It's rather odd that one of the British papers has described the Connecticut school shooting as "America's Dunblane". America, not Scotland, is where this sort of thing happens. Time and time again. Every time I hear another story like this, I want to despair. Why doesn't somebody do something? Yet,in my time in America, I've started to get a little more insight into this whole gun business. Not an understanding, exactly, just a little more insight. I'm currently in London and exposed to the full force of the "Mad country overrun with guns" British media onslaught. I'm trying to think how my Western New York neighbours will be taking the news of this tragedy.
There will be tears, anguish, agonising, prayers but I suspect their first thoughts will not be "Let's get rid of guns".
Everyone in Britain by now knows that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the United States Constitution. A right, that is, not to go around killing the innocent but a right to self-defence, to stick up for freedom, for good against evil, to hunt for food and sport. In our rural area practically every household has guns
Around our way, children grow up with guns and before they can even pull a trigger, they're taught to respect guns. They're taught gun rules. It's as natural as breathing. Like children growing up in central London are taught to respect busy roads. There's no one in the world hotter on gun safety than the average American member of the National Rifle Association. And, incidentally there are huge numbers of Americans in the NRA. It's not an extremist movement; it's a very very mainstream organisation, something akin to, well, let's say the WI or the Rotary Club. If President Obama wants to "do something" about guns, he will have an uphill task.
And it's not all that simple. There are different rules for different types of guns. Handguns versus shotguns, say. Different states have different gun rules. I understand Connecticut happens to have strict gun rules. University and school campuses have no-gun policies, which wasn't much use in this case.
And one argument my neighbours will inevitably use is that, if guns had been allowed on that school premises, some teacher may, just possibly, have despatched the gunman before he'd finished his dreadful business. Unlikely but possible. Guns, after all, are for security. They make burglars think twice before breaking and entering. It's not an offence around our way to shoot an intruder in self-defence. In fact it's considered laudable.
When people like myself cry, "Why does this keep happening in America?" We immediately think of guns. And no one is going to tell me that isn't part of the problem. But one of the NRA's popular slogans is "Guns Dont' Kill. People Do." And perhaps there is something else there. Something about American culture that fosters copycat killings. Something about American culture that is more likely to eat into unstable young loners, fill them with hatred, turn them into mass-murderers. I don't know. I just don't know.