THERE ARE small islands of gun control in the US, in a sea awash with automatic weapons, the land of the second amendment, where 45 per cent of homes have firearms and 30,000 die every year from gun violence. Anywhere else we would speak of this as “civil war”. As it happens the cinema complex in Aurora, Colorado, is one of those islands where carrying weapons is forbidden, a reality that, of course, did not stop James Eagan Holmes’s Friday rampage.
And, in the perverse way that this debate is conducted in the US, Luke O’Dell of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners was quick on the draw to say: “Potentially if there had been a law abiding citizen who had been able to carry [guns] in the theatre, its possible the death toll would have been less.” That Europeans are shocked by this extraordinary logic and the power of the National Rifle Association speaks volumes of a gulf in cultural understanding. And in recent years the cause of gun control has actually been losing support.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg a determined advocate of control, has admitted as much with a rhetorical appeal that will go unheeded: “Maybe its time that the two people who want to be president of the US should stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it.” No chance, despite the fact that Mitt Romney actually introduced curbs on automatic weapons in Massachusetts – but like on “Obamacare” he has changed his view. And Barack Obama has political amnesia on his 2008 promise to do something about assault weapons.
Colorado, despite the 1999 Columbine High School massacre just 20 miles from Aurora, has long been at the forefront of the gun lobby. Gun rights groups have successfully fought off attempts by bodies like the University of Colorado to ban weapons from its campus. Getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon is easy. Gun control advocates are on the defensive across the US, waging rearguard actions against attempts to safeguard the right to carry guns in kindergartens, to buy automatic weapons only of possible use on a battlefield, or to shoot on sight someone who you think might be a threat.
Of course there is a frail truth to O’Dell’s contention that lives might have been saved had others been carrying. At an individual level the householder who arms himself for self-protection has logic on his side. At a societal level, however, the logic is reversed. The easy availability of weapons of extraordinary lethality merely escalates the arms race and the upward spiral of violence. Sadly, Colorado appears unwilling to learn that lesson.