Navy Yard shootings: No shift in guns debate coming

A flag flies at half-mast over the White House (16 September 2013) On Monday, a flag flew at half-mast over the White House, where Obama mourned what he called "yet another mass shooting"

I'm standing in front of a yellow police cordon, the flashing lights of emergency vehicles in the background. The locations change, but the question from the presenters in London is as predictable as it is understandable.

"Will this tragedy make a difference to the debate on gun control?" The short and blunt answer: "No."

Certainly the murders at the Navy Yard will give fresh impetus to a very old debate.

As I write I hear a trail for a discussion on NPR radio. Even as President Barack Obama paid tribute to those killed, you could hear that he had made up his mind that this was no terrorist attack but yet another example of out of control gun violence.

But one thing is missing from this debate - open minds.

The assumption in Britain is that another shocking mass murder will make people more open to gun control. But the debate is so emotional, so partisan that the two sides are already lined up in two hostile camps. Those who are against gun control will point out that Washington DC has some of the toughest laws in the country.

Even before he opened fire, Aaron Alexis was probably breaking the law already by carrying guns.

Gun control opponents will argue that making more laws for him to break would not have stopped the crime. Some will make the argument that if more workers had guns the gunman would have been killed sooner and fewer would have died.

It is worth remembering that the jolting, sickening shock of the Sandy Hook killing of children just before Christmas did seem to change the debate, just a little.

But the wave of passion ebbed away within months. Mr Obama used it to launch a political campaign for new laws. He called for what some would regard as very small changes - a ban on military-style assault rifles and a background check for all gun buyers (at the moment sales at gun shows are excluded).

Those proposals aren't quite formally dead, but they are languishing with little apparent chance of revival. This shooting may change that, but I would be very surprised.

The real point may not be legal, but cultural.

Alexis had twice in the past shot in the general direction of people who had irritated him. Tyres and ceilings were thankfully the only casualties.

But in some countries that would mean he would not be allowed to own a gun and might have ended up in prison for a fairly long time.

Here, particularly in Texas, it is not that big a deal.

Hard as it is to change the law, it is much harder to change attitudes.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    It pains me to see how dumbed down the majority British view on this issue is

    All the perpetrators in these mass shootings are invariably mentally ill and with a recorded history of mental illness and yet when they do something crazy its the civil freedoms of the innocent that are attacked

    If you want gun control laws, target the mentally ill and the criminals not the law abiding citizens

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.


    Not sure removing the guns solves anything. I live in China and here there has been a string of people going into schools and stabbing children with knives
    In UK they also use knives. [When there's a will..]

    Not only Washington has the strictest guns laws in US, but also Germany, and yet quite a few of massacres were committed at its schools with firearms (semiautomatics).

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    32. Bluesman1950

    Firearm related homicide rates per 100,000 population

    UK 0.04 (2010)

    USA 3.6 (2011)

    Guns just make it easier

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Warehouse all the mentally ill and politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    31.powermeerkat @ 2.Cameron is Blair mk II

    "It's much sadder when someone forgets to add Russia still arms Assad regime with heavy weapons, and that Iran arms& sends en mass Hezbollah jihadists to prop up Assad."

    ...the difference is Syria and Hezbollah have been using their weapons to defend against foreign invaders. Assad didn't just wake up one day and decide to kill his people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    31. powermeerkat
    "It's much sadder when someone forgets to add Russia still arms Assad regime with heavy weapons"

    American regime is the major arm exporter in the world. It supplies arms and funds terrorist organisations around the world, yet it fails to keep up with its UN membership contribution. What was the point you have been trying to make here??????

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Will @25
    "the founding fathers intended"

    They negotiated, and at the table was that Old Devil money, loopholes left open to allow theft of the 'inalienable' from the 'created equal', and naturally to allow 'defence' of that which was and to this day is stolen, partnership and security.

    Defence... against each other... set against each other

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    In the 8 years I have lived here in the States my biggest concern about guns has been the ease with which people who are mentally impaired (and who commit the vast majority of mass shootings) are able to get them

    I often ask my gun-owning friends if they have any answer to this

    Thus far nothing

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Too many people are employed in the gun industry & it makes too much money. Nothing is going to change until those in the "More Guns" lobby are similarly affected & since the're rich & live in secure, gated communities that isn't going to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    He may not have minded breaking any proposed law on carrying weapons capable of wholesale slaughter, but if a chain of evidence linking every gun produced to the retailer is in place, that dealer might mind being banged up in prison alongside him for supplying a non licensed unfit person. If you can't get a gun, you can't use a gun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.


    "Despite what US news networks would have you believe, you're statistically more likely to be shot and killed by a US police officer than you are by a terrorist or 'mass shooter'."

    That makes this all the more worrying - there seem to be so many of these mass shootings and yet more people are killed by US police officers. This makes the situation sound even worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @24 - Not entirely sure it's an irony

    Grand Theft Auto - entirely fictional therefore no one gets hurt

    American gun ownership - real guns, real bullets and a lot of people getting hurt and killed every single day...

    GTA is a fictional environment to compare the 2 detracts from the tragedy of every death that occurs as a result of easily accessible guns in the real world...

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Actually the murder rate in the USA is 4 times that of the UK, not 25 times, but still too high and with a far higher instance of firearms use. As to more people being killed by the police than by 'spree' shooters, hardly surprising, since they deal with many armed criminals. The victims of massacres like this are invariably innocent people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    22.Cameron is Blair mk II
    It's sad that this story will grab all the headlines for a few weeks, when the REAL gun control problem, is The West, covertly arming and training extremist foreign fighters to wage war in Syria.
    It's much sadder when someone forgets to add Russia still arms Assad regime with heavy weapons, and that Iran arms& sends en mass Hezbollah jihadists to prop up Assad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    12 people were shot dead, others wounded by gunshots. Is this anything to do with guns? Of course not! Just ask the NRA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    To blame American culture is unfair. In the wake of the Sandy Hook mass murder the overwhelming majority of American people, including many gun advocates, were in favor of some type of gun control. Yet, our elected representatives in Congress could not find a way to pass a single law towards that goal. The problem is American culture is changing faster than American government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Whats the point of this artcle? Why would anyone in britain be bothered whether the americans will change their gun laws? Why would our money be wasted on the likes of mr mardell who is tasked with presenting his opinion on absolutely useless topics is just beyond me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Not sure removing the guns solves anything. I live in China and here there has been a string of people going into schools and stabbing children with knives, or getting on a bus and stabbing people.

    I guess less damage down then if they had an assault riffle, but their is a bigger problem then guns that needs to be solved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Can 'good conscience' assent to the rule of fear and greed?

    'Fear & greed', as the stuff of life as well as of fictional entertainment, carry a price-tag of despair and anger, and of outburst, of random death and domestic arms-race

    Even to observe, @4, gains Minus 2… Guns 'on the street' seem to go with guilt, some attack being seen even in the mirror... Some small hope?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The argument that guns don't kill people, criminals kill people, lacks all credibility.
    If you reduce access to weapons, it is harder for those with criminal tendencies or mental health issues to use them.
    The far right expects us to believe that the founding fathers intended unfettered access to assault rifles. That is a joke. The consitution has been wilfully misread.


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