If Sandy Hook didn’t change America’s gun laws, nothing will
Latest mass shooting, inspired by Isis, will steer debate to foreign policy, not gun control
The San Bernadino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook pictured in his Californian driver’s licence. The shooting rampage by Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik left 14 dead. Photograph: California Department of Motor Vehicles/Handout/Reuters
It happens all too often and the response – and lack of any follow-up action to prevent it happening again – is all too familiar. It is easy to list off the many shocking statistics behind America’s pandemic of gun violence but it is important and necessary.
On average 89 people are shot dead each day in the US (including 55 suicides), according to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, the group named after the White House press secretary Jim Brady shot in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. A further 208 are injured by gun violence every day.
It is no coincidence that the country with one of the highest rates of civilian gun violence in the world also has the most heavily armed civilian population on the planet. Home to fewer than 5 per cent of the world’s population, the United States has between a third and a half of the world’s civilian- owned guns. It has about 270 million firearms, or 89 per 100 people, according to the Small Arms Survey 2011, a Geneva- based research project that collects data on guns. This bursts the myth that more guns makes the country safer.
The fatal shooting of 14 people and wounding of 21 others at a Christmas work party in a social services centre in the southern Californian city of San Bernardino on Wednesday was 355th mass shooting this year. (A mass shooting is a gun attack involving four or more victims, including the gunman.)
FBI officials, who last night said they were investigating the gun attack as an act of terror, are still trying to piece together the precise motives of the husband-and-wife suspects, US-born Syed Rizwan Farook (28) and his Pakistani wife Tashfeen Malik (27), to drop their six-month-old baby at her grandmother’s house and proceed to spray a conference room with high-calibre bullets fired from military-style assault rifles.
Equally shocking is the ease with which the Muslim couple appear to have been able to stockpile such a large arsenal in a state with some of the country’s toughest gun controls.
San Bernardino police chief Jarrod Burguan catalogued an extraordinary amount of weaponry: two assault rifles – a Smith & Wesson M&P (for “military and police”) and a DPMS Panther Arms weapon – along with two handguns, almost 7,000 rounds of ammunition, 12 pre-made pipe bombs and materials to make more.
The handguns were purchased at Annie Get Your Gun, a shop in the nearby town of Corona that described itself as a “family-friendly gun store”.
Police have not disclosed how the couple were able to buy assault rifles, the sale and purchase of which are banned in California.
A workplace argument over religion between Farook, a devout Muslim, and a colleague at the party appears to have triggered the shootings but the suspects may have been inspired by terrorists and preparing for a different kind of attack with a different target.
CNN reported that investigators found a connection with Islamic State, believing that Malik pledged allegiance in a social media post on Facebook to the militant group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The post was made under an alias and was later deleted as part of what appears to have an effort by the couple to cover up their digital tracks.
If the attack is proven to be an Isis-inspired event, it would be the deadliest jihadist attack in the US since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
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Even before the terrorist link was made, the country’s politicians were unwilling to pass legislation to limit access to guns. A day after the San Bernardino shootings, the US Senate voted 50 votes to 48 against expanding background checks for more gun purchases. They rejected the same Bill co-authored by a Democrat, Joe Manchin, and a Republican, Pat Toomey, that was voted down in 2013 in the wake of the mass shooting at a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Opposition to gun measures is not exclusive to one party. A Democratic-controlled Senate was unable to pass the Bill in 2013 and Thursday’s defeat came in a Republican-run Senate with Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota being the only Democrat to vote against it.
The lack of action after the Sandy Hook school shootings effectively ended the debate around gun control. If politicians were unable to pass anything after the killing of 20 schoolchildren and six teachers by a heavily armed gunman, they weren’t going to act now.