US resigns itself to gun law stalemate

2012-07-23 09:08
James Holmes (Reuters)

James Holmes (Reuters)

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Washington - Despite profound soul-searching over the Colorado shooting rampage, there is no political willingness to end the long stalemate over the toxic gun law issue, particularly in a US election year.

The alleged Aurora cinema gunman legally purchased four guns, including a military-style assault rifle and a special magazine that meant he could fire off 50 to 60 bullets a minute.

Over eight weeks he stocked up over the internet on 6 300 rounds of ammunition: 3 000 for his .233 semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, another 3 000 for his two .22 Glocks, and 300 cartridges for his pump-action shotgun.

When gun dealers performed the minimal background checks required under Colorado law, no alarm bells went off because all 24-year-old James Holmes had against his name was a speeding ticket.

On Friday, the gunman entered the midnight premiere of the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, and sprayed bullets into the packed cinema, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others in a matter of minutes.

The Aurora massacre joins a litany of horrific US shootings, including Virginia Tech (32 killed in 2007) and last year's spree in Tucson, Arizona that left six dead and congresswoman Gabby Giffords fighting for her life.

Lax gun laws

Advocates of stricter gun control measures argue that America is more prone to these kinds of mass shootings than other countries because the law in many states is far too lenient.

"Somebody's got to do something about this," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is calling for more stringent background checks on gun-buyers.

Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, plans to reintroduce legislation that would curtail the ability of a shooter to fire numerous times without reloading.

"We have to face the reality that these types of tragedies will continue to occur unless we do something about our nation's lax gun laws," he said.

But his initiative faces a hostile Congress and President Barack Obama could be committing electoral suicide if he took up such an explosive political issue at the current time.

Several key battlegrounds in November's elections - Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, for example - have gun-friendly populations that remain wedded to the "right to bear arms" enshrined in the US constitution.

Well-funded gun lobby

"The president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law," White House spokesperson Jay Carney told reporters on Sunday as Obama flew to Colorado to honour the Aurora victims.

The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), is well-funded and a powerful player in Washington. It argues that crazy people do crazy things and says that clamping down on fundamental American liberties will achieve nothing.

Bolstering their case, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said Holmes was clearly a "very intelligent individual" who knew how to make bombs and would have found other ways to kill.

"He would have found explosives, he would have found something else, some sort of poisonous gas, he would have done something to create this horror," said Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

As Republican Senator John McCain pointed out - coincidentally on the first anniversary of the massacre of 77 people in Norway by a right-wing extremist - horrific shootings can happen anywhere.

"The killer in Norway was in a country that had very strict gun control laws and yet he was still able to acquire the necessary means to initiate and carry out a mass slaughter," McCain said.

'Fixes' needed

Gun control advocates recoil from such logic and say that regardless it would make sense to ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines, and to strengthen laws to make sure more red flags show up when certain people try to purchase weapons.

"We don't need more laws, we need a couple of fixes; there's a loophole where you can sell guns without a background check at a gun show – 40% of guns are sold that way, same thing on the Internet," Bloomberg said.

"We need to fix the fact that states are supposed to send records into the central database of who has psychiatric problems and who is convicted, because when somebody sells a gun, they've got to check the database and if there's not data in it, it wouldn't do any good."

Ed Perlmutter, a Democratic congressman from Colorado, told CNN: "I think we've got to take a good look at how he [Holmes] was able to acquire so much ammunition over the internet without any real question."

Despite those modest-sounding ambitions, Charles Ramsey, commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, told ABC he expected "absolutely nothing" to change.

"There will be a lot of talk, there will be a lot of discussion, there will be some debate. But this will fade into the background, like all those other instances that have occurred, unfortunately."

Suspicious paperwork

The Washington Post was equally resigned in its weekend editorial.

"We don't expect this massacre to lead to more sensible laws. We understand the politics," it said, before nevertheless offering its sad conclusion: "US gun laws make no sense."

On Sunday a report said it had been reported that Holmes had applied to join a private gun club a few weeks ago but his paperwork appeared suspicious and he was not approved.

The owner of Lead Valley Range, in Aurora, Colorado, telephoned Holmes shortly after receiving his application on 25 June, and was greeted by a "bizarre and creepy" voicemail greeting.

Range owner Glenn Rotkovich said Holmes's voice on the message was "slurring words, but he didn't sound drunk, just strange".

"I could make out 'James' somewhere in it," Rotkovich was quoted as saying on the FoxNews website, which carried a redacted version of Holmes's e-mailed application form.

'Cheers, James'

The suspected gunman stated that he had no convictions for domestic violence, was not facing any pending criminal charges, was not using illegal drugs, and was not prohibited by the law from possessing firearms.

The e-mail that accompanied the form was signed, "Cheers, James," the report said.

"If I'd seen the movies, maybe I'd say it was like the Joker," Rotkovich said, referring to the Batman villain whom Holmes is said to have imitated in his attack at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, in Aurora.

Read more on:    james holmes  |  barack obama  |  us  |  us cinema attack  |  movies

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