The Sandy Hook massacre has raised sales of assault rifles.
Some suffer in war, and others make their fortune from it. This saying can easily be applied to the recent psychopathic attacks on an American school. After the massacre, which was constructed by autistic Adam Lanza from Connecticut, sellers of small arms boasted an influx of customers, and the proponents of gun control were ready to seize the moment to strengthen their legal position.
On Friday, Dec. 14, the 20-year-old Lanza first shot his own mother, and then another six adults and twenty children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Barely two days after the shooting, a neighboring gun shop noted a growth in consumer action. In the words of the shop-owner, the greatest demand has been for the self-loading AR-15 rifle. The bloody “advert” for this weapon, which claims to be the civilian answer to the M16 automatic rifle, was made both by Lanza and by James Holmes, the man obsessed with Batman who was responsible for the July massacre of audience members at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado.
Americans are in a hurry to complete their arsenal of weapons, fearing that in the aftermath of Connecticut, the procedure to procure weapons will become considerably more complicated. As an example, since 2011 the Fix Gun Checks Act has been waiting for approval from Congress, after it was submitted by Democrat Chuck Schumer. This initiative obliges authorities at various levels to participate in the creation of a dossier which would be used to carry out checks on all those wishing to buy weapons: The background of each customer would be checked for compromising material, from mental illnesses to criminal offenses.
Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York and a proponent of Schumer's bill, made an appeal on Monday, to federal powers. The mayor, who is co-chairman of the association Mayors Against Illegal Guns, proposed completely banning the sale of assault weapons and making the possession of contraband a particularly severe offense. In the words of Bloomberg, rates of gun violence in the U.S. have reached a “national epidemic,” and next year, when the work of the new Congress begins, the New York mayor plans to “stimulate” legislation with the help of 34 video clips containing testimonies from those wounded by gunfire and the relatives of those who have been killed. The number 34 is not random — it is the number of Americans who die from gunshot wounds each day.
A national ban of the sale of assault weapons of the type proposed by Bloomberg is not a new idea. It was already introduced in the U.S. in 1994 for a 10-year period, but was not renewed. “Assault weapons” are designated as those similar in construction to assault rifles or, more simply, to automatic weapons, but without the ability to fire in bursts. The prohibition applies in particular to the AR-15, which — along with the semi-automatic modifications of the Soviet AK-47 — was procured by Holmes and Lanza after the lifting of the ban.
In the opinion of critics, given the level of crime in the U.S., the ban had no serious effect. In any case, it did not prevent the mass murder at Columbine, Colorado — possibly the most famous of all American school “shootings” (as crimes of this kind are called). There, in April of 1999, two seniors murdered 12 students and a teacher. After this, proponents of gun control increased their activities at the state and national levels and various legislative initiatives were put forward, but the situation did not fundamentally change.
In 2007, another, even bloodier, massacre occurred when Korean student Cho Seung-Hui shot 32 people at Virginia Tech. The debate between champions of safety and defenders of the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms, gained new strength. But the results were as before, and the same has happened after every serious incident. When Holmes killed 12 people in July, the government appealed in vain to ban assault weapons. However, even if the ban had been renewed, it would hardly have prevented the Sandy Hook massacre, as it only affected weapons produced during the period in which it was in force, and Lanza's mother herself was a gun enthusiast and filled the house with weapons.
After the murders in Newtown, the calls for banning assault weapons have once again become louder: In addition to Bloomberg, it has been proposed by Democrat Dianne Feinstein, her colleague Joe Lieberman and two Democratic Governors, Andrew Cuomo of New York and Dannel Malloy of Connecticut. It would seem that everything is going as usual, but at the specific moment that Obama — who has with all his might avoided making a decision on the weapons dilemma — has been safely re-elected for a second and final term in office, he has the freedom to act with a little leeway.
The president arrived in Newtown on Dec. 16 to speak at a memorial service for Lanza's victims. These visits have become a sad tradition for Obama: During his presidency, the U.S. has already gone through five major shootings. The first three were all in 2009: in March, in the towns of Geneva and Samson, Alabama (10 killed); in April, in an immigration center in Binghamtown, New York (13 killed); and in November, at Fort Hood in Texas (13 killed). And now, in 2012, at Aurora and Newtown. Speaking in Newtown, the president could not hold back tears and posed the rhetorical question of whether America was doing enough to protect its children. “I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer's no,” said Obama. “We're not doing enough. And we will have to change.”
Change, change: This is one of the main clichés of Obama's speeches, but what will he do in practice? It is entirely possible that the ban on assault weapons will be reinstated. His administration has had these plans as far back as 2009, and now several members of Congress who were formerly stubborn on the issue are showing some willingness to compromise. However, success is by no means guaranteed. Once the passion has subsided a little, the gun lobby will come out in full force, and National Rifle Association members will bombard people with alarming messages. The influence of supporters of the Second Amendment cannot be understated. For example, in Connecticut itself, it was not long before the recent events that the bill limiting the capacity of gun shops — under which the notorious AR-15 would have fallen — was successfully “hacked.”
But even if Congress approves the Fix Gun Checks Act, bans semi-automatic weapons and approves some initiatives, the question of the safety of America's children will remain open for the foreseeable future. And, of course, the debate over the right of citizens to bear arms — which makes American society no less anxious than discussions over abortion and gay marriage — will not diminish.