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Common sense is also a victim when it comes to America's gun laws


Chris Harper-Mercer

Chris Harper-Mercer


Chris Harper-Mercer

As has been widely reported across America and throughout the world, he was a fan of the Nazis and the IRA. He had previously observed on social media that mass shootings were a good way to make a name for yourself. And he was known to have behavioural and anger management problems.

In retrospect then, maybe not an obvious candidate for gun ownership. But America's newest mass murderer, Chris Harper-Mercer, despite these many warning signs, had somehow managed to acquire around a dozen handguns and high-powered rifles. And a flak jacket.

His scary track record should have been enough to set great klaxons screaming danger. But it didn't in America. Because in America guns are freely available. As freely available as pizza. You can buy them online and at gun fairs with not an awful lot of questions asked.

From our side of the Atlantic all this seems like madness.

That's because it is madness.

But talking to people in the US this week - even after this latest horrific college massacre - I've found very, very many still defiantly defending the right of their fellow Americans to bear high-velocity weaponry.

One man I spoke to, an intelligent, mild-mannered mathematician, was typical. My point to him was this - even if you could definitively classify someone as entirely sane and entirely stable (questionable, I know) is there any reason on earth why anyone - anyone - would ever have need for access to over a dozen high powered rifles and handguns? And a flak jacket. Even if there were, say, marauding grizzly bears in the immediate vicinity.

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He countered with statistics about rape, his point being that the only effective defence against an armed attacker has to be a gun. Two guns don't make a right, I told him.

But that said, I have to admit his statistics were frightening, his argument frighteningly compelling. By the time he was finished, I was tempted to reach for the Glock catalogue myself. And in a land where you sometimes wonder about who sitting further up the bar is "carrying" (as we say in Belfast) you can see why such talk would be even more persuasive.

But common sense surely has to come into play at some point.

In America, however, the gun control debate is skewed by the rich, the powerful and the lunatic gun lobby typified by the National Rifle Association. Again and again on national TV this week the same phrase has been trotted out.

"There are no easy answers." Indeed. There are no easy answers. But the same could be said about just about any major issue of the day. As responses goes, this is trite, meaningless pap. Even more disturbing is the revelation that the police chief in charge of the small town where the latest atrocity has taken place, Sheriff Hanlon, is said to have posted online claims that a previous mass killing was just a faked-up conspiracy by anti-gun campaigners trying smear the decent gun-toting masses.

Dear God. And that's not all. On national television a politician talks about the possibility of introducing modifications to rifle magazines so that the shooter would find it much more difficult to mow down people. Quite so quickly anyway.

And meanwhile reports describe how schoolchildren are being drilled in escape tactics in the event of such horror being visited upon their particular school. America is going at this totally from the wrong angle. The big guns are entirely on the side of big business.

Bizarrely, unforgivably, in the same country which pioneered compensation claims for coffee spillage from cups not labelled "Hot", it is virtually impossible for gun victims to sue arms manufacturers or dealers. Which is why, distressing as the thought may be, you just know there will be more Chris Harper-Mercers.

Even more terrifying, is the likelihood that in the US a terror group not unlike the one admired by that nation's latest mass killer, could easily, quickly, lethally arm itself online.

In Northern Ireland we know from our own quite recent history that weapons sent to the IRA via a gun-running operation in Florida were bought no-questions-asked via the same sort of gun fairs that apparently armed the Oregon college killer. America, obsessed as it is still with a right-to-bear-arms mentality can't seem to see beyond the gun cabinet.

America's children are being massacred but the only answer that great nation can come up with?

There are no easy answers.

It's a wheely good motto to live by

The USA. Home of the inspirational mantra.

Everywhere you look in the US these days there are signs and t-shirts offering lifestyle guidance and spiritual uplift. Much of this focuses on the pursuit of dreams which, we're told, must always be followed, seized, chased, grasped and generally held on to.

After a while, whatever the message, it all gets a bit sickly and slushy and, well, sickening.

That said, I did like this slogan I saw on the bicycle (what else?) of a personal trainer advertising his one-to-one fitness sessions. "Sweat," the message read - "that's just fat crying."

Donegal man who's Strictly world class

A man from Donegal has rightly been recognised this week for his outstanding achievement. And, no, I'm not talking about Daniel O'Donnell on Strictly. William Cecil Campbell, originally from Ramelton in Co Donegal and educated at Campbell College in Belfast, has just been jointly awarded the Nobel prize for medicine for his work in fighting the scourge of parasitic roundworm which causes blindness and has wrecked countless lives in Asia and Africa.

We are so quick to salute those who entertain us. Those who cure us, maybe not so much. But William Campbell is a true, towering hero of our times. We should be so very, very proud of this great man. And of his connection with this place.

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