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 Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    Worst thing of all was that they didn't catch the person or people who had the guns and were shooting people

    Luckily the shot people and a person assaulted unconscious were rescued by police, even though gang members tried to stop the police
    from helping them

    No one will say no to money college grants from violent neighborhoods even though our police force is too small to deal w/ city gangs

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    Apparently, after gunman's paranoid behaviour last month, & police involvement

    Since he told Rhode Island police he was a Navy contractor, they sent report to Navy Police [sic?], who said they'd deal w/ it.
    Nothing happened, so either the Naval Police didn't do anything, or they checked but didn't revoke his security clearance.

    Can't remember link,will check.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    For us locals there are very poor people here but there are no gangs

    For these people from poor neighborhoods of South side of Chicago and East St Louis, gangs are a way of life so many carry guns

    We have completely different cultures, a town of mostly white rural people now being mixed with mostly black city people
    b/c they are the only people who can afford to go to college anymore

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    @413.margaret howard
    349 msc
    "use firearms to protect ourselves&livestock frm coyotes"
    African farmers like the Maasai have to protect their livestock from more formidable predators like lions yet they don't have guns for it
    P'haps in the past,but they &similar tribes now often arm themselves against poachers.
    Also, is average Western farmer as physically fit as a Masai,or can wield a spear?:-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    ref #413 and 415
    I'm amazed the ignorance on the gun issue by vietnam liberal among the most ignorant and iflexible bunch in our history .

    FYI the Tea Party has no position on the gun issue unless it is a tax issue.

    And I'll tak e the Tea Party member rationality and self awarness than a Vietnam war liberal like Bill ayers or Bernadette Doren

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    Us local people would love to help the black students from South side of Chicago and East St Louis stop the violence+be peaceful
    but even the police are scared

    There are so many people from there moving here including non college students it has drastically changed the town

    One local girl had to change roommates b/c she was being threatened
    and many locals do not want to attend the college

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    417 McJakome

    "The adventurers came here, the stay at homes stayed"

    That's one way of looking at it. Could be though that people who've made a success of it in their homeland tend to stay put rather than put themselves through the hardships and dangers of strange new countries


    " it may be as false as all Irish and Scots being drunks"

    No - there's a lot of truth in it :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    413. margaret howard I've given you several +s on the Syria topic [I'm an old Anti-Vietnam War Liberal]. We may agree to some extent on this. The Sasunnach had a habit of transporting radicals and criminals to America and later Australia. The adventurers came here, the stay at homes stayed. I've seen speculation on it but it may be as false as all Irish and Scots being drunks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.


    There have been recent reports in the newspaper of girls being followed in their vehicles, as well as increases in assaults, theft and violent crime

    W/ the party hosted by black fraternity which turned into a brawl w/ gunshots, when police arrived partygoers wouldn't let them help the shot victims b/c it was multiple gangs fighting

    Local people here are scared to go out

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    412. MagicKirin Lets define "fanatic" shall we? I'd say it's the no compromises, my way or the highway, no to any regulation crowd. The slave-owners acted the same way about winding down slavery. The north became more radical as a result. Santayana "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it."

    Are the TEA Partites trying to bring on a 2nd Civil War? I hope not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    David: The left is unwilling to admit that the African American community is the source of too much crime and violence

    In our college town in only the last few years we have had a massive influx of students from South side of Chicago and East St Louis due to special grants

    Just last weekend the black fraternity hosted a party which turned into a brawl in which several people got shot

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    349 msc

    "also use firearms to protect ourselves&livestock from coyotes"

    African farmers like the Maasai have to protect their livestock from more formidable predators like lions yet they don't have guns for it. Neither do they eat deer

    I am amazed by the excuses people use to explain American gun culture. Could it be just a national characteristic like aggression is to blame?

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    ref #383 The fantics are the politcians in Chicago and other murder center who don't allow people the means to defend themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    401. Johnny Kaw Get your police proper training, and get enough of them, which means spending some tax money. Sorry, Massachusetts has very good police, fire, and EMS, but we are one of the wealthiest states, and one of the most developed. It's nice being blue, not red.

    403. ShyToad That enormous loophole needs to be plugged, irresponsible sales must be penalized. Irresponsible sellers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    409. sieuarlu

    "It's for their own good whether they know it or not."

    And who decides what is 'good' for them? Big Brother?

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    331"The US is constantly interfering in other countries to the extent of even trying (and sometimes succeeding) in changing their government..."

    It's for their own good whether they know it or not.

    379 "3.6 per 100,000 for USA with population of 311,800,000
    0.04 per 100,000 for UK with population of 62,300,000)"

    So what do people in the UK die of, boredom?

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    Frankly I'm tired of the debate; if Americans truly believe God gave them guns, think that blind people should be able to have guns in their homes for defend, and as along as the deaths stay on their side of our common border... Let them have as many guns as they like.
    As for the guns being use to overthrow a tyrannical government; a) too late, b) have you ever seen an AR-15 stop a cluster bomb?

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    UK 1996 Dunblane
    Dunblane prob preventable if police hd acted on previous concerns wrt criminal


    "Det Sgt Hughes..asked his superiors to consider revoking Hamilton's firearms' licence 5yrs before killings..recommended Hamilton be prosecuted over conduct at children's camp."

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    This gorgon knot can only be untangled by US folk.

    @401.Johnny Kaw protect unarmed citizens from opportunistic criminals who can do their crime &leave freely before law enforcement arrives on the some areas >30,40,60mins
    When seconds count, the police are only minutes away!

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    strict gunlaw near place w/ v.lax law can't ctrl gunviolence

    NRA scare tactic=increase revenue not principled

    no reason not to treat guns=cars

    well trained crim bests poorly trained civ
    Lax gunlaw area near Chicago/Washngtn?


    P'haps, but doubt most crims do range time,or trained proprly- they pick up as go along?
    Civ users: mandatory training +regular range time-> less NDs


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