Newtown Shootings: If Not Now, When is the Time to
Talk about Gun Control?
With 28, including 20 children, shot dead in
Connecticut, it's not 'politics' but basic decency
to insist America have this debate
By Gary Younge
December 14, 2012
Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook school in
Newtown, Connecticut is shocking and horrifying -
the time and the place of these massacres inevitably
catch us unawares. But the fact that another mass
shooting has occurred is not shocking, any more
than the last one was, or the next one will be.
Just as with the mass killings earlier this year at a
Sikh temple in Wisconsin and the Aurora movie
theater, near Denver, Colorado, the chorus of
empathetic responses that will follow these tragic
shootings in Newtown, Connecticut marks a
stubborn refrain in a perennial American elegy.
Different singers mouthing different words, but
basically singing the same song.
Psychological profiles of the shooter emerge, along
with portraits of the victims, while the political class
closes ranks so that the nation can heal. Incanted
tones to sooth a permanent scar.
All rituals serve a purpose. And this one is no
This Friday, 28 people are currently reported shot
dead, including 20 children. Their families must be
given space to mourn, and that space should be
But it does not honour the dead to insist that there
must be no room in that space for rational thought
and critical appraisal. Indeed, such situations
demand both. For one can only account for so many
"isolated" incidents before it becomes necessary to
start dealing with a pattern.
It is simply not plausible to understand events in
Connecticut this Friday without having a
conversation about guns in a country where more
than 84 people a day are killed with guns, and more
than twice that number are injured with them.
Amid all the column inches and airtime now being
devoted to these horrific slayings, though, that
elephant in the room will remain affectionately
patted, discreetly fed and politely indulged. To claim
that "this is not the time" ignores the reality that
America has found itself incapable of finding any
appropriate time to have this urgent conversation.
The victims in Newtown, Connecticut deserve at
least that. And these tragedies take place everyday,
albeit on a smaller scale.
America's president, Barack Obama, understands
this. The number of homicide victims in his home
town of Chicago this year has outnumbered the
fatalities among US troops serving in Kabul.
In response to the Aurora shootings in July,
President Obama was right to suspend the routine
campaign rhetoric and play the statesman. Nobody
wanted to hear about Mitt Romney's tax records and
stimulating the economy on that day. There were
other days for electioneering, true, but he was wrong
to insist on this:
"There are going to be other days for politics. This
is a day for prayer and reflection."
Yet that "other day" for debating gun laws never
came - not at any point in the three months that
remained before the election. Even now, right on
cue, the president's spokesman, Jay Carney, has
intoned the familiar strain that "now is not the time"
to talk about gun control.
For what are we to reflect on if not how this, and so
many other similar calamities, came about. Those
who insist that we should not "play politics" with
the victim's grief conveniently ignore that politics is
what caused that grief. Not party politics. But a
blend of opportunism on the right that flagrantly
mischaracterises the issue, and spinelessness on
the left that refuses to address it.
Americans are no more prone to mental illness or
violence than any other people in the world. What
they do have is more guns: roughly, 90 for every 100
people. And regions and states with higher rates of
gun ownership have significantly higher rates of
homicide than states with lower rates of gun
The trite insistence that "guns don't kill people,
people kill people" simply avoids the reality that
people can kill people much more easily with guns
than anything else that's accessible. Americans
understand this. That's why a plurality supports
greater gun control, and a majority thinks the sale of
firearms should be more tightly regulated.
The trouble is that people feel powerless to do
anything about it. The gun lobby has proved
sufficiently potent in rallying opposition to virtually
all gun control measures that Democrats have all
but given up on arguing for it. In the meantime, the
country is literally and metaphorically dying for it.
Gun control is possible. There are both a
constituency for it and an argument for it. But it
can't happen without a political coalition prepared
to fight for it.
If America can twice elect a black president, it can
Editor's note: this is a revised and updated version
of an article by Gary Younge that appeared 20 July
2012. This article was also amended as the number
of casualties was confirmed
Follow @garyyounge on Twitter
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