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Die Tageszeitung, Germany

Knee-Jerk Debate


By Rieke Havertz

In Washington, an ex-serviceman guns down 12 people, yet in the squabble over stronger firearms regulation, gun fans and their opponents still adamantly challenge one another.

Translated By Ron Argentati

17 September 2013

Edited by Lau­rence Bouvard


Germany - Die Tageszeitung - Original Article (German)

Knee-jerk politics takes over while police in Washington, D.C. are just beginning to investigate the bloodbath at the Washington Navy Yard. President Obama goes before the cameras with words of solace for the victims and their families and calls on politicians to find a way to prevent such massacres in the future.

But in a nation where pro-gun and anti-gun forces stand unalterably opposed to one another, political paralysis is the order of the day when it comes to the debate over stronger gun control laws. The most recent serious attempt to ban semiautomatic weapons with a magazine capacity exceeding 10 rounds went down to defeat in the Senate last April.

That failure came in the wake of the massacre at a grade school in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 when Adam Lanza killed 27 people and himself. For the first time in years, the anti-gun faction had the momentum on their side. Public opinion favored stricter gun controls, but despite that they were unable to win the political fight.

The gun proponents support the National Rifle Association, one of the most financially powerful lobbies in the nation. More than 4 million members contribute to its war chest, and in 2011 alone, the NRA took in $234 million. It was also largely due to its efforts that even Democratic senators sided with the lobby last April.

In the ongoing debate, the semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle is demonized like no other weapon. Aaron Alexis, the Washington shooter, was armed with one. Described as an “assault weapon,” it's considered by the anti-gun faction as the very embodiment of a deadly industry: black, military style, a battlefield weapon. Pro-gun people argue that the term "assault weapon" is a political ploy and a ban on them would also apply to semi-automatic weapons used routinely by law-abiding Americans for hunting.

Semi-automatics like the AR-15 are banned in the U.S. capital, along with sawed-off shotguns, machine guns and very short-barreled handguns. Despite that, the Washington shooter was armed with an AR-15, a shotgun and a handgun when he killed 12 people.

Gun laws are set by each state individually and in Washington, D.C., they are more strict than in most other cities. Handguns were completely banned until 2008 and carrying firearms openly is also banned. Gun owners are required to register their weapons with the police and report it immediately if one goes missing. Previous criminal convictions, drug misuse and mental problems are grounds for rejection of a registration application.

But other cities have very different rules and obtaining a gun is easy in the United States, where it's estimated that between 280 million and 320 million guns are in private hands and a thriving black market exists. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who proposed stronger gun laws in the wake of the Newtown shootings, asked on Monday after the Washington shootings, “When will enough be enough? Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country.”

It's hard to believe that 12 victims on a naval installation will be able to accomplish more than 20 murdered children at a grade school.



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