Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Tragedy at Newton: Time to Get Serious on Guns

Every time a tragedy such as the one which occurred yesterday in Newton occurs, there is a temptation as a writer to try and find the best sentence, the most profound, witty or evocative combination of verbs and adjectives, to try and encapsulate the sense of horror and tragedy better than everyone else. Yet in the wake of such a mass-murder as yesterday's, the old cliché does ring true; there are no words - the phrase "20 children were killed" is as bleak, evocative and hear-rending as just about anything any writer could come up with. Anything else is self-indulgence; oh, you described the killer as a "maniacal narcissist"? Well done, you.

Few details about the killer himself are known - though we can assume that he was mentally unstable in one way, shape or form. We know that he killed his mother before going on to massacre those children. We know that he dressed in black. We know what kind of gun he used. But one thing we do know for certain is this: it was far too easy for him to get hold of his murder weapon.

There is a phrase often said by those on the pro-gun right-wing in the US: guns don't kill people, people kill people, and to some extent that's true - murder, like all crimes, requires agency - a person doing the deed. There is nothing inherently evil about inanimate objects, even ones that fire hot pieces of lead at lethal speeds. This banal truism, some say, logically dictates that getting rid of guns wouldn't get rid of all the madmen willing to murder innocent people in cold blood.

And yet nobody suggests that guns should be done away with entirely - there is certainly private gun ownership in the UK, for instance. After 9/11, the problem was not the ubiquity of air travel - the problem was that lax security made it too easy for terrorists to smuggle box cutters onto an aeroplane, take over its cockpit and crash it into a skyscraper. So there was appropriate legislation and we all have incredibly restrictive security at airports, making it harder for people to board a plane with a dangerous weapon. Equally so, to suggest that three mass-killings (!) in one year, one of which involves the sadistic murder of twenty young schoolchildren (practically babies) requires no serious re-thinking of the ease by which psychopaths can obtain and use deadly weapons is practically to be complicit in the murder of innocent children.

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