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Scepticism over Obama's gun plea

08 August 2012, 16:47

 Washington - Despite a rash of mass killings, many Americans are sceptical of calls by President Barack Obama and others for "soul searching" on ways to reduce gun violence in the United States.

"Americans are not ready for soul searching about guns," Jeffrey Reiman, a philosophy professor at American University in Washington, said in the wake of Sunday's bloodshed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

"Americans have made up their minds about guns," he said. "A large number of people seem to want them," with 258 million firearms in the United States held in private hands.

On Monday, a day after the Wisconsin shooting, Obama extended condolences to the families of the dead, then proposed that "soul searching" was needed on how to reduce violence in America.

"These terrible, tragic events are happening with too much regularity" not to prompt "soul searching" to assess "additional ways that we can reduce violence", he said.

His suggestion was timely.

Tucson shooting

On 20 July, a gunman burst into a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people. Then came Sunday's death of six worshippers at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

By coincidence, the young man accused of killing six people in Tucson, Arizona - in a parking-lot rampage that wounded then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords - was to appear in court on Tuesday.

Memories of the Virginia Tech and Columbine high school shootings, which left 32 and 12 dead in 2007 and 1999, respectively, remain fresh in American minds.

Each incident revives a divisive debate on gun control and the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which asserts every citizen's right "to keep and bear arms".

"Soul-searching won't stop mass killers, and soul-searching won't stop the NRA," said law professor Adam Winkler of the University of California in Los Angeles, referring to the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.

"We don't need soul searching. We need better gun laws," he said.

47% own a gun

"Firearms are here to stay, but we can put in place better safeguards, like background checks for every gun purchase," he added.

"While such laws won't prevent madmen from killing a lot of people, they can reduce the daily gun violence that plagues America's cities."

In a Gallup poll in October 2011, 47% of Americans said they possessed a firearm, the highest proportion in 20 years, while 26% favoured gun control, the lowest proportion ever.

The gun industry - with 1 996 manufacturers in May - has enjoyed growth of 27% since 2010 despite an overall economic slump, according to official data cited by Time magazine.

Online, criticism of Obama's proposal in the comment sections of major newspapers has been unanimously negative, even if there is division over the question of gun control.

"I guess he wants to take our right to bear arms so only the nut jobs and criminals will have the free reign on helpless people!" wrote William Molnar of Florida on the website of the USA Today newspaper.

The g-word

From Boston, Sean Hamilton said: "Shootings are isolated incidents. I don't need to do any soul searching. This is no one's fault but the killer's."

Writing on the New York Times website under the avatar DWK, a Los Angeles resident asked: "How many weekly mass murders will there need to be before our political leaders, apparently wholly emasculated by the NRA, say anything other than the sound bite equivalent of a cheap sympathy card?"

On an ironic note, Sherman, from Oakland, California, saluted both Obama and his Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney for their "yeoman efforts to avoid even the mention of the word 'gun'".

Back in Washington, professor Reiman said: "We've had these tragedies before, and they haven't made much of a difference in the gun control debate."

"So I don't expect any soul searching, or new attitudes toward guns, or changes in the law due to this awful event. It will fall out of the public's memory - until the next one."



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