Navy Yard shooting and U.S. gun culture

Obama can't pass gun safety measures
Obama can’t pass gun safety measures

The recent shooting death of 13 Americans at the Navy Yard military centre in Washington D.C. is a tragic but commonplace occurrence. Mother Jones magazine says that there have now been five mass shootings in the U.S. this year, with more than 40 people injured and killed. In 2011, there were 11,000 gun-related homicides in the country. It begs the question: is there no way to prevent Americans from killing one another with firearms? Writing in The Walrus magazine, American writer Chris Hedges says, “Violence, at home and abroad, has been a constant in America. The gun culture Canadians and Europeans find hard to fathom is its natural expression.” So is he right?

Sadly, the ritual is familiar. There is a jarring media announcement about a mass shooting. Police provide forensic details, and public officials offer condolences and prayers. Then the anguished funerals occur, such as those in Newtown, Conn. after 20 young children and seven adults died in a horrific killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But nothing really changes as a result.

The perpetrators often show signs of mental illness, as did Aaron Alexis at the Navy Yard. But why do Alexis and others have such easy access to assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns?  Following the shooting deaths at Sandy Hook, one American politician asked why and how weapons used to kill on the battlefield are so easily available to U.S. consumers.

Granted, the number of gun-related homicides has declined in recent years, yet the U.S. rate is still about six times more than that of Canada and 30 times more than that of the U.K.

After the horror in Newton, U.S. President Barack Obama finally found his courage. “We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he told the press. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” Obama also appointed U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden to lead a task force to make recommendations. The most likely first step would be to resume a ban on assault weapons with high-capacity magazines.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is lobby central for the $11.7 billion gun industry. Even after the carnage at Sandy Hook, the NRA came out swinging at Obama and anyone else supporting stronger gun safety laws. Americans already own an estimated 300 million guns, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, the leading source of international information about firearms. Nevertheless, the NRA and a good number of politicians actually claim that the country would be safer if more people carried them.

Obama says that 80 to 90 per cent of people agree with him, and yet he still cannot get legislation for stricter gun safety laws enacted. Perhaps, as economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has put it, vested interests have captured the legislative process, repeatedly frustrating the desires of ordinary Americans.

This is unpleasant to contemplate, but it’s a less disturbing conclusion than that of Chris Hedges – that Americans, themselves, have a persistent and savage addiction to firearms.

This article appeared on the United Church Observer blog on September 26.

Gabrielle Giffords confronts NRA on guns

Gabrielle Giffords confronts                   NRA on guns

Has the time finally arrived, after the unspeakable shooting rampage in December 2012 that killed 20 children and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, when the United States will finally take action to prevent thousands of its citizens from being gunned down every year? Two years ago Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head during a political event in a mall parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. She survived but six people were killed. Giffords has had to retire from politics but has made a difficult and courageous recovery. “Since that terrible day,” Giffords writes on her website, “America has seen 11 more mass shootings – but no response from Congress to prevent gun violence.”

Recently, Giffords met with town and school officials in Newtown before visiting with victims’ families from the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Giffords  has chosen to become involved in a campaign for the stricter regulation of guns in the U.S. and has just launched an organization called Americans for Responsible Solutions.

There are 33,000 guns deaths a year in the U.S. and 12,000 of those are murders. Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin, quoting American sources, writes that “more Americans die from gun-related homicides and suicides in the space of half a year than have died in the past quarter century of terrorist attacks, as well as the Afghan and Iraq wars combined.” Continue reading Gabrielle Giffords confronts NRA on guns

U.S. Catholic bishops fight Obama’s Affordable Care Act

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act for health reform is constitutional but the country’s Catholic bishops remain staunchly opposed. When the president signed the ACA into law in 2010, the bishops claimed that it would force insurers to pay clients who received abortions and birth control services and advice. The president moved to assure the bishops that public money would not be used to provide for abortions, but that still left contraception. The president also made an exception there which, he says would exempt the employees of churches. The bishops say that doesn’t go far enough, and they want the exemption to apply to employees in all Catholic institutions, including hospitals and schools. In short, the bishops are prepared to scuttle health care reform for 300 million Americans because of its limited provision for contraception as an insured service. Continue reading U.S. Catholic bishops fight Obama’s Affordable Care Act

Netanyahu, Harper threaten Iran

Douglas Roche and Ernie Regehr

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Ottawa recently promoting a pre-emptive military attack upon Iran. He visited with his friend and close ally Stephen Harper prior to going to Washington in an attempt to pressure President Obama into supporting his doomsday scenario. Contenders for the Republican nomination were only too happy to beat the same war drum. In Canada, Mr. Harper earlier had obligingly gone out of his way to tell journalists that Iran was the largest single threat to the world’s future and security. Mr. Harper said he had “watched and listened to what the leadership in the Iran regime says, and it frightens me.” Our bold warrior would do well to heed the words and actions of Douglas Roche, Murray Thomson and Ernie Regehr. I’ll get back to their plan in a minute. They are wiser by far than our intemperate leaders. Continue reading Netanyahu, Harper threaten Iran

John Baird talks through his hat on Israel

Canada’s foreign affairs minister was talking through his hat recently in Israel. John Baird was on a state visit and repeated at every opportunity that, “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.” Then he would recount his story about how, as a young Parliamentary assistant working in the office of the Conservative foreign affairs minister in the 1990s, he could not stay quiet during the daily briefings about Israel. “I took a pad of paper and drew a white hat on one side and a black hat on the other. Under the white hat, I wrote ‘Israel’ and under the black, ‘Hezbollah.’” This recreated story, like much of what Minister Baird says, smacks of theatre but lacks the ring of authenticity.  But obviously he believes it will play well back at home, where he hopes that the Harper government will be able to rewrite the traditional playbook on Canada’s role as an honest broker in Middle East diplomacy. Continue reading John Baird talks through his hat on Israel

Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson and the gun culture

By Dennis Gruending

Rep. Gabrielle GiffordsOn January 8th a young man Jared Lee Loughner opened fire with a Glock 19 handgun during a political event held in the parking lot of a Tucson, Arizona mall. He killed six people and wounded 14, including Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He shot her in the head. She is being treated for a serious brain injury and is fortunate to be alive. The debate following this tragic event has focused on the “heroes” who attempted to disarm Loughner; on whether he is mentally ill; and whether the increasingly toxic language being used in American political debate might have prompted his actions. Hardly anyone, it seems, is having second thoughts about the fact that almost anyone in the U.S. can buy and carry a gun. President Barrack Obama studiously avoided that point in his otherwise eloquent speech at a memorial event in Tucson.

Far from having doubts about the disastrous effects of the nation’s gun laws, or lack of them, there were calls in the wake of the shootings to make it even easier for people to carry concealed firearms. Arizona state representative Jack Harper was quoted as saying, “When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim.” This implies that someone at the shooting scene who was armed would have shot Jared Lee Loughner before he killed and wounded others.

Continue reading Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson and the gun culture

Gideon Levy says Israel demonizes Palestinians to justify occupation

By Dennis Gruending

Gideon LevyGideon Levy was once an army recruit and an aide to former Prime Minister Shimon Peres but he is now a veteran journalist who writes for Haaretz, Israeli’s oldest daily newspaper. He said that he feels compelled to tell his fellow Israelis a story they don’t like to hear about their country’s brutal occupation in the occupied territories of the West Bank and in Gaza. “I was brought up as a typical Israeli,” he says, “but in the late 1980s I started to travel to a place a half hour from my home, a trip that most Israelis never make. I started to go into the occupied territories, our own dark backyard.”

Levy spoke recently in an Ottawa university auditorium while on a seven-city Canadian tour to promote his most recent book, The Punishment of Gaza. A group called Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East sponsored the event. Levy said he was surprised that about 300 people attended his talk. “In Tel Aviv not this many people would show up to hear me,” he said.

What follows here are quotes from Levy’s half hour address, which he delivered entirely without notes:
Continue reading Gideon Levy says Israel demonizes Palestinians to justify occupation