Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Even massacre won't force change in lax gun laws

In a fortnight, the Republican Party's national convention opens, kicking off two weeks of political pomp and circumstance that won't end until early September, when the Democrats stage their national gala.

Duelling parades of podium pounding on the economy, healthcare, war and peace, and gay rights, will be evident in spades.

However, scarcely a month from the horrors of the Aurora cinema massacre, neither party will likely make more than a passing reference to gun law debate in the heaviest-armed country on the planet.

American is awash with guns. Of the 870m known guns on earth, 270m, or 31% , are in America, which has 4.4%of the world's population. Some 4.5m of the 8m guns manufactured in the world annually are sold in the US. In the immediate aftermath of Aurora, with gun law reform advocates demanding action, gun sales skyrocketed across the country as arms enthusiasts rushed to beat any prospective clampdown.

A similar spike happened when congresswoman Gabby Giffords was wounded, and six killed, when a gunman attacked a political rally in Arizona 19 months ago.

Advocates of tighter gun laws say that steps must now be taken to lessen the damage caused by those bent on mass murder.

Americans currently can purchase high-volume ammo clips and even armour-piercing bullets - items that can also be bought via the internet or US mail.

Thousands of rounds of ammo can be bought at a time. Why, reform advocates ask, would John Q Public need to amass such an arsenal?

Beginning in 1968, buying ammo through the post was illegal, until the gun-loving NRA successfully campaigned to have that ban removed in 1986.

One of the guns used by the alleged Aurora gunman James Holmes was an AR-15, a semi-automatic assault rifle. Civilian sales of this gun were banned for 10 years in 1994, but the law was not renewed in 2004. Gun law reformists want them banned again.

The NRA will fiercely fight any attempt at even the most modest gun restrictions. For example, it is funding the political rivals of a few longtime NRA-backing politicians who've dared to endorse proposed legislation that would allow business owners to ban the carrying of concealed weapons on their premises. The NRA is a political player. But the presidential bully pulpit can counter-balance - and even trump - special interest power, if the political will exists.

Judging from their careful skirting of the gun control issue in the immediate aftermath of Aurora, neither Obama nor Romney appears to have the stomach for such a fight.

Now, as the political theatre of the conventions focuses on a host of other issues, calls for gun law reform will be drowned out.

And, sadly, the failure of Obama, Romney, and a whole host of national political leaders to again take on the NRA, all but guarantees that Aurora won't be the last such massacre America endures.

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