Mad about Guns: America's Deadly Weapons Obsession

A Commentary By

Photo Gallery: Massacre at Washington Naval Yard Photos
DPA

The tragic shooting in Washington feels all too much like deja vu. But President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats no longer even attempt to take on the real issue: America's unhindered gun mania.

Barack Obama didn't make much of an effort. The United States president could only find it in himself to offer a few obligatory words after the killing spree in Washington, only 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from the White House: condolences to the victims, gratitude for the Navy and the police -- and the empty oath to investigate the matter "as we do so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened, and do everything that we can to try to prevent them."

A shrug of the shoulders, resignation, cynicism: The latest bloodbath -- this time at the Washington Navy Yard, a historic naval base -- seems like a depressive sort of deja vu. It feels familiar to the media, who reflexively transform the victims into heroes and the perpetrator into a telegenic outsider. It feels familiar to the politicians, who find only empty clichés. And it feels familiar to the nation, which mourns for a short time and then clicks away.

The meaninglessness of this ritual is also made apparent by Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate. When asked whether he will now propose a bill for the strengthening of gun laws, he answers laconically, "We don't have the votes."

But it's not just about votes. And it's also not just about passing laws. Nothing is going to change.

The problem is that nothing can uproot the underlying phenomenon: America's fascination with firearms as the ultimate form of conflict resolution. It is a historical and long-legitimized fascination that was once tied to basic survival and has since been turned into a profitable business by Hollywood and the gun industry.

The Anger Fades

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 1,000 mayors, will hold a protest this Thursday in Washington against the firearms madness. But their anger can fade too, as witnessed recently in Colorado, after voters ousted two Democrats who had supported the group from the state senate -- and replaced them with two Republicans sponsored by the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA). Criticizing guns in America is political poison.

It's hard to believe: Newtown was only nine months ago. The tragic school shooting sunk the nation into collective trauma. Obama swore to devote "whatever power this office holds" to enact tougher gun control. The watered-down law that arose from the shooting and was meant, at the very least, to improve the system of background checks failed in the Senate -- due to resistance from both parties.

Stricter controls might have revealed that Aaron Alexis, the apparent perpetrator of Navy Yard, suffered from mental illness for the past decade. They might have revealed that he was cited frequently as a Navy reservist for "misconduct." They might have revealed that on Sunday he went to Sharpshooters, a gun shop and firing range in Virginia, and easily purchased a Remington rifle and two boxes of bullets.

One thing is certain: Aaron Alexis could have purchased this equipment elsewhere, as well. Guns don't kill people, people do. That's the frequent catchphrase of the NRA, who has remained conspicuously silent in the wake of the Washington shooting.

Washington Looks Away

There's something else the NRA likes to say: "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." This motto was put to use on Sunday night in the heart of Manhattan, just two blocks from Times Square. Two New York City cops shot wildly at a confused -- and unarmed -- man. Instead they hit two passers-by.

On the same night, a young policeman in North Carolina fired 10 bullets into the body of a 24-year-old. The young black man was running up to the policeman after surviving an automobile accident -- he was looking for help.

Even "good guys" succumb to the weapons fetish. But most of them limit their rage to violence-soaked, gun-glorifying video games, such as the new "Grand Theft Auto V." Video game market experts predict the game will bring in $1 billion in the first month.

Once again, Washington looks away. Obama has gambled away his political capital anyway. The Syrian conflict has alienated him from even his own supporters in the Democratic Party. Larry Summers, the president's preferred candidate for chairman of the Federal Reserve, chose instead to remove himself from consideration. Immigration reform, Obama's next and last major project, is bound to be a stillbirth. And yet another, equally senseless debt drama is hovering on the periphery.

Any wise thoughts on gun violence? No chance. Even Obama's spokesman Jay Carney admits: "That's the world that we live in."

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1. Guns Galore
wernercomplex 09/18/2013
Let's start with a few facts. Aaron Alexis did not purchase a rifle and bullets, he purchased a shotgun. DC has the most restrictive gun control laws in the US that didn't help. Alexis used the pistol of a wounded ? police officer and maybe an AR 15 from the same. What surprised me the most is that military personnel are not allowed to carry weapons at any military installation yet any car that comes onto an installation is not routinely searched. The NRA does not issue statements until ALL the facts are known, unlike the yellow journalism press that seems to get their information from tweets and Facebook. To group the two Police shootings with this latest Massacre by a partly deranged individual is disingenuous at best and pointless at worst. The latter is a failure of training in gun handling skills by a service organizations would should do better. The unanswered questions on both Police shootings were the subjects warned to stop or stand still, which is standard Police procedure and if they were, did they follow Police orders. There is not one person including any NRA member that do not stand against illegal guns so the planned protest of Mayors against Illegal guns means little if anything. I believe we need much tighter enforcement of the Gun laws already on the books, that may have prevented the latest massacre. I believe we need better training of our police forces. BTW I'm not an NRA member.
2. Crazy people with guns
tom4freedom 09/18/2013
ah, not to rub your noses in it, but aren't you Germans the last people in the world who should be promoting the idea of disarming the public and granting the State a monopoly on the use of deadly force?
3. Wise thoughts on firearms?
High Hat 09/18/2013
How about some common sense? First, Alexis gave plenty of warning that he was mentally ill. He even called the Washington police to his motel room and told them he kept hearing voices. He also told the police that vibrations were coming through the walls keeping him awake at night. The police informed the Navy about Alexis and the Navy did nothing. Alexis purchased a shotgun, not a rifle, at the store. He illegally sawed off the barrel to conceal it. He couldn't have purchased a pistol or rifle out of state legally. Alexis violated several federal laws before he arrived at the Navy yard. He even used another person's photo ID to gain entrance! Laws don't stop madmen or criminals. But once again all the attention is being placed on firearms, not the people involved in this tragedy. Why is it that if a bomb is used to murder people we focus on the bomber. If a firearm is used we focus on the firearm, not the murderer? The 2nd amendment to the US constitution gives Americans the right to keep and bear arms. Our founding fathers fully realized, that when all is said and done, freedom only really exists for armed citizens that can revolt against a tyrannical government. Without firearms the USA would not have come into existence. Without firearms we wouldn't exist 226 years later. Americans consider their right to self defense as God given, not just something allowed by the state. The North Carolina policeman that shot the unarmed man has been charged with manslaughter. This isn't the first time New York City policemen have demonstrated their incompetence with firearms. I imagine New York's anti-gun mayor has cut training funds when obviously they should be increased. I think it is criminal to put poorly trained police out on the streets. If you do some research you'll discover that private citizens have demonstrated more competence than the police in shootings. America's problem with gun violence is primarily caused by young black men. If you subtracted all the murders they commit our murder rate would be less than Finland! Once again the problem comes back to people, not the firearm.
4. a fanatical faith in guns
spon-facebook-706081732 09/18/2013
The theories are long and varied as to why Americans can't overcome their gun culture. Given the enormity of the Newton tragedy when nothing was done, it's doubtful anything we be done now, and of course this makes no sense. Logically, there is absolutely no justifiable opposition to sensible gun laws; I'm coming to think that no amount of facts or logic will change America, because it's not about logic, but about a fanatical faith in guns, or in their mythos, that's a fetish as strong as any religion. My only hope on this issue is, seeing American and western views in general evolve on race, homosexuality and other subjects over the decade. Perhaps change will come, but not soon enough for the victims of American gun violence.
5. optional
peskyvera 09/18/2013
America has always been a violent-prone nation, so nothing new here.
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