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Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

America Loves Firearms

By Katarzyna Wężyk

Translated By Maciej Lepka

22 December 2012

Edited by Lau­rence Bouvard

Poland - Gazeta Wyborcza - Original Article (Polish)

“I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this” said Barack Obama, who intends to limit access to firearms. National shock after the Newtown school massacre is taking its toll on the prominent firearms lobby.

Even though shops are crowded with customers, gun prices in the U.S. are slumping. Both the market and clients are afraid that the years of slack gun access restrictions are gone, and that this tendency might soon start going in the opposite direction. Their fear is perfectly justified.

The shooting in the Newtown elementary school where Adam Lanza, 20, killed six female employees and 20 children, aged six and seven, on December 14 shocked America. Before breaking into the facility, the man had killed his mother. After the massacre, he committed suicide.

Even Only One Life…

Obama, who seemed to turn a blind eye to the whole firearms issue during his first term, has already announced that he will put forward a proposal to Congress in January to increase control over access to guns. His proposals include a ban on selling semi-automatic rifles, such as the one Lanza used, as well as improving the system of checking criminal and mental health records of gun customers, which has been fairly patchy up to now.

“The president is determined to take action. Just as he has said, we have to rise to the challenge. Even if we can only save one life, we have to take action” said Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday in a speech opening the work of a special commission appointed to draw up changes in the law. By his side stood the chiefs of police from all over the country, Attorney General Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security.

The Republicans, as ever, are against any new regulations. However, the Democrats, including those who used to defy restrictions of any kind and could count on the support of the National Rifle Association of America, are beginning to change their stance.

“I have been a long-time supporter of Second Amendment rights…” said Senator Mark Warmer. “I had an NRA rating of an A, but, you know, enough is enough. I am a father of three daughters.”

Martin Heinrich, also supported by NRA, agreed with Warmer. “I do not need a 25-bullet magazine to successfully protect my home, let alone hunt. Such rifles are far too deadly. It is against a common sense.”

Four Million Members

Every shooting in the U.S., at Virginia Tech in 2007 (32 victims) for example, in Binghamton and Ford Hood in 2009 (13 people dead in each one) or in July this year during a screening of the new Batman movie in Aurora (12 people lost their lives), produces a twofold result: On the one hand, the press launches massive appeals to increase control over access to firearms, while on the other, concerned citizens line up in gun stores to stock up on supplies in case the restrictions actually come into effect.

This has not happened since politicians have been unwilling to mess with the powerful NRA. The organization, with an annual budget of $250 million, has been spending some of its money on lobbying as well as subsidizing several election campaigns. This year, the NRA’s expenses were 10 times higher than those of all the organizations endorsing gun restrictions put together.

The NRA’s political power stems from four million of its disciplined members. If a politician has second thoughts or tries to pass an anti-NRA bill, he has to bear in mind that he might be literally flooded by phone calls and emails, or lose a four million strong electorate if his NRA rating is below A.

The industry represented by the NRA is equally powerful. Only last year, about 6.4 million American rifles were available in gun stores, the most powerful weapon being a 20 mm cannon. That is almost one million more than in the previous year. Despite the economic crisis, there has been a one third increase in employment in firearm manufacturing companies over the last four years. Gun producers will end this year with a nearly $1 billion income.

The NRA was established by two Civil War veterans in New York in 1871. The association, the original purpose of which was to improve shooting accuracy among recruits, developed expeditiously, enlisting many prominent and influential members such as the U.S. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush.

The association’s real political power came in the 1970s when its leaders took a real interest in lobbying. The NRA introduced changes in acts on a variety of subjects such as the right to self-defense and healthcare; they also interfered in nominations to the Supreme Court. There is no Republican, and there are very few Democrats who could openly stand up against the NRA.

The NRA’s most resounding success is the revolution in perceiving the unhindered access to firearms as a constitutional law of the same, if not higher, importance than freedom of speech. It is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which says that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

Granted, up until recently, there were debates whether the authors of the Constitution meant an average Joe or a well-trained Militia member. The verdict delivered by the Supreme Court four years ago, which said that the Second Amendment protected the rights of individuals, effectively settled those disputes.

A Walmart Rifle

"The government can’t take our firearms away,” wrote one of the Tea Party bloggers a few days after the Newtown bloodbath. “They do try to do it through implementation of thousands of new laws on concealed weapon permits or screening the past of any costumer before the purchase. However, they should know that any direct attempt to deprive us of our firearms will turn out to be futile, and, if it is undertaken, we will hit back with an uprising.”

Such declarations, as paranoid as they may sound for Europeans, are part of the tradition and history of the United States. Many U.S. citizens buy firearms not only for protection against criminals, but also to defend their freedom, as it is believed that Washington has a natural tendency to limit civil rights.

The distrust of centralized government lies at the core of American ideology. It constitutes the source of the checks and balance principle, which, in turn, forms the basis of the U.S. political system, along with individualism, emphasizing the fact that everyone should fend for themselves.

As a result, nearly half of American citizens possess at least one rifle or pistol (in total, there are almost 300 million of firearms—89 for every 100 people) and the government’s control over the arsenal remains purely theoretical.

Everyone, including people with mental disorders or who are criminals, is able to legally purchase a gun. Licensed firearm dealers are obliged to report their customers to the federal system, however, the authorities do not receive such information in the case of purchases made during gun shows or via the Internet.

Moreover, there’s no need to hunt for a specialty gun store. You can buy any firearm, including the bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with a 30 round magazine that was used by Adam Lanza, in a supermarket such as Walmart, for instance.

The catalogue of the most popular chain of supermarkets in the U.S. boasts almost 400 different types of rifles. Only after the tragedy in Newtown did Walmart take the bushmaster AR-15 off the shelves.

The majority of states also allow carrying arms in public. For instance, in Ohio you can enter bars and restaurants; in Wisconsin, campuses; in Utah, schools. In Louisiana, churches can be guarded by armed men, while in Kansas you can have a couple of drinks and still be entitled to carry a gun.

What is more, the acceptance of unhindered access to firearms seems to be on the rise: In 1990, eight out of ten Americans supported increasing restrictions, while in August 2012, a few weeks after the Aurora bloodbath, this opinion was shared by only half of the respondents.

Defend yourself!

Every mass killing of more than three people in recent history has been in a place where guns were prohibited," contended Republican congressman Louie Gohmert on Fox News a day after the shooting in Newtown. He is one of those who believe in the inalienable right to bear arms, and claims that the more guns regular citizens have, the safer everyone is.

A few days later an 11-year-old from Salt Lake City brought a pistol to school so as to, as he explained it later, protect himself in the event of another madman’s attack. Although both of them have been denying it, his parents are said to have encouraged him to do it.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Wayne Lapierre, one of the NRA’s executives, during a special press conference on Friday. The organization came up with several measures aiming at putting an end to further shootings. The list included sending policemen to school on a permanent basis, permission to arm school security guards (they would be more like their counterparts at airports) or special training courses for teachers, as it might be necessary that they be armed as well.



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