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Getting ready for a (gun) fight

The current raging debate in the United States of America over gun control in the wake of the tragic massacre of young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School is taking on some familiar battle lines.

Gun control debates continue to attract the kind of polarising vitriol that has served to cripple attempts at meaningful change to a culture of gun violence in a country that prides itself as the world’s greatest democracy. Despite the unprecedented loss of life of young children all at one go, this time around the approach appears to be little different.

In the wake of the Connecticut tragedy, recent polls are showing that many Americans are warming towards stronger government restrictions on guns.

An Associated Press-GfK poll found a majority of Americans favor a ban on military-style rapid-fire weapons and 84 per cent want to see a nationwide standard for background checks for anyone wanting to buy a gun.

A Pew Research Center poll also found 55 percent of Americans favor bans on assault-style weapons while 85 per cent want stronger background checks for gun buyers.

Yet there are those in the pro-gun lobby group who view any attempt at regulation as a fundamental assault on their right to bear arms and react instinctively to stymie reform of the regulations by which guns are purchased and used.

The very powerful and outspoken National Rifle Association has been critical of gun-control efforts, saying “gun-control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime.”

But is clear that tougher gun control measures are more than needed, given the frequency with which mass shootings in public places occur in the US. Civilian access to military style assault weapons is causing many an unstable and mentally challenged person to take to public places, unleashing terror on unsuspecting persons.

Such is the story of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and dozens in an Aurora cinema and more latterly at sandy Hook Elementary. Unfortunately these are but a few the more recent and egregious incidents.

Now, US President Barack Obama is proposing a series of measures to bring greater sanity to the country’s relationship with guns. These include stricter background checks, a ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, safer school zones, greater access to mental health services and an end to a freeze on gun violence research.

Already critics of the proposals are saying that these measures will not stop gun violence in America and that they are aimed at attacking the Second Amendment.

The curious thing is that both sides of the debate talk about wanting to protect children and protect America. And therein lies the problem – because for both sides, protection means many very different things. It would appear that for some, the greatest protection lies in the unfettered arming of citizens in the name of the Second Amendment. It doesn’t matter that the means by which they seek protection are the very ones that are destroying the lives of some many who are helpless to do anything about it.

Neighbouring Mexico and other countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean know only too well how the abundance of guns in the US has affected the very fabric of their societies. Guerrilla wars, drug wars, gangs and huge gun running enterprises have thrived in such countries on the strength of guns being readily available both legally and illegally in the big country up north.

The world is watching the US and waiting to see how it balances its constitutional rights with protecting its innocents from a gun culture that has gone way too far overboard and for which it is infamously known all over the globe. Inside and outside the US, people are waiting to see how the country will “respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale.”

Mr Obama says this time it should be different. Perhaps at least until the next time when terror stalks a public hallway.

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