Connecticut school shooting

America caught in a cycle of gun violence

Tom Plate blames its cowboy character and the ideology of its constitution for lack of reform

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 2:03am

It would not be hard to convince many of us who live on America's West Coast of the painfully obvious need for severe gun-restriction laws and attendant law enforcement.

California's leading daily newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, once published a series of full-page editorials demanding national gun-control legislation and enforcement. The bottom line was that American culture was just too immature to permit official sanction to firearm licentiousness - and that comprehensive curbs on possession were required to maximise public safety. That was in the early 1990s.

Today, you can expect more newspaper editorials and public gnashing of teeth about our gun-suffused America. You also can ignore their impact. A few months from now, it will have faded into the background.

That is because the cowboy strain in the American character erects a kind of genetic firewall to the establishment of a more sensible national public policy on gun ownership. Our culture of individualism allows us to believe significant problems can be solved by resort to the gun.

Last week's massacre in Connecticut was one of the worst mass executions in the history of our violent culture. But it was not the absolute worst, and it won't be the last.

The special poignancy here was that so many of the victims were children. Had guns not been available to the lone perpetrator, but only - say - knives, would as many schoolchildren have been killed? Of course not.

Guns don't kill people - people kill people. This is the recurring and annoying mantra of the firearms lobby and their followers. But we the people kill more of us every day by using guns that are too easy to acquire, and apparently impossible to regulate adequately.

Worse yet, our dysfunctional democracy is paralysed into legal-system irrelevancy by the second amendment to our beloved constitution, that says: "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." Our courts said this means every individual has that right to a gun, not just the generic "people".

And so blocking the way to gun reform, in addition to the deeply embedded American cowboy character, is the ideology of the US Constitution - as if something written so long ago can be set in stone against the pressing realities of today's times. What this means is, the enormity of this Connecticut tragedy notwithstanding, deep gun control, if not abolition outside of law enforcement, is not on the immediate horizon.

On the contrary, more people will buy more guns, to protect themselves … from more people buying more guns. It's the American tragedy.

American journalist Tom Plate, who was editor of the editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times, is author of Conversations with Ban Ki-moon