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Playing with fire

It is a distressing thought that the US Congress has thus far failed to impose restrictions on guns despite the school massacres in several states, the killing of 19 children and two adults in a school in Texas being the latest in the long loop.

Statesman News Service |

It is a distressing thought that the US Congress has thus far failed to impose restrictions on guns despite the school massacres in several states, the killing of 19 children and two adults in a school in Texas being the latest in the long loop. Yet there is some comfort when a swathe of states have initiated efforts to clamp curbs. 

In New Jersey, for instance, governor Phil Murphy has urged lawmakers to advance firearms safety measures. Notable among the steps suggested are raising the age for the purchase of “long guns” to 21 and exposing gun manufacturers to civil lawsuits. In Buffalo, New York, where an 18-year-old has been charged with committing a racist mass shooting, governor Kathy Hochul intends to ban people under 21 from buying AR-15 style rifles. The fact of the matter must be that in the wake of inaction by Congress, individual American states want to step up efforts and keep people safe. 

The move by the Democratic states has evoked an opposite reaction in Republican-controlled states. The political disconnect is, therefore, only one of the red herrings across the trail. A day after the Texas massacre, rural conservatives in Pennsylvania and Michigan beat back attempts to force votes on gun safety legislation, which have been in abeyance for as long as they have. 

In Texas, Governor Greg Tabbot and other Republican heavyweights have attributed the school massacre to a gunman with mental health problems, not the gun laws. So sharp is the legislative divide that Republicans have accused Democrats of politicizing the situation with calls for gun control. 

Across the nation, there is considerable interest in state action. There is little or no hope in a Congressional consensus not merely on gun violence, but on a welter of social issues as well. Polarised politics has militated against compromise. Liberal and conservative states have enacted disparate, even opposing agendas. There is a patchwork quilt of policies on a welter of issues, notably abortion and civil rights. Since 2019, federal legislation to expand criminal background checks for the purchase of guns has twice passed the House of Representatives, only to languish in the wake of Republican opposition in the Senate. But as they publicly mourned the tragedy in Texas, Republican senators showed scant signs that they had budged. 

Roughly three in five state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. In a word, America bears witness to a long, bitter fight over the gun. Indeed, attitudes have hardened to the point that refusing to compromise on the Second Amendment has reportedly become part of the identity of the Republican Party. A consensus on gun control and the age factor still seems a long way away. America is playing with fire and its citizens are being scalded.