Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Law makers fail to rein in American love of gun culture after Newtown massacre

Innocent: A Sandy Hook survivor

In the wake of last December's massacre of 20 first-graders and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, it seemed that advocates of stronger gun laws would finally win the day.

But, 12 months later, on the federal level, at least, the push to enact tougher gun laws appears deader than a doornail.

At the state level, 109 laws have been passed since the December 14, 2012 killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. However, underscoring the power of the gun lobby, 70 of those actually relaxed gun restrictions.

For months after the massacre, President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden energetically campaigned for reforms. But, in April, the Democrat-controlled Senate delivered a body-blow by shooting down many of gun control advocates' top demands.

Expanded background checks to private gun sales via the internet, or gun shows, were dropped. Gone, too, were efforts to ban the sale of assault rifles and to limit the size of ammunition clips.

The well-funded lobbying efforts of the four-million-strong National Rifle Association (NRA) had clearly paid dividends.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit watchdog group that tracks money in politics, the NRA's spending on lobbying and campaign contributions has long dwarfed money spent by gun control advocates.

In 2012, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) doled out $7.5m (£4.6m) to 66 candidates for national office. And the NRA Political Action Committee spent $9.5m (£5.8m) more backing candidates in the hope of defeating gun control supporters. In 2011 and 2012, the NRA outspent gun control advocates by a factor of 10.

Obama has indicated that gun law reform and immigration reform are two of his top domestic agenda priorities in his remaining time in office. For now, at least, immigration reform is in limbo. And it's doubtful that Obama can spearhead a gun reform drive in the short term.

And the youth body-count will continue to mount. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the last 10 years, roughly 200 children aged 12 and under have died annually from gun violence.

Another study, released in October by two Boston-based pediatricians, analysing a national database of 36 million pediatric hospitalisations between 1997 and 2009, found that guns kill 500 children and teens annually.

America remains armed to the teeth. In spite of making up about 5% of the world's population, its citizens are believed to own upwards of 50% of all civilian weapons on the planet.

The country's armed forces and police departments have a combined four million guns. Civilians own a whopping 310 million.

The vast majority of these are held responsibly. But a Children's Defense Fund study has found the deaths from gun violence for children and teens is 400% higher than in Canada, the country with the second-highest rate, and 65 times higher than the UK.

Add in the horror of Newtown and one would think that America might start to rethink its gun fetish. But the opposite appears to be happening.

Panicked gun devotees, fearful that tougher gun laws will eventually materialise post-Newtown, having been stocking up.

And the FBI, which conducts background checks whenever someone tries to buy a gun from a licensed gun shop, reported a record 19.6m background checks in 2012.

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