Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Washington shootings: which are the fundamental rights?

So it’s happened again. Yesterday, Aaron Alexis, the latest gun-wielding mass murderer to strike in the US, killed twelve people in the Washington Naval Yard, before dying himself in a firefight with police.

Oh, no. Here we go again.
The Chief Medical Officer of the MedStar Washington hospital centre, Janis Orlowski, said of a woman who survived being shot in the head and hand, that she was ‘a very, very, lucky young lady.’

Presumably Orlowski wasn’t really thinking through the implication of her words. It is, after all, a strange world where someone who has just been shot in the head is seen as lucky. Someone who was simply doing her job, in a country ostensibly at peace. That is, not currently under threat of war at home from other nations, though clearly not entirely at peace with itself.

Perhaps the most striking statement on the shooting was made by President Obama. He described it as a ‘cowardly act’. 

It seems to me that the most cowardly act of all was the failure of political leaders to take heed of his call for action to limit gun ownership in the wake of the Newtown horror.  Or for that matter to react to Aurora. Or Columbine. Or any of the other outrages that have, down the years, come along with a regularity that makes them almost habitual, without ever depriving them of their capacity to shock or, apparently, ever endowing them with the ability to galvanise society into action.

Remember the pain over Newtown? Remember the silence of the NRA as they let the dust settle? Remember them extending their tentacles a few weeks later, exercising their lobby muscle, calling in their bought Congressmen and Senators to ensure that even the mildest form of gun control became hopelessly bogged down in the legislative process?

Watch out for them doing the same again now.

And when the NRA says that the best way of stopping a bad guy with a gun is by means of a good guy with a gun, bear in mind that their point was proved yesterday: Alexis, the killer, was gunned down by the police. The NRA got that much right.

It’s true that on the way, twelve people, whose only offence had been to turn up for work, were killed, and eight more injured. Including the lucky lady.

Perhaps the NRA would say that this is the price of doing business. Protection of the fundamental right to keep and bear weapons is worth the occasional massacre of the innocents. After all, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Personally, I prefer countries which establish strict controls on the ownership of guns. Funnily enough, they can serve a pretty mean omelette too. And knowing that you’re unlikely to be shot at while you’re eating it doesn’t spoil the flavour at all.

In fact, being able to eat a meal in safety seems as basic a right as carrying gun. Even more basic, in fact. And it was glaringly denied the breakfasters in the cafeteria at the Washington Naval Yard yesterday morning.

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