The inability and unwillingness of Americans to admit that they have a gun addiction problem has once again brought tragedy, horror and heartache to the innocent: at least 26 people dead today (at last count) – including 18 children – in yet another massacre in small-town America.
In his first statement, President Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney said that today is not the day to debate gun control policy. True enough, because our first thoughts must be with the parents and siblings of those children; their pain and grief must be unspeakable.
But will anything change as a result of this latest outrage? It is unlikely, because we have had so many similar outrages before and nothing of substance has been done to take guns out of circulation.
The only difference this time might be the sheer awfulness of the deaths of all those children. The greatest respect we could pay to their memory is to finally take some real and effective action in this country to limit access to guns.
Why – in a blog designed to be about Europe and about getting the debate about Europe back onto a productive track – am I addressing a uniquely and quintessentially American problem? Because those who think that Europe has problems need only look across the Atlantic to see that the United States – often portrayed as the far better version of much that Europe is not – also has many problems. And because in many instances the Europeans could teach the Americans much about sensible and rational policy.
The response to today’s shooting will no doubt involve a great deal of hand-wringing and contemplation, and no doubt the National Rifle Association and its acolytes will trot out their tired old arguments about the need for more people to have guns, not fewer, and all those members of Congress who accept campaign funds from the NRA will sit on their hands and say nothing.
In 1996 there was an “American-style” massacre at a school in Dunblane, Scotland, in which 15 children and their teacher died. The response was to ban access to handguns throughout Britain. End of story. Period. Full stop. No further discussion. And while the UK has a gun-death rate of 0.22 per 100,000 people, and no EU country has a death rate of more than 3.64 deaths per 100,000 (Finland, surprisingly), the US has a rate of 9 per 100,000.
Maybe, just maybe, the horror of today’s events in Newtown, Connecticut, will finally wake the United States out of its torpor, and encourage it to join the rest of the civilized world in doing something real and meaningful to control access to guns. But I’m not counting on it.