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Guns won't be holstered

By Tom Plate (China Daily) Updated: 2012-12-17 22:22

It would not be hard to convince many of us who live on the West Coast of the United States of the painfully obvious need for severe gun-restriction laws and attendant gun-control enforcement. We're easy to persuade, California is just that way. Call us crazy, but we recently voted to increase our taxes to support our schools.

In fact, in the early 1990s California's leading daily newspaper had the audacity to publish a series of full-page, richly detailed, sweeping editorials demanding national gun-control legislation and enforcement. The bottom line of the prominent daily's recommendation was that American culture was, frankly, just too immature, adolescent really, to permit official sanction on firearm licentiousness and comprehensive curbs on possession required to maximize public safety.

That was the "powerful" Los Angeles Times speaking, but you can see how uninfluential the paper was on this contentious issue. But it said the right thing, and this is what good newspapers with enlightened management should do.

Following the tragedy in Connecticut there will be more newspaper editorials and public gnashing of teeth about gun-toting America, but they will have little impact. A few months from now the outcry will have faded into the background. Maybe automatic weapons will be banned or severely curtailed. Okay, but that's not the half of it.

This is America, and I am afraid that last week's massacre in Connecticut won't be the last loner-with-a-gun slaughter.

That is because the cowboy strain in the American character erects a kind of genetic firewall to the establishment of a more sensible national policy on gun ownership. The US culture of individualism allows Americans to believe that problems can be solved by guns, which results in deranged individuals, armed to the teeth, wiping out whoever they have in their sights as the enemy — all by their Lone-Ranger lonesome.

The special poignancy this time was that so many of the victims were children, and very young children. The singular perpetrator, or at least his mother, who he killed first, was in possession of a little collection of firearms. Had he not got his hands on his mother's weapons, his shooting spree might never have happened. The police will put the issue this way, referring to gang wars made more violent by the culture of guns: "There's no such thing as a drive-by knifing."

Guns don't kill people; people kill people. This is the recurring and annoying mantra of the firearms lobby and their in-step followers who just don't want to give up their weapons. But Americans kill Americans every day simply because they have a gun. Guns that, one way or the other, are easy to acquire and apparently impossible to regulate.

Worse yet, our sometimes-dysfunctional democracy is paralyzed into legal-system irrelevancy by the Second Amendment to our beloved Constitution, which states: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." As it turns out, the US courts, in their wisdom, have determined that this means that every individual has that right to a gun, not just the generic "people", as in a standing state militia, in part to guard against overwhelming central power.

And so blocking the way to gun reform, in addition to the deeply embedded American cowboy character, is the ideology of the American Constitution — as if something written so long ago can be set in stone against the pressing realities of today's times. What this means is the enormity of this Connecticut tragedy notwithstanding, gun control is not on the immediate horizon.

On the contrary, more people will buy more guns, to protect themselves ... from more people buying … more guns.

It's the American tragedy.

The author is a distinguished scholar of Asian and Pacific studies at Loyola Marymount University, and founder and editor-in-chief of Asia Media.

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