Unfortunately, although sensible people could understand that the small measures Obama has taken unilaterally are necessary, good sense is a scarce commodity in American politics.

Republicans and the gun lobby are ranting and raving about how Obama is trampling on their constitutional right to trade whatever weapons they like and how they would like to retaliate by drumming up grounds for impeachment

Although this action is relatively small compared to everything that must be done, it was a moment of Presidential courage on Obama’s part. Given how ruthless Congressional Republicans and their allies have been in distorting everything he supports, and given their love of brinkmanship, they may not be bluffing when they talk of “impeaching Obama” in retaliation.

However, the facts remain. We are still facing a moral crisis around gun violence in America. We are still facing a crisis in which the National ‘Rifle’ Association [I put inverted commas because, contrary to its past role as a group dedicated to hunting and shooting sports, it is now a proponent of selling machine guns to the public] is one of the most powerful special interest lobbies in the history of democracy.

We are still facing a crisis where special interest propaganda, dressed up as respect for American history and traditions, are able to carry the day in the face of reason. The recent special elections in Colorado spring to mind.

After Colorado had voted through its own tough gun control laws because it believed [correctly] that Washington DC will fail, many conservatives, libertarians and gun rights advocates in this swing Western state were left fuming. They organized a petition, demanding a recall vote for two state Democratic legislators, including the President of the State Senate.

Both of them were defeated and replaced by puppets of Wayne La Pierre, the NRA’s leader. There are two ironies. One is that Colorado has been the scene of two mass killings, with the Columbine School Massacre in 1999, and the Aurora Cinema Dark Knight Rises Massacre. Both of them were horrific enough to leave a permanent trauma on the state, and the nation at large. The second irony is the former career of the Democratic State Senate President who was defeated because of his gun control record.

He was a former police chief. In other words, when someone who has direct knowledge and experience of dealing with gun crimes speaks out in favor of gun control as a law enforcement policy, instead of being listened to, he is accused of being a “traitor” to “American” history, traditions and values, and likened as “garbage”.

He is drowned out by the NRA, even in a rare election where it is outspent. Meanwhile, the Republican Party, the party that is “pro-life” on abortion and “tough on crime” closes its eyes as the most apparent threat to life and the rule of law-the easy access to military capable guns and ammunition, is available to all and sundry. In fact, Republican legislators in the Midwest are arguing that even the visually impaired should carry guns, and that should any FBI or ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] attempt to enforce federal laws in their states relating to guns, they could be ‘arrested by the people’! A recent article in the New York Times reported that “gun rights groups have continued to make inroads in many Republican-controlled states.

Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and about two dozen other states passed measures this year allowing people to legally carry guns in churches, elementary schools and casinos, on college campuses and at other venues; made state records of concealed carry permits confidential; expanded self-defense statutes; or otherwise increased gun owners’ rights.”

I said this in my previous piece on gun control. We may be in store for a tragedy so heinous that it will make the horrors already experienced look bloodless in comparison. There is much debate about what the Second Amendment to the US Constitution actually means when it advances the right to “bear arms”.

There is also debate as to whether American Revolutionaries such as Thomas Jefferson saw the Constitution as a monument that could never be altered, or as a testament that can evolve alongside that of society. As interesting as this debate is, it misses a key point. When the Founding Fathers were writing the Bill of Rights, they weren’t dealing with the instant globalisation of news and with an obscure, Islamic fundamentalist terrorist who would kill thousands of Americans. I would like to ask my fellow Americans and Republicans in particular, this. “On what planet do you reside on most of the time?

Are you not aware that terrorists are adaptable and that they read and watch the news daily? Even Bin Laden in his Pakistani redoubt, with no connection to the outside world whatsoever, probably knew about our weak gun control. We succeeded, through taking certain measures, and by sheer luck, to avoid another terrorist attack involving airliners. Yet terrorists are still determined to kill, because that is their way to get their message across. If they cannot use aircraft, they will find another way. We saw this at the Boston Marathon Bombings.

By the Grace of God, we suffered few deaths and casualties.
Actually, during their attempt to escape Boston, the Boston bombers did gun down a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cop, adding to their toll. Why are you so willing to risk enabling terrorists? You claim good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns. But what citizen, regardless of prior experience, is able to take down a terrorist before a massacre ensures, especially if the terrorist received his training as he was killing people in Afghanistan or some other Hell on Earth?”

I am an ardent fan of The West Wing, a political drama series starring Martin Sheen as a Democratic President named Josiah Bartlet. I love the show because of its idealism, realism and intellectuality. In one episode, as Bartlet was conferring with his Catholic priest, I heard an interesting parable.

“There is a flood coming to a remote town because the river is overflowing. Everyone prepares to evacuate upon hearing the news from the authorities, except for a pious man. He claims that because he prays every day, God will save him. His family fails to persuade him, and they flee without him.

Then, as the waters rise, a rescue worker pulls up in a life raft and calls upon the pious man to join him. The fellow again proclaims his faith in God’s protection and after much arguing, the rescue worker with the raft gives up. Later, as the waters rise further, two more rescue workers arrive, this time by helicopter.

They throw a rope down to the man, and implore him to grab hold and they will take him to safety. The pious man once again says that God will protect him because he prays every day. Again, after much arguing, the rescue workers leave. The man drowns and goes to Heaven. He demands an audience with God. Upon meeting God, he angrily says “I prayed to you every day, only for you to kill me off and leaving my family without a father and husband.

What sort of thing is this?” God, looking at him with a puzzled expression, replies, “I had your family argue with you but you were pigheaded. I then had a guy in a life raft show up to rescue you and again you were obstinate. I then sent you a helicopter when the waters got very high, believing you would finally see sense. What in my name are you doing here!?”

America has had far more than three warnings when it comes to gun control. We are likely to have more until something truly terrible happens.

Nineteen terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, killing 3000 people, leading to a decade of war. Nineteen terrorists, regardless of political orientation and origin, could possibly exceed that number by taking advantage of non-existent gun control.

They could storm New York Yankees Stadium, gun down several hundred people and take many hostages. They could fire onto the crowds at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Just like in 9/11, they could split up into groups of four or five, and attack many different points throughout a single city or state. They could synchronize the storming of Columbia, Cornell and NYU, and synchronize the gunning down of students and faculty.

They could storm Broadway as families are about to watch a rendition of The Lion King. Nineteen terrorists could possibly slaughter an entire elementary school like Sandy Hook long before the cops arrived.

Furthermore, if the two brothers, had decided to take shelter after they dropped off their Boston Marathon bombs, rather than flee, they could have emerged to gun down panicking survivors, the wounded, and the emergency services personnel. Or the nineteen terrorists could conduct simultaneous, gun based attack in two or three different states so as to maximize terror throughout the country.

If the 19 terrorists are each as proficient as Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who gunned down 69 people on Utoya Island [Norway is another country with too few gun regulations, just not as bad as America’s], then we are looking at 1300 dead for sure.

If readers think I am hyperbolic, well, they just missed the point. Twelve years and a fortnight ago, if people were told that an obscure Islamic fundamentalist group, sheltering in a country that few could place on a map, was to hijack and crash two planes into America’s tallest buildings, they would think the person giving the warning was on LSD.

Twelve years and a fortnight ago, if someone told the world that an American President would take his country to war against a Middle Eastern dictator with imaginary WMD’s, leaving his successor, who had nothing to do with the fiasco, practically begging the American people for permission to launch small scale punitive strikes against a dictator with real chemical weapons, that person would have been committed to a psychiatric hospital.
We should be prepared for unpleasant surprises and we should be concealing our weaknesses, instead of letting people like Ayman al Zawahiri exploit them.

I would close by asking the Republicans answer rhetorical questions. “Do you fear the political power of the gun manufacturers and the right wing demagogues of Fox News and talk radio more than you fear for the lives of the American people? Do you think the world will forgive you for your pettiness, should the worst happen? Do you think the world will grant us its sympathy and support when this was something that could have been easily avoided? Do you so much hate President Obama that you are prepared to risk a terrorist attack unlike the world has ever seen? If the answer is “yes”, then you have no business serving our country.
Timothy Spyrou, Limassol

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