Las Vegas shooting puts American gun laws back in the cross-hairs | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Las Vegas shooting puts American gun laws back in the cross-hairs

More people in the USA have died of gun violence than Islamic terrorism, which gets disproportionately more attentions from policy makers, at least for a section of Americans blinded by their paranoia about their right to bear arms — enshrined in the American constitution — to see the need for some common sense reforms.

analysis Updated: Oct 03, 2017 16:31 IST
Yashwant Raj
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A gunman killed over 50 people and wounded more than 200 at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, raining down rapid fire from the 32nd floor of a hotel for several minutes before he was shot dead by police. The death toll would make the attack the deadliest mass shooting in US history, eclipsing last year’s massacre of 49 people at an Orlando night club. (Ethan Miller / AFP)

It was October 1 in 2015, exactly two years ago.

A very sombre President Barack Obama walked up to the podium in the James Brady Room, the venue for daily White House press briefings named after an official disabled for life in the shooting of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

“There’s been another mass shooting in America,” Obama had started, after a shooting in which nine people had been killed. “That means there are more American families – moms, dads, children – whose lives have been changed forever. That means there’s another community stunned with grief, and communities across the country forced to relieve their own anguish, and parents across the country who are scared because they know it might have been their families or their children.”

Obama’s speech could hold true even today, word for word, sentiment for sentiment, frustration for frustration, for those mourning the 50 victims killed in Las Vegas early Monday morning (IST) or those waiting outside the hospital for a word about the condition of their brother, sister, child, parent or friend — more than 400, by the last count released by authorities. “We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months,” Obama had gone on, adding, quoting himself from an earlier interview, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings.”

There is still no word on the motivation of Stephen Paddock ,the 64-year-old white man, local resident, who carried out the massacre, shooting sniper-style from a room up above on the 32nd floor of a hotel. A few more minutes, and the concertgoers would have been on their way home, or hotel, exhausted. There was also no information yet on the kind of weaponry the shooter was carrying, and whether he was licensed to carry and what kind of arms. The Nevada state gun laws are among the most relaxed in the United States, gun owners don’t have to register their weapons, they are also free to carry them openly; a permit is needed for carrying concealed weapons though. Las Vegas has only slightly tighter laws.

Thousands of people die every year in gun violence in the United States — 12,571 in 2014, 13,500 in 2015, 15,079 in 2016 and 11,652 so far in 2017 — according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks gun-related violence and mass shootings (any incident with more than four victims) such as the one that took place in Las Vegas. That is more than the number of victims of terrorism, which gets disproportionately more attentions from policy makers than the scourge of gun violence, at least for a section of Americans blinded by their paranoia about their right to bear arms — enshrined in the American constitution — to see the need for some common sense reforms.

Gun-control activists are seeking small changes in the existing gun laws to prevent guns from falling into the hands of those incapable of exercising some control over their use, such as those with mental illness like Adam Lanza, who gunned down 20 first-graders and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012. They have sought background checks for prospective buyers and stricter control on the sale of weapons at fairs and exhibition and a check on military style weapons that can shoot long bursts, causing many deaths and injuries.

They are not seeking, though they often speak of it, a response resembling Australia’s in 1996. A mentally disturbed young man had killed 35 people and wounded 23 in Tasmania in what is now known as the “Port Arthur Massacre”. A horrified nation responded by tightening gun laws to such an extent a gun-related massacre has not been repeated since. Many other developed nations have similar gun laws, a point made by Obama in the Oregon shooting speech. America remains an exception.

The gun lobby, lead by the power National Rifle Association (NRA), has successfully stymied all such moves and attempts, even in the aftermath of the shooting of first-graders at the Newtown, Connecticut school, speaking about which President Obama had broken down, and which had outraged most Americans, even those who owned and loved guns. The NRA has a stranglehold on most conservative politicians and makes its support and endorsement, which matters among conservative voters, incumbent upon their advocacy of gun-rights.

President Donald Trump is pro-guns — his two eldest sons Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump are avid hunters — and pro-NRA and he has shown no inclination for any changes in gun laws. Remember the time he suggested, as candidate for the White House, his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton might need to be stopped through some violence to prevent her from taking away the Second Amendment, the law that grants Americans the right to bear arms? Expect no changes from him. But also, as some critics have pointed out, it might take a strong and an unequivocal supporter of gun rights such as Trump to actually push the rest of the tribe along that route, of some sensible reforms.

yashwant.raj@hindustantimes.com