In the wake of the latest mass shooting, what more can be said about the unconscionable lack of gun control in America? Quite a lot, it seems, and much of it on Twitter. More than 200,000 people, for instance, endorsed a message that read: “In America, they say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But that just sounds like someone trying to sell two guns.” Another post wryly proposed a “theory” that “the gunman didn’t act alone but was assisted by 52 senators, 298 representatives and the NRA [National Rifle Association].” A mordant cartoon depicts Uncle Sam kneeling protectively over a cowering NRA rep in a room strewn with gunshot corpses, reassuring him that: “Everything’s Okay … you’re safe.”
The NRA’s success at normalizing its maximal interpretation of the Second Amendment is but one of its many sinister accomplishments. It has cultivated broad congressional support so carefully, and for so long, that it has effectively gagged the American electorate. Despite clear public majorities for common-sense reform of existing gun laws – and similar sympathies even within its own ranks – the organization continues to support the most laissez faire gun policies, including the freedom to arm individuals who are mentally unstable. The perverse symbiosis which has developed between the NRA and the Republican Party has now reached the point at which it is no exaggeration to say, as The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik recently did, that both “have accepted as a matter of necessity the ongoing deaths of hundreds of children as the price that they are prepared to pay for the fetishization of weapons.”
The statistics for gun violence in the US are beyond shocking. The Guardian reports that the latest available data show that 1,600 children were killed in one year and nearly 7,000 others wounded. On average, at least one American school experiences gun violence every week and 23 children get shot each day. When the gunman opened fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida it was the 18th time that a gun had been fired in an American school just in 2018.
No amount of data seems capable of shocking US legislators out of their morally bankrupt attitude to gun control. A great deal of evidence shows that restrictions on gun purchases reduce gun crime, but every mass shooting elicits the same sanctimonious response: that it’s too early to talk about gun control. In fact, there is so much bad faith and reflexive “messaging” from the gun lobby’s proxies that it is hard to say that America is having an honest conversation on the matter at all. In the aftermath of this latest shooting, there was the added, extremely sinister complication of outside interference in online exchanges. NPR reported that analysts who monitor “Russian trolls, bots, and individuals sympathetic to the Russian point of view” now believe that Kremlin-sponsored trolls are “regularly seizing on divisive or tragic news to rile up segments of American society.”
What might other countries learn from this unwholesome mess? Perhaps that money can easily trump the public interest; that easy access to guns does little to improve security and more often weaponizes dangerous people; that there will never – according to the most shrill gun advocates – be an appropriate time to talk about gun control. Many of us are accustomed to looking to America for the correct ways to address difficult social, legal and political questions. Here, however, there is nothing to copy. Each tragedy underscores the insanity of allowing well-funded special interests to control the political conversation around an important national issue, and to shield themselves from legislative reforms, for decades, while their product harms or destroys thousands of innocent lives every year.