Culture Wars - Tearing Apart the US?
Summarise President Obama's reactions to mass shootings in the US.
Analyse the author's position on gun ownership and gun control in the US.
Comment / Creative Writing (Choose one.)
Comment on the extent to which controvery over the issue of gun control is characteristic of the US culture wars. Refer to both this article and your coursework in your answer.
‘Thoughts and prayers are not enough’: Why the US has so many mass shootings
Imagine you are a German high school student spending a year in an American family in Oregon. You live with a welcoming host family, who are keen hunters and fishermen. Since you have read the article in The Guardian
and regularly follow the news, you cannot understand why gun ownerhsip is not as restricted as it is in Germany. That is why you ask your host father about his opinion on guns and gun control in the US.
Write the conversation between you and your host father.
There was a palpable weariness in President Obama’s official response on
Thursday to the gun carnage at Umpqua community college in Oregon. He
leaned repeatedly on the word “another” – another mass shooting, another
community stunned with grief, more American families “whose lives have
been changed forever.”
But underneath the tired exterior of a president who has had to deliver
essentially the same speech nine times over the past six years, there was also
an evident seething anger. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he
said. “It does not capture the heartache and grief we should feel, and it does
nothing to prevent this carnage being repeated somewhere else in America.”
That Obama had rediscovered his anger over gun violence was news in
itself, because for most of the past
three years it has been lacking. He
demonstrated the same passion after the 2012 slaying in Connecticut of 20
five-year-old children and six of their adult carers in Newtown. He said
bullishly then: “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end.
And to end them, we must change.”
At that time, Obama was not the only person in the US who was convinced
that the mowing down of 20 young children in their classrooms with a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle would force the country to finally
serious about addressing the epidemic of gun violence.
But since Newtown there have been 994 mass shootings in the US and,
according to the website shootingtracker.com, almost 300 this year alone.
Yet when Obama invested considerable amounts of his second-term political
capital trying to fix the problem in the wake of Newtown, he quickly
foundered on the rock of National Rifle Association
with the political expediency – some would say cowardice – of Congress. A proposal to begin closing some of the most glaring loopholes in the
country’s exceptionally lax gun laws collapsed after moderate Republicans
and four Democratic senators caved to pressure from the gun lobby.
Despairing of any action from Congress, Obama issued 23 executive orders
under his own presidential powers that fine-tuned some regulatory areas
without ever truly tackling the problem.
But the ongoing stream of mass shootings has been testimony to the
inefficacy of those measures. With sickening regularity, Obama has been
forced to stand in front of the White House podium and give yet another
rendition of his post-tragedy address, like a gun rampage edition of
Groundhog Day. Each time he has made the speech, his words have come
across as a little more limp, a little more pro forma – “routine” was how he
himself put it on Thursday.
If the president has felt defeated over guns that is perhaps understandable. In
the wake of Newtown, and the failure to secure meaningful legislative
change in its aftermath, America’s gun disease has looked insurmountable.
But perhaps the most powerful way to express the disaster is the most
simple. Every day in America, 297
people are shot with firearms and 89
people die. That’s an annual death toll at the end of a gun of 32,000 people.
In his address on Thursday, Obama invited the US media to compare the
annual level of gun fatalities to the number of victims of terrorism on
domestic soil, and then compare the trillions of dollars invested in counter-
terrorism with the almost total legislative inaction over firearms.
But a comparison with the response to last year’s Ebola crisis might be even more instructive. […]
If gun violence were treated with the same efforts as Ebola, the mission to
eradicate it would begin with nationwide research into the nature and scale
of the crisis. Yet even that proves to be impossible, because the NRA has
campaigned over many years to prevent federal agencies from compiling
records on firearms and their movements – painting such an effort in
apocalyptic terms as an attempt by the federal government
Americans of their Second Amendment rights.
Over the past 35 years, Congress, under NRA lobbying, has consistently
prevented the creation of a centralized national database of gun owners and
their weapons. That’s like forbidding the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention from identifying and logging incidents of Ebola infection. […]
Almost nine out of every 10 Americans – Republican supporters nearly as
much as Democrats – agree in
the Pew opinion polls with the idea of
expanding federal background checks to all gun sales.
Almost eight out of 10
want to see tighter laws over mentally-ill people acquiring firearms.
The disparity between such overwhelming public approval for modest gun
control reforms and the almost total stasis gripping Congress on the issue
lies at the core of America’s modern gun malaise. It raises the possibility,
however faint, of change; and it tells Obama that there might be a purpose
after all for that anger
bubbling beneath the surface.
Pilkington, Ed. ‘Thoughts and prayers are not enough’: Why the US has so many mass shootings. The Guardian (3 October
 carers: here: primary school teachers
 shootingtracker.com: a website of anti-gun activists which lists all mass shootings in the US
 in the wake of Newtown: after the mass shooting at Newtown primary school
 foundered on the rock: here: failed to achieve his political goals because
 National Rifle Association (NRA): an American organization which advocates gun rights
 expediency: German: Berechnung, Kalkül, Opportunismus
 executive order: a presidential decree (comparable to a law) which does not need congressional approval
 has been testimony to: here: has publicly proved
 Groundhog Day: a movie in which the protagonist finds himself in a time loop repeating the same day over and over again
 Second Amendment: a legal change made to the US Constitution in 1791 which guarantees the right to bear arms
 Centers for Disease Control an Prevention: the leading national public health institutes of the US
 Pew: a research center which provides data on social and political issues
 stasis: immobility, paralysis, standstill