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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Analysis: America's gun culture
Most gun law proposals focus only on new guns
By Washington correspondent Tom Carver

The pro-gun lobby is fond of saying it is not guns but people who kill.

In some cases that is certainly true. Some people would kill whether they had a knife, a gun or bare hands. But in many other cases, access to a firearm is what triggers the murder.


The right to own a firearm is embedded in the American psyche like a splinter of flint, jagged and immovable

This might seem self-evident to a European audience but there is debate on this side of the Atlantic - a debate not about how to remove guns from society but whether or not guns are even to blame.

The right to own a firearm is embedded in the American psyche like a splinter of flint, jagged and immovable.

It all goes back to the Founding Fathers who in 1791 amended the new American constitution with the following words: "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."

This amendment was drawn up by people living in an precarious agrarian society unrecognisable to modern Americans, when communities needed guns to hunt and to protect themselves from Indians and highwaymen.

The gun lobby has plucked out the phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" and used it ever since to beat down every serious attempt at gun control in America by claiming a violation of the constitution.

Ludicrous claims

I have heard a representative from the Gun Owners of America claiming that if children grow up with guns in the house they get used to them and know how to handle them.

He said that in the old days children used to carry guns to school on the New York subway to take part in shooting competitions.

Such is the power of the gun lobby, and most notably the National Rifle Association, that even the mildest gun legislation, a requirement that all new guns should be fitted with gun locks, got bogged down in Congress.

When a six-year-old boy shot dead a girl of the same age in front of their classmates, President Clinton said that had this legislation been approved the boy would not have been able to kill.

But that is just as ludicrous as the gun lobby's arguments.

How to solve the problem?

The gun the little boy used had been stolen and criminals do not tend to be too interested in keeping the locks on their guns.

Therein lies the biggest problem - how to remove the vast number of guns that are already in circulation in America.

None of the present gun law proposals tackle that - instead they deal with the acquisition of new guns.

The Democrats would like everyone who has a gun to have a licence.

They would like to step up the background checks on gun buyers, but they are not proposing outlawing sawn-off shotguns, semi-automatics, concealed weapons or anything else.

And if even they did, how would the police go about rounding up the arsenals of weapons in American homes? All suggestions gratefully received.

America and the gun

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08 Oct 02 | Americas
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