Gun violence issues more complex than the good, the bad and the mad
America:Both sides of the gun debate use the same horrific incidents to support their arguments
That the killing of decorated navy seal sniper Chris Kyle at a Texas gun range can be used to support the arguments both of proponents and opponents of the Obama administration’s proposed changes to gun laws illustrates the complexity of the most divisive debate in US public life.
The National Rifle Association’s bizarre response to the Newtown child massacre in Connecticut – that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun – would appear to have been blown away by the circumstances of Kyle’s murder last Saturday. Yet pro-gun lobbyists use this tragedy to argue that it supports their case that the problem is not guns but the mentally ill perpetrators carrying them.
Ex-marine Eddie Ray Routh (25) has been charged with the murder of Kyle (38) and the former navy seal’s friend and fellow veteran Chad Littlefield (25). Routh’s family has said that he suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a seven-month tour of Iraq in 2007. He had been in and out of veteran hospitals and clinics over a two-year period as his mental health deteriorated. Police detained him in September after he threatened to kill his parents and himself in a row over a gun.
Devil of Ramadi
Kyle, a survivor of four tours in Iraq, was known as the Devil of Ramadi for his killing proficiency in combat; he was credited with 160 confirmed kills over a decade in combat. His revered status was confirmed with military medals and a best-
selling book on his exploits, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal US Sniper in US Military History.
After leaving the navy in 2009, Kyle set up a security company with friends. Its motto was “Despite what your momma told you, violence does solve problems”. He offered handgun-training to teachers; he was said to be a member of the “guns don’t kill, people kill” school in support of gun ownership. He helped war veterans try to overcome post-traumatic stress.
This was why Routh’s mother apparently contacted Kyle. The former sniper had thought that target practice at a gun range 80km (50 miles) southwest of Fort Worth, Texas, would help Routh.
Police said Routh shot Kyle and Littlefield multiple times at about 3.30pm last Saturday and fled in Kyle’s $40,000 (€29,900) Ford pick-up truck. Shortly before he was apprehended, Routh admitted to his sister and brother-in-law that he killed the two men , telling them he “traded his soul for a new truck”, according to police records detailing his arrest.
A semi-automatic handgun, believed to have been used in the killings, was later found at his house.
The arguments thrown back and forth about the cause of gun violence in the aftermath of the Texas killings and the Newtown massacre typifies the nature of the debate over US president Barack Obama’s plans to introduce background checks for all gun buyers and a ban on military-style semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity bullet magazines.
Both sides often refer to the same horrific incidents of gun violence and offer contradicting statistics about guns and crime.
The absence of comprehensive research into the causes of gun crime has created a vacuum filled by both sides.
A pressure group, Demand a Plan to End Gun Violence, comprising gun violence victims, politicians and celebrities including actors Chris Rock and Amanda Peet, urged Congress earlier this week to support Obama. They published statistics showing how funding for research into gun deaths was disproportionately low compared with research into cancer and heart disease based on “years of potential life lost”.
But all these statistics distract from the simple fact that Obama’s proposals are based on plain common sense. The NRA’s case against universal background checks for all gun purchases – opposing them on the basis that no criminal would submit to them and that it would create an unfair burden on law-abiding gun-buying citizens – is weak. It seems difficult to argue against such a move when you consider that 40 per cent of gun sales, about 6.6 million guns a year, take place at gun shows where background checks are not required.
Obama’s supporters in law enforcement have asked whether after the September 11th, 2001, attacks 40 per cent of air travellers would be allowed on to flights without being X-rayed. Yet law enforcers say criminals buying guns through “straw purchasers”, who easily pass background checks, is a serious issue.
All these issues are largely irrelevant in the context of last weekend’s killing of a man seen as a war hero but whose death can be portrayed as a good guy with a gun being taken down by a mad guy with a gun.