Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Las Vegas shooting kills at least 59 in deadliest ever gun attack in modern United States history

Polarised politics ensures little will change on gun policy
By Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

As the scale of Sunday night's massacre at a concert in Las Vegas became apparent, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, tweeted: "Tragedies like Las Vegas have happened too many times. We need to have the conversation about how to stop gun violence. We need it NOW."

But America has been having the conversation for years. It peaks at every mass shooting that shocks a nation increasingly dulled by 24-hour cable news.

Sunday's mass killing may stall a pending Bill to loosen restrictions on the purchase of gun silencers, and another to allow concealed-carry permit holders to take their guns with them to another state. But many analysts say that may be as far as it goes.

The massacre is unlikely to make any decisive difference to a gun debate trapped in political and ideological gridlock.

"We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by," United States President Donald Trump told reporters yesterday morning as he left for a visit to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico.

Earlier on Monday, asked about gun legislation and possible political outcomes, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said it would be "premature" to discuss gun restrictions. "Today is a day for consoling survivors," she said.

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence executive director Josh Horwitz told The Straits Times: "We have 85 people killed every day from gun violence. Congress somehow manages to do nothing. But when we learn more about this, there will be an effort. And if Congress somehow manages not to do anything important, things can happen in the states, where leaders are much less beholden to the National Rifle Association. We have to try, we have to hope."

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its five million active members helped elect Mr Trump. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre pledged that his organisation would cover Mr Trump's back for the next eight years. Mr LaPierre's simplistic position is: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun."

But the gun issue is more complex than good guys and bad guys. Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms, dating to an era when citizens feared an oppressive government, and long before automatic weapons. Guns are part of American culture, an article of faith with pro-gun Americans unfazed that the US suffers more mass shootings than any other country in the world.

Polls, however, show that a majority of Americans do favour tighter background checks on people buying guns. Pew Research studies bear this out. But the polls also show sharp divisions, much along party lines. For instance, only about 26 per cent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents support allowing people to carry concealed guns in more places, compared with 72 per cent of Republicans and Republican leaners, Pew said. And 26 per cent of Democrats favour allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools, as against 69 per cent of Republicans.

Forty-four per cent of Republicans and Republican leaners say they own at least one gun, compared with 20 per cent of Democrats and Democratic leaners, Pew said.

In Sunday's aftermath, Mr Horwitz said in a statement: "This is not normal. The shooting in Las Vegas is a tragedy - a uniquely American one.

"The United States of America is the only industrialised country where these massacres continue to happen. This time, we cannot move on. We must take action."

Former Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted : "Our grief isn't enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again", only to have a pro-Trump cable channel Fox Business host calling her a "heartless hack" for politicising Las Vegas.

Kentucky's Republican Governor Matt Bevin tweeted: "To all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun (regulations)... you can't regulate evil."

Dr Glenn Altschuler, professor of American Studies at Cornell University, summed it up for The Straits Times. "In essence, we will leave the status quo in place," he said. "It is a mark of the political polarisation that there is no chance of bipartisan agreement."

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