Legislators for the Democratic Party managed, by an overly theatrical gesture, to divert attention from the duo Donald and Hillary and wrest it onto themselves – that is, on Congress. They entered the House chamber, sat on the floor, and began singing the protest song “We Shall Overcome.” They demanded a vote on tightening norms for gun ownership, that people whose names figure in anti-terror watch lists – and thus cannot, for instance, fly on planes – not be allowed to purchase weapons in the U.S. without restraint. Republicans, no matter how shocked by the recent massacre in Orlando, reject it as an unconstitutional measure. Firearm possession, in their view, is a constitutionally guaranteed right, whereas flying is not. If gun ownership is to be limited, it must be preceded by a decision of the Supreme Court.
And since Republicans have a majority in the House, not only did they not want to act rashly on the issue – that is, to allow a vote at all, but they finally even broke off the live broadcast, so that the sit-in of up to 170 legislators, accompanied by a constant relay of speakers, couldn’t be broadcast to the world for all 16 hours of its duration. But one Democrat got the better of the situation by using his cell phone to transmit everything live on his Facebook page, although he might have been glad that Republicans didn’t turn off the lights on him in the congressional chamber. According to internal House rules, they could have unabashedly done so.
Of course the congressional pageant will soon be forgotten, but the gun issue will remain a desperate problem. For us in Europe it’s clear, be that good or bad. Gun possession is strictly regulated; everyone must have a gun permit; and when the issue is publicly debated, it’s usually about how to restrict things further. But in the U.S. it’s different. Free access to weapons there has been a part of the political culture since the days of the Wild West. There’s also a very widespread opinion that people should arm themselves as much as possible, so that they can resist lunatic gunmen, and by no means let themselves be slaughtered like sheep. What’s more – the third point – the right to bear arms, as already mentioned, is embedded in the Constitution. Therefore, buying a gun is banally easy. And that includes high-powered semiautomatic assault rifles like the AR-15 or the Sig Sauer MCX, which were used to commit the massacres in Orlando, San Bernardino, Connecticut, and elsewhere.
Guns don’t kill by themselves, it’s people who pull the trigger, contends one camp. And the other responds: The authors of the Constitution could hardly have imagined in the 18th century what sophisticated rods would one day be produced. And it’s very disturbing how, in the longest-standing continuous democracy in the world, they can’t overcome this gulf in opinion.