Public outcry unlikely to change gun culture
From the outside looking in, it would appear that the slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut, that took the lives of 28 people, including 20 children between the ages of six and seven, is the atrocity that would finally force Americans to drastically limit access to high-powered weapons and ammunition.
But it is not that simple. American gun culture has proved immune to public outcry and political pressure spawned by previous atrocities. Recent polls taken before the massacre showed support among Americans for gun control measures was at the lowest point since the aftermath of the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, in 1999 that left 12 high school students and a teacher dead.
Weapons in schools
Consider that on Thursday, the day before Adam Lanza used a legally purchased and registered military rifle to carry out the second-worst school shooting in American history, state legislators in Michigan passed a Bill that allows licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons into schools.
On the same day, in the neighbouring state of Ohio, legislators voted to allow guns to be stored in cars parked in the garage of the Statehouse where they cast their votes.
In Florida, meanwhile, the state is preparing for a milestone: hitting the one-million mark for issuing firearm and concealed weapon permits. In Florida, the idea of a million people walking around with hidden weapons is something to be celebrated.
Like just about everything else, Americans are deeply divided about the need for, and the potential efficacy of, gun control.
Even as a nation weeps over what happened in Newtown, the reality is that nearly half of Americans legally own guns, and they don’t believe they are the problem. They believe that the criminals who will get guns, even if they are banned, are the problem.
They believe mentally unstable people, like those who shoot up schools or shopping malls, are the problem.
For every American who thinks it is absolutely ludicrous that guns – including those that can kill many people in a short period of time – and military-grade ammunition are so easily available, there are those who believe the number of fatalities in Newtown would have been lower if only the teachers who had rushed at Adam Lanza were carrying guns themselves.
“It’s madness,” says Dr Judy Palfrey, a paediatrician at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and past president of the American Academy of Paediatrics.
Palfrey’s group has been trying for years to have American gun policy reshaped as health policy, and to create a wider debate on how to create laws and strategies to reduce the incidence of gun violence.
But after the academy produced guidelines that required paediatricians to ask parents and caregivers whether there were guns in the home, and what steps had been taken to secure them, legislators in Florida created a law that exposed those doctors who asked that question to sanctions by the state’s board of medicine.
The paediatrician’s academy took the matter to court and, late last year, prevailed when a federal judge sided with them.