US politicians must lay down arms - Monocolumn | Monocle


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18 December 2012

With Christmas just a week away and 2012 rapidly grinding to a halt, it seems a fair time to start thinking of resolutions. And with the US having just witnessed the horrors of the Newtown massacre, an event so gruesome and seemingly without precedent, it only feels appropriate to consider forming a resolution that engages America’s elected officials and the public at large, should we wish to prevent years more of similar incidents.

The truth is that events like those in Newtown have become so common that we’re left with a cynicism surrounding the thought that things might someday change. This year alone, Americans turned on their television sets to witness the tragedy at a cinema in Colorado which left 12 dead and 59 injured; and the Wisconsin temple incident which left six Sikhs and the gunman dead, with several more injured. Sadly, tragedies such as these might remain the norm without far-reaching reform in the coming year. The politics of gun control is complicated but that’s no excuse for writing-off reform that might save the life of just one more innocent civilian.

Times like these are sure to offer a soapbox from which individuals like myself enlighten the world on how to mend an obviously broken system. Perhaps a ban on assault rifles is the answer? Or as one Texas congressman has now suggested – might society be safer if we armed our school principals with M4 machine guns? From the sensible to the overwhelmingly delusional, all sorts of conjecture like this at a moment will mean nothing without a sustained commitment to change the system.

America’s constitutional heritage has created a nation where guns nearly outnumber people, so any practical solution must bear in mind that guns won’t soon be going away. And banning specific types of weaponry only makes outlawed guns more attractive to would-be criminals. The steps to move forward involve a complex rethinking of which guns should be legal and which should not, and the judicial system must rethink the penalties for those caught breaking the law.

But should we wish to prevent another senseless act of violence like the one we’ve just witnessed in Newtown and the many more that have occurred, it’s going to require the realisation that gun ownership in the US isn’t simply a problem, but an epidemic.

The coming year offers President Obama, politicians of all stripes and the rest of the US an opportunity to engage in a civil dialogue for how we move forward. Years of intractable arguments surrounding gun control and the additional means for preventing such tragedies have left us where we are today. Here’s to hoping that 2013 is the year we’ll overcome the challenges that left us where we are now.

Barrett Austin is a researcher for Monocle's Americas bureau.


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