A week after the Newtown massacre, Richard Lutz ponders the unresolved gun debate in the States.
When I was 11, a kid really, I sat behind a white line on a covered wooden deck and took aim over the sites of a 22 hunting rifle.
The rifle instructor, a languid Arizonian who later I realised was a dead ringer for singer Tom Waits, had a mid fifties Chevy hotrod. He kept his rifles locked in the back. He was the business for an 11 year old and his pals.
My parents thought it best that I learned to handle a rifle properly and responsibly. And though our shooting sessions were in the most idyllic of places, a summer camp for boys blessed by a New England sun, we took it dead seriously. After all, our teacher had that hot-rod and was definitely on the cool side of life. Plus he was a strict and stern westerner who pounded into our tiny minds that safety came first.
To know how to use a weapon- I guess for hunting- was part of my early life. Millions legally hunt in the US: deer, squirrel, elk, bear. My childhood autumns in upstate New York were peppered with people in red and black hunting gear, gun licenses draped around their necks and many times with deer slapped across their pick-ups after a successful day in the woods.
I have no truck with that section of the States. If you lock the rifle away and keep it away from ammo, things bad will not happen.
Where it gets nasty and violent is when unhinged people get hold of the hideous pistols and assault weapons and semi automatics that are all manufactured for killing people.
There is no real reason to possess them. Definitely, there is no need to have this weaponry outside a war zone. And when they are legally sold to unstable people- thanks to the second amendment of the American Bill of Rights- there is hell to pay. Witness Newtown, Connecticut.
Now this Second Amendment is a tricky old thing. It stems from the Enlightenment Period when patriotic American colonists were beginning to resist violent tyranny. The amendment says, in language that has been analysed and de-constructed by lawyers and judges and lobbyists, that a person has the right to join a militia to protect kith and kin and a right to bear arms.
Millions of words in the States have been expended on whether this means:
a/ you have a right to have a gun in order to join a militia against tyranny
b/ you have the right to join the defensive militia and…also… carry a weapon.
Well something that was written, ambiguously, in the mid 1770s, is still making waves. And it has great ramifications for those that want to ban gun sales, or buy a Glock semi automatic or even a killing machine like an assault rifle.
President Obama is still wrestling with this contentious second amendment about 235 years after it first hit print. The 18th century document basically needs to be re-written or even amended itself. But it’s a tough upwards battle.
And to that point American lawyer Jim Burke, currently clinical professor of law at The University of Maine said:
‘The real question for now is political rather than legal. Assuming that rational and reasonable restrictions are permissible, it needs a legislative body to act to a conclusion, and an executive to sign the bill. Our politicians are renowned for their spinelessness.’
As for those millions of hunters in the States… they say they have a right not only to own that rifle but also to pursue a legitimate recreation. After all, in many places deer are considered pests. Pistol owners say they do nothing more dangerous than trot along to the shooting range and hit a couple of targets, not unlike the Sunday golfer travelling out to a driving range to try a new seven iron.
And the more hardline gun lovers say, that noseybodies should mind their own business because they have a legitimate right to own whatever legal weaponry is on the go- after all, it is enshrined in the second amendment, scripted in ironclad law.
So where do we go from here when it comes to the United States and the plague of gun massacres? Professor Burke continues: ‘It is because a gun is so integral to the American view and the National Rifle Association and its allies and co-opted politicians are so good at controlling the words and phrases in the discussion of guns, safety, liberty, and gun control, that I fear this will drift off with at best a token gesture that is for all intents and purposes meaningless.’