A FRIEND has passed on two old copies of The New Yorker magazine. They’ve been doing the rounds and she thought I might like to read them.

A cartoon in an edition from last November caught my eye. The cartoons, incidentally, are very good in this publication. In this one, a couple are slumped in front of the television, the woman lying on the sofa with her cat, while the main sits in an armchair with the remote in his hand. Both appear vaguely grumpy or at least puzzled. The caption reads: ‘At some point, there’s only so high you can raise the volume before you admit you’re never gonna understand what British detectives are saying.’

It’s a good joke, and one that plays with the divide between their culture and ours, always fertile ground for humour.

Yet this sort of thing cuts both ways. They sit on their sofas and don’t understand what our TV detectives are saying. We sit on ours watching the TV news and don’t understand the madness of their gun laws. With every awful mass slaying in the US, there is talk of greater gun control being introduced, only for the gun lobby to win the day again, reaffirming the right of every American to carry a gun and, or so it seems, use it not so much for self-defence but in random acts of mass slaughter.

The latest appalling example of this American disease occurred this week with the shooting of nine black church-goers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, by young a white gunman.

Dylann Roof, who had reportedly been given the gun by his parents, is said to have held a deep grudge against black people. A childhood friend, Joseph Meek Jr, told the Associated Press that they had never discussed race when growing up. Yet when they met again more recently, Roof had started to express his resentment of black people, telling Meek Jr that ‘blacks were taking over the world’ and that ‘someone needed to do something about it for the white race’. He also told his friend that he wanted segregation between whites and blacks. Meek Jr replied: ‘That’s not the way it should be,’ adding: ‘But he just kept talking about it.’

Other people will always hold views which we find abhorrent or just don’t understand. Up to a point, and within the confines of the law, they are free to believe whatever they wish. But add freely available guns into this picture, and you move from an argument about freedom of speech to something much more serious – deadly serious, in this latest outrage and others before.

Roof appears to have been an inadequate and deeply troubled young man, an apparently committed racist whose head was buzzing with hatred and a desire to stir up some kind of race war. To have a system where such a young man can carry arms is beyond belief.

The shooting of worshipers at Emanuel AME church has caused widespread dismay in the US, following, as it does, a series of shootings in which white police officers have killed black citizens. Guns and racism are a dangerous mix, whether the guns are carried by police officers or people intent on racial slaughter.

Barack Obama is said to have been so frustrated in the wake of the latest killings that he almost ran out of words – an eloquent statement in itself, as he is a man from whom the words usually flow. The president has called for greater gun control, saying, in words he did manage to get out: “At some point we will have to deal with the fact that this kind of mass violence doesn’t happen in other countries and it is in our power to do something about it.”

Will anything change? On past form it seems unlikely.

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