ANOTHER mass shooting in the US, more disbelief and the sad knowledge that nothing will change.
Liberal-minded Brits, and even those whose minds are not so inclined, don’t really understand America and guns. The need for gun control just seems so screamingly obvious to us – yet the US is so crammed with weaponry, with an estimated 150 million people carrying arms, that control seems almost impossible.
The right to carry arms is written into the second amendment of the US Constitution, and that seems to be where the argument ends, and never mind how many deranged men use these weapons to kill the innocent.
The headlines of this morning’s British papers call on President Trump’s words as the addressed the mass shooting in Las Vegas, in which Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant, took fire from the windows of a hotel room, killing 59 people who had been attending a country music festival below. A further 500 people are estimated to have been injured.
“An act of pure evil,” the headlines say, borrowing the phrase from Trump. Hearing his statement on the radio first, Trump sounded unusually presidential for him, saying what needed to be said, even if the saying of it led nowhere much.
Watching him give the statement on TV, it seemed odder, but maybe just because Trump is so odd, making that strange zero shape with his fingers as he speaks. And watching him, hearing those words for a second time, this thought arose: he may say that now, but Trump became president with the support of the gun lobby, and strongly supports the rights of gun owners.
Trump is also obsessed beyond reason with the threat of foreigners, painting “terrorists live here” on wide parts of the globe – while ignoring the threats that lie within his own borders. And if a terrorist is one who inflicts terror, then Paddock was every bit as much a terrorist as any deranged ideologue. In a sense, such a man is even scarier, as his acts are stirred not by belief but by a strain of malignant nihilism; he killed people not for a reason, however warped, but for no reason at all, or so it seems.
Yes, what Paddock did was an act of pure evil, yet to British eyes it his actions were aided and abetted by America’s obsession with carrying arms. Following that line of argument, Trump was condemning as evil an act he tacitly condoned: not the killing itself, but the way those murders occurred.
The right to carry arms is portrayed in frontier terms, as if American men and women were carrying a single gun to protect themselves. Perhaps that’s how it started, but this right has spawned a domestic arms industry, with obscene amounts of weaponry as easily got as the weekly supermarket shopping; and possibly with the weekly shop.
Stephen Paddock had a stockpile of 42 firearms, explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Such a gruesome arsenal was not bought with defence in mind; it was seemingly gathered to inflict military-style death on masses of people.
And that’s where the American system seems crazy to British eyes, and to the eyes also of Americans who have witnessed such mass killings.
One such witness is a guitarist who was playing at the Route 91 Harvest festival when the shooting broke out. Remarks made on Twitter by Caleb Keeter are being reported here this morning, and for good reason. Keeter tweeted: “I have been a proponent of the amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.”
More Americans need to come to that realisation, but that seems unlikely. Meanwhile, this Brit thinks that if no one had any guns, then no one would be shot. Sadly, such a thought, however damn fine, is nothing but pointless idealism when it comes to the US.