The latest thinking: pundits on Americans and gun control

Newtown massacre revives debate about the right to arms

Here is some of what is being said in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday:

Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

“In the harrowing aftermath of the school shooting in Connecticut, one thought wells in my mind: Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars? The fundamental reason kids are dying in massacres like this one is not that we have lunatics or criminals — all countries have them — but that we suffer from a political failure to regulate guns.”

Garry Wills, The New York Review of Books

“That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch.”

The Los Angeles Times, Editorial

“President Obama has thus far proven himself unwilling to expend the kind of political capital necessary to move meaningful gun reform into the forefront of the national debate. Hug your children and protect them as best you can; politicians are unlikely to do so.”

Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

“Let’s state the plain facts one more time, so that they can’t be mistaken: Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.”

The Observer, Editorial

“For most outside observers the answer to America’s gun problem appears self-evident. It needs to begin with a reinstatement of the ban on ownership of military assault weapons that have no business being in private hands. A proper federal system of regulation, including background checks registration, and limits on the type and number of weapons an individual can own, would bring the US belatedly into line with other civilised countries, as would a determined push back against state legislation allowing the carrying of concealed weapons in public.

“The rate of death from firearm injuries in the US, put very crudely, at more than 30,000 a year exceeds the annual death rate in the present war in Syria. Until the US confronts the reality of its failed policies regarding ownership of firearms it will live in a recurrent nightmare where it is condemned to confront the same horror as it did on Friday at Sandy Hook elementary school.”

Kansas City Star, Editorial

“Weep for the slain schoolchildren and their devastated families. Weep for the town of Newtown, Conn., scene of the latest mass shooting. Weep for America, where these scenes happen again and again.And then, for God’s sake, let us do something about it.”

Ben Adler, The Guardian

“This time, the shock is more extreme, the feeling more visceral and the political pivot – towards the need for greater gun control – faster and more focused. Perhaps it is because so many of the victims were kindergartners, only five years old. Perhaps, finally, it is because Americans can only tolerate so many senseless deaths from gun violence. Or perhaps gun control is just having a moment.”

Andrew Cuomo, New York Governor

“While we don’t have all the facts and our focus must be on the victims, this is yet another senseless and horrific act of violence involving guns. We as a society must unify and once and for all crack down on the guns that have cost the lives of far too many innocent Americans.”

John Nichols, The Nation

“When we seek to understand why we don’t have the discussion – and the action — that we should about violence, the place to begin is with those who seek to preempt debates and to limit the ability of communities, states and the federal government to respond to the cries of horrified and sorrowful Americans for a real response to individual incidents and patterns of violence that break our hearts.”

 David Brooks, New York Times columnist

“I think it would be helpful in the media if we did not publicize these people, especially if they have committed suicide. Don’t put them on the cover of magazines. Don’t put their faces on TV. Don’t release their names. I somehow think that would diminish some of the perverse heroism of them.”

David Remnick, The New Yorker 

“President Obama is a decent man, and he clearly felt the tragedy in Connecticut deeply. That was evident from his brief statement at the White House today. We have grown accustomed to what will happen next. The President will likely visit a funeral or a memorial service and, at greater length, comfort the families of the victims, the community, and the nation. He will be eloquent. He will give voice to the common grief, the common confusion, the common outrage. But then what? A “conversation”? Let there be a conversation. But also let there be decisive action from a President who is determined not only to feel our pain but, calling on the powers of his office, to feel the urge to prevent more suffering. His reading of the Constitution should no longer be constrained by a sense of what the conventional wisdom is in this precinct or that. Let him begin his campaign for a more secure and less violent America in the state of Connecticut.”

Jeff Golberg, The Altantic

“People should have the ability to defend themselves. Mass shootings take many lives in part because no one is firing back at the shooters. The shooters in recent massacres have had many minutes to complete their evil work, while their victims cower under desks or in closets. One response to the tragic reality that we are a gun-saturated country is to understand that law-abiding, well-trained, non-criminal, wholly sane citizens who are screened by the government have a role to play in their own self-defense, and in the defense of others (read The Atlantic article to see how one armed school administrator stopped a mass shooting in Pearl Mississippi). I don’t know anything more than anyone else about the shooting in Connecticut at the moment, but it seems fairly obvious that there was no one at or near the school who could have tried to fight back.”

Allison Benedikt, Slate

 “President Obama: Twenty-seven people are dead, 20 of them children, and you just told the nation that we’re all going to have to ‘extend a hand to those in need. We’ve endured too many of these tragedies,’ you rightly noted, clearly moved by the particular horrendousness of what took place in Connecticut today. And then, holding back your tears, you said this: I react to news like this, ‘not as a president, but as a parent.’”

Jon Margolick, PolicyMic

“If we do nothing else today, we should cry together. We should rage together. We should yell and scream and draw up detailed charts and have arguments and take responsibility for what happens next, because if we can’t then what are we doing here in the first place? And if, in the middle of it all, we talk gun control policy, well, it’s about damn time.”

Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker 

“Do you feel that? That’s your sense of moral outrage dissipating. It may still feel raw and vivid in the wake of Friday’s bloodbath in Connecticut. But if other recent massacres are anything to go by, our collective indignation has a half-life—and it isn’t long. The tender ages of the victims at Sandy Hook made the tragedy feel exceptional, and on television and Twitter, and at kitchen tables around the country, many of us expressed an urgent sense, over the past forty-eight hours, that something should be done. Even President Obama suggested that “meaningful action” is in order, though he didn’t elaborate on what that might entail, and notably absent from his remarks was the single monosyllable that might explain how one disturbed young man could walk into an elementary school and end twenty-six lives in a matter of minutes: ‘gun.’”

Calvin Woodward, The Huffington Post

“After the massacre of children Friday, Obama spoke mainly of the anguish, and the need for action, and not at all about the right to bear arms. By the standards of gun-control politics, that alone was a crack in the status quo.”

Piers Morgan, CNN

“There are nearly 12,000 murders a year from guns in this country. When are you guys going to focus on that, and stop telling me the answer is more guns? It is not the answer! How many more kids have to die, before you guys say, ‘we want less guns, not more?’”

Lexington, the Economist

“Here is the thing. The American gun debate takes place in America, not Britain or Japan. And banning all guns is not about to happen (and good luck collecting all 300m guns currently in circulation, should such a law be passed). It would also not be democratic. I personally dislike guns. I think the private ownership of guns is a tragic mistake. But a majority of Americans disagree with me, some of them very strongly. And at a certain point, when very large majorities disagree with you, a bit of deference is in order.

“So in short I am not sure that tinkering with gun control will stop horrible massacres like today’s. And I am pretty sure that the sort of gun control that would work—banning all guns—is not going to happen. So I have a feeling that even a more courageous debate than has been heard for some time, with Mr Obama proposing gun-control laws that would have been unthinkable in his first term, will not change very much at all. Hence the gloom.”

Michael Williams, the Guardian

“The NRA is right that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. We need to focus on people, through mental health programs, anti-bullying campaigns, poverty reduction and inner-city education, to address our national plague of gun violence. But better gun control laws are also part of the equation. To suggest otherwise, as the NRA does, is disingenuous at best, if not downright amoral.

“We owe this to the kids in Newtown who will never go to high school and never have the luxury of debating that perennial high school debate question about the constitutionality of the second amendment.”

James Fallows, The Atlantic 

“I will henceforth and only talk about “gun safety” as a goal for America, as opposed to “gun control.” I have no abstract interest in “controlling” someone else’s ability to own a gun. I have a very powerful, direct, and legitimate interest in the consequences of others’ gun ownership — namely that we change America’s outlier status as site of most of the world’s mass shootings. No reasonable gun-owner can disagree with steps to make gun use safer and more responsible. This also shifts the discussion to the realm of the incremental, the feasible, and the effective.”

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The latest thinking: pundits on Americans and gun control

  1. In Australia the gun control laws are probably the most regulated in the world. Our parliamentarians do not rely on the gun lobbyists for donations for their election campaigns. Why do you Americans need need military type rifles in your homes? Why this hue and cry for the right to bear arms – your right under the second amendment to the constitution – you are of at war (unless it is with each other)? Your statistics indicate that there is a gun in 80% your homes. If I was an American at the moment I would not be proud, I would hang my head in shame.

    • Australia bans guns. drop in Australian murder rate 1993 to 2013: 53%

      In the same past tow decades, US goes from 300 million to 400 million guns, and from 64 million to 86 million households with guns (GSS 2013). US drop in murder rate 1993-2013: 58%

  2. Australian Cit….I think the most insightful about your post is the Americans are war with each other..we don’t trust each other and at any moment we are ready to turn on each other. That’s why we cling so preciously to our 2nd amendment

    • Not sure where you live, but I’m in Texas, and here we don’t feel like that at all. Most people have guns, and most people are friendlier than anywhere else.

  3. 1 quote on 20 on mental illness, has the American press really given up on humans and accepted that mental illness is normal and can’t be helped?

    • When everybody has a mental illness like a badge of individuality, is anyone “normal” anymore? ADD/ADHD/Autism etc. It was only the other day folk were commenting here that it was terrible that Aspergers had been lumped in with Autism; one less reason to feel special I guess.

    • Mental illness is an important piece of the story. But more shocking than the existence of mental illness (which is really not so very shocking) is the fact that a mentally ill man can so easily access semi-automatic weapons. Weapons that fire 5 rounds a second. Weapons that allowed him to hit every child he targeted 5 to 11 times in a matter of mere minutes. What possible justification is there for keeping, not just one but several of, these kinds of weapons in your house?

      • I don’t support the right to bear arms and do support gun control but in the U.S. that course is a dead end. The simpler argument is that we should support and help people with mental illness instead of trying to convince the right they should rescind their second amendment.

        • There are over 80 guns for every 100 people in the United States, the highest rate of gun ownership in the whole world. Unsurprisingly, Americans suffer the highest rate of gun related violence, accident, and injury in the industrialized world. Mental illness accounts for only a small fraction of gun-related violence (one estimate is 3-5 per cent). Even leaving aside the issue of how you would propose we identify, in advance, people who might go on a killing spree under the right circumstances, there is no amount of mental health funding that will change the simple mathematics of the situation: the more guns that are readily available, the more people will die in gun-related violence. I agree Americans won’t rescind their 2nd amendment rights, and I don’t think they have to. But they have to acknowledge that there is a problem in the way they interpret and enforce those rights. (Shouldn’t there be reasonable limits about the type and number of guns people can own? Shouldn’t there be rules about how and where those guns are kept?) Dancing around the issue won’t solve it.

          • I dont agree with you, look at the safest country in the world “Switzerlan”. Every male that finishes mandatory military service takes home their military rifle to keep. Every home has a military weapon in the house and yet there are next to non gun related incidences. And definitely no home invasions and or brakeins.
            Then again they also have the best health care in the world to help people with mental issues.
            That might be the better place to start then gun control.

          • True, Switzerland has a lot of guns, but they also have a lot of gun control. There are ammunition limits and limits on the type of ammunition you can buy (e.g. no hollow points, unless you can prove you are hunting). To carry a gun in public you need to have a permit which are only issued if you can prove that you justifiably need to do so, say, if you work in security. You can’t just carry a gun in public because you want to. The permit must be renewed frequently. You have to pass a police exam. Switzerland is actually a great argument for tighter gun control.

          • Hollow points are gully legal in Switzerland. Carry permits are common.

          • Non criminal Americans suffer no more violence than Canadians or Japanese.

            And 70% of US gun “violence” is suicide. Since Japan has a 50% higher suicide rate, Japan’s murder/suicide rate is actually 38% HIGHER than the US — unless you are going to say jumping form a building is less violent than shooting yourself

      • That semi-automatic weapon he brought along was still in the car. He used a couple of 9 mm’s. So your reasoning doesn’t work.

        • Latest reports say all the killing was done with the semi. He killed himself with the handgun.

  4. Every country in the world is filled with people with mental illnesses. this is not about mentak illness and more about how easily mentally ill people can get their hands on assault weapons. Canada has just as many guns per person as the states but gun murders and deaths don’t even compare

    • Canada’s murder rate of non criminals is about the same in all equal demographic jurisdictions. The US elevated rate is due to criminals killing criminals (85% of all US gun murder/DOJ 2004)

  5. It’s only been a couple of days since the tragedy. No one on capital hill has had a chance to do anything yet. Since Obama does not have to worry about getting re-elected, hopefully he will use this chance to exert power for a change in gun control and strike a balance.

  6. James Fallows is playing this smart. Endeavour to bring about gun safety and you just might accomplish something. Locked cabinets and tight control of the keys. Separate storage of ammo. Just how many people are stupid enough to think their kids don’t know where the guns are? Most I suspect.

    Americans, particularly from the south, LOVE their guns. Take note of the origins of all these quotes. In the south such statements could create a lot of personal trouble. A colleage was working years back in Alabama. A girl staying in the same hotel kept taking a shine to him. A shine he had the brains to avoid. Her boyfriend, who kept a gun rack on his truck, came knocking drunk out of his mind at 3 am one night. My friend cleared out. He stopped in at a gun show, thinking maybe he should protect himself from this gun toting drunk. The show was huge! They aren’t allowed to sell automatic weapons. Very strict on that. Just watch sons of guns on TV and believe. They are however allowed to sell the parts to build the automatic trigger mechanism. At the show, the booths selling the trigger mechanism parts were immediately next to the booths selling the semi auto guns. Nice!

    Licencing of concealed weapons needs to stop. At least my buddy saw the idiot coming. I suspect we’ll see the opposite though. School staff will be required to take gun training so they can properly protect the school. Gee, how could that end badly.

    • Licencing of concealed weapons prevents crime. Similar demographic cites and counties with more licensees have considerably less violent crime

  7. According to the logic and rhetoric of the almighty NRA, that every US citizen should bare arms to protect him or herself, the only possible solution to these insane massacres is that everybody, including children, shall carry guns and use them liberally in order to protect themselves.

    If you agree with this, start buying shares in the weapon industry.

    • I feel a lot safer in Texas, where anyone can have a gun, than in Mexico, where no one can, and all the bad guys do.

      • Thank you Jacob, I think finaly someone here sees how it realy is. Only criminals and mentaly ill would ever use guns to hurt others. And when all the good people will turn all the guns in, watch the confidence of the criminals rise!

        • Fantasy: Where there are strong gun laws, all the crooks will have guns all the good people won’t.

          Reality: Where there are strong gun laws, some crooks manage to get hold of guns, but a good number of them don’t, because they become too expensive on the black market.

          Fantasy: If I’m allowed a gun, I can defend myself from an attacker like Stephen Segal in that movie!

          Reality: You’re not Stephen Segal. Unless you walk around with your gun drawn and at the ready at all times, the bad guy *will* have the drop on you. If there are strict gun laws, he may not have a gun. If there are not, he will definitely have a gun — and if you go for yours, you’re getting a bullet for your troubles.

          Fantasy: Knowing that some folks will have guns will deter criminals.

          Reality: Knowing that some folks have guns changes the criminals’ priorities. In Florida, for example, home robberies tend to start with shooting the home-owners.. just in case they have guns somewhere. Where there are strict gun controls, robbers are less likely to prioritize dealing with the home-owners unless they have to. And while it sucks to wake up and realize you were burgled during the night, it sucks worse to not wake up at all.

          Fantasy: Restricting guns does nothing to their availability.

          Reality: Market economics applies even to (perhaps especially to) the black market. As the risks for acquiring something goes up, so does the price. Remember that there are very few rich criminals or mentally ill people out there, this makes a difference.

          • who are you to say that I’m so slow that the bad guy *will* have the drop on me?

          • Sorry there Rambo. I didn’t know that you were psychic and so were able to tell who the bad guy was before he actually drew on you. Oh are you just a crazy idiot who pulls his gun at everyone who looks at you sideways? In which case, you definitely shouldn’t be having one.

          • Yes, it’s tough to figure out if it will be a good guy or a bad guy when he breaks into your house in the middle of the night.

          • Yes, it is.

          • Tell me that when you accidentally kill your son when he comes home in the middle of the night and is making noise in the kitchen.

          • He’s barely 2 years old. He doesn’t do stuff like that.

          • Sorry there Nancy, but when someone breaks into your house or pulls a knief on you, you have a pretty good idea what they are up to

          • similar demographic US cities with stronger gun laws have more crime. Those with less stringent gun laws and especially with more carry permit holders have less violent crime

            compare Houston to Chicago

      • Mexico is a poor country with a notoriously corrupt government and police. Do you really think that is a fair comparison?

        • Of course it is. Who wouldn’t be more uneasy about breaking into a house if they figured there’s a pretty good chance of getting shot themselves than if there’s a 99% chance that the victims are totally helpless?

          • There is no good evidence that gun ownership deters crime. There is, however, evidence that guns in the home more often pose a danger to their owner or his or her immediate family, either through suicide, domestic violence, or theft. I assume you own a gun. How many times have you used it to prevent a break-in?

          • Nope. owning a gun, if you are not a drug dealer or gang member makes your home about 20% safer. According to BJS (the US DOJ statistical group) over 85% of murder victims are either released felons or active criminals. This means at least 80% of gun owners in those gun owning homes are criminals with illegal guns, getting themselves or their family members killed through criminals activity.

            As far as crimes prevented by gun owners, the US CDC estimate in the study published in August 2013 stated that the number is estimated about 500,000 to three million/year.

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