Since a rampaging Jared Loughner murdered six fellow Americans and wounded congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 12 others in Tucson, Arizona, earlier this year, Americans have assiduously been working on Lessons Learned. Led by the National Rifle Association and dedicated politicians across the United States, energetic attempts are being made to ensure such a tragedy can never happen again. Stephen Harper has to be watching like a hawk.
The way most Americans intend to stop future Loughners is to make sure there are far more Americans who are armed so that armed Americans like Mr. Loughner will be stopped in their tracks, killed before they can kill. The objective, advancing by the day, is that every American over 18, regardless of mental condition or criminal record, should own a gun. Ideally, these should be deadly assault weapons like semi-automatics or Glocks with 30-bullet clips and owners should be free to carry them, concealed, anywhere at all.
This approach can best be understood as the domestic equivalent of American foreign policy as foreseen by Orwell: Peace through war. Ronald Reagan said it on behalf of all American presidents: "We must be the first in military strength not because we seek war but to ensure peace."
Domestically, the action is coming fast and furiously. In South Dakota, state representative Hal Wick has introduced a bill requiring every adult citizen to purchase a gun. In several states, legislation to get more guns in more places (public libraries, college campuses) is getting an enthusiastic reception. In Georgia the legislature has voted to allow people to carry guns in bars. In Mr. Loughner's Arizona, the governor has abolished the need for permits to carry a concealed weapon. In Utah, an initiative to have an official state gun, like a state flower or animal, awaits the governor's signature. For the incredulous I should say that none of these examples are invented.
Much spirit is being demonstrated by an idealistic national organization of students dedicated to opening up schools to more weaponry. Under the banner of the curiously named Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, its slogan is "Supporting self-defence on campus." SCCC holds an annual Empty Holster Protest to underline that unarmed citizens "are attractive targets for criminals," especially, it seems, on campus; the next one is April 4 to April 8. Don't believe me; check their website out for yourself.
Only days after Mr. Loughner's successful ambush, a gun fair was held 20 kilometres from the massacre spot. "We had no hesitation about going ahead with the show so soon after the incident," said a sponsor. "Gun sales have been up since last Saturday" -- the day of the shooting. Gun sales were in fact up across the country, including at the many gun shows that are regularly held. Investigators sent to the gun fair by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a surprisingly active advocate of gun control, had no trouble finding sellers who offered them semiautomatic pistols even after they pointedly said they couldn't pass background checks. According to a Bloomberg aide, "The background check system failed in Arizona, it failed in Virginia and it fails in states around the country. If we don't fix it now, the question is not whether another massacre will occur, but when."
There are now about 300 million guns in civilian American hands. Some one in four American adults own a gun. That could mean that half of all households contain one. Anyone in America can sell or give a gun to anyone else with no test or license of any kind. No one really knows how many more gun owners that means. In 33 states criminals, domestic abusers and those with mental-health issues can legally buy guns without undergoing any background checks at all. All told, 40 per cent of gun sales are thought to go through without a background check.
More fun with figures: In the six years before 2010, 108 million Americans applied for gun permits. After perfunctory background checks, 106 million of them qualified, including Jared Loughner. We can assume most of them have already bought or will soon buy guns. Presumably, if anyone ever gives it a moment's thought, they just kinda hope or maybe pray that none of the 106 million is a criminal or too unstable.
Beyond the sheer number and type of weapon, increasingly Americans are allowed, indeed encouraged, to carry them concealed anywhere they go. For an American, that means the person working beside you or sitting beside you on the bus or at the bar or the stadium or the movies or in class, or in the same traffic jam ready to explode with road rage, could well be carrying one of those formidable multiple-firing Glocks, the kind Mr. Loughner wielded.
But when you're fighting for the right of Americans to be free -- as demonstrated by their right to carry concealed deadly weapons to protect themselves from other free Americans carrying concealed deadly weapons -- the jihad never ends. Here is the NRA agenda over the past year:
» Blocking the basic gun controls enacted by the District of Columbia, including a ban on powerful semiautomatic weapons in the nation's capital.
» Ensuring that people can carry loaded guns in national parks.
» Blocking attempts by Congress to bar people on the FBI's terrorist watch list from buying guns and explosives. (Please read this sentence many times.)
» Keeping open a loophole in federal law that lets gun traffickers buy weapons at gun shows without background checks. (Could I make this up?)
» Suing the state of Texas to force them to allow young people 18 to 20 to buy handguns and carry them concealed in public places. (By the way, according to the latest FBI data this age group, about 5 per cent of the population, accounts for 20 per cent of homicide and manslaughter arrests. No wonder they need to carry concealed weapons.)
In political terms, Republicans are generally far more devoted to the NRA's agenda than are most Democrats. But most Democrats' deep fear of the NRA's clout make them almost as servile to the gun lobby, however reckless its demands. Since Ms. Giffords was shot, several congressmen from both parties have loudly announced their intention to pack heat from now on. The OK Coral has become a political rally.
Then there's the President. Before, Barack Obama was sympathetic to gun control. Since, he has signed two laws expanding gun access in national parks and on trains. The Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, the leading advocacy group for gun control, called the President's record an "abject failure" and awarded him an F. "As a senator and candidate, he promised to stand up to the gun lobby and fight for strong gun laws," according to its report card for 2009. "Unfortunately, that Barack Obama has been absent in his first year in office." Last week the President finally broke his post-Loughner silence on gun violence. He doesn't like it. But he failed to offer any specific legislative proposals to deal with it. A fitting symbol, perhaps, of the Obama presidency and of the conservative values he has chosen to embrace. The normally pale Stephen Harper must be green with envy.
Postscript: Larry Zolf died this week, a large-than-life character known to Canada's political class for decades and a friend of mine since we were lefty graduate students together at the University of Toronto. If there must be a Senate, Mr. Zolf should have been a member. He wanted it passionately and it's unforgivable that both Liberal and Conservative governments failed to name him. I told him an NDP government would appoint him, then abolish the institution.