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Guns in America


Guns in America              Gerry OShea

I had a surprising encounter with an Irish woman named Maura last week. She is married and living with her husband – also Irish – in a town in Northern New Jersey. They both work in the city, she as an executive with an insurance company and he as a public high school teacher in Manhattan.

They have three children under five, two boys and a girl. Their living arrangements include paying an au pair who hails from Mexico and who fits in very well with the family. Their older son will start in their local elementary school this September.

She shared with me that her own salary is more than double her husband’s, but she added that his excellent family health coverage, generous pension arrangements and long vacations go a long way to compensate for his paltry monthly cheque. Overall, she described their situation as financially secure, enjoying a satisfactory standard of living and with nourishing roots in the New Jersey community where they live.

Then she shocked me with a statement that they are seriously contemplating returning to Ireland to raise their family there. Their sole reason relates to their unhappiness living in a country where a growing feature of life involves gunmen wielding AR-15-type weapons in malls and theatres and includes the slaughter of children in their schools and playgrounds.

She and her husband discuss a possible move every night. There is a shortage of teachers in Ireland, so they are confident that he will easily find a job. Her own prospects are more challenging. She is in touch with some of her college friends from her years attending Trinity College, Dublin, and they advise her that she could expect to find a suitable position with comparable salary after searching for a few months.

She is concerned about the high cost of a home in the environs of Dublin where they want to live, and she winces at the inevitable headaches that are part of selling their house here and transferring young children and furniture across the Atlantic.

Some friends she talked with suggested her fears were greatly exaggerated and that leaving their jobs to go to another country made little sense to them. She told me that they will decide before the end of the year, but she stressed that what she called “the stupid American gun culture” was at the heart of their discontent and the principal cause of their likely move out of New Jersey.

Maura and her husband are not alone in their fears in this regard. A recent study found that four in ten Americans believe it is at least “somewhat likely” that they’ll be the victim of a shooter in the next five years.

By the beginning of July this year, the United States had already exceeded the gun carnage inflicted last year. And the holiday weekend brought major tragedies to Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and elsewhere – twenty-two mass shootings in seventeen states that killed more than twenty Americans and injured over a hundred more.

At the same time, some of the worst mass killings in recent years were back in the news. In June, the shooter who mowed down eleven worshippers In Pittsburg’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 was sentenced to execution after a federal death-penalty trial.

 On July 7th, the murderer who ended the lives of twenty-three people in a blatantly racist attack at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 was given ninety consecutive life sentences. If stiff jail sentences correlated in any way with a solution to the mayhem, the slaughter would have eased long ago.

And on July 3rd, families of the victims of the awful Parkland, Florida, school massacre in 2019 resulting in the deaths of nineteen people were dismayed that Scot Peterson, the police deputy who failed to stop the slaughter there was tried for culpable negligence but deemed not guilty by a jury.

Their anger is very understandable but blaming the lack of courage and decisiveness on one individual begs the question as to who set up a system where killing weapons of all kinds can be accessed easily without regard to firearms training or any police assessment of purchaser maturity.

More than two-thirds of gun owners say that the primary reason for owning a firearm is self-defense – even though research by Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions shows that deaths from homicide or suicide can increase threefold when firearms are present in a home.

 The reason we have 25-times-higher gun homicide rates in America than any other high-income nation is because we have far too many gun owners and a powerful gun lobby, unknown in other advanced countries. This gun lobby has been allowed to write the country’s firearm laws that are meant to profit gunmakers and not enhance the lives of the citizenry.

The firearms industry aided by politicians from the Right fosters the idea that liberal elites are united in their determination to strip so-called ordinary citizens of their right of gun ownership. In response, they have introduced what they call Second Amendment sanctuaries, a new incarnation of this word different from the traditional meaning of a place that provides refuge from villains.

Now these sanctuaries somehow allow a town or county or indeed a state to ignore gun laws already on the books. Commenting on the legal daftness of this behavior, Senator Chris Murphy points out that “it is richly ironic for Republicans to say we shouldn’t pass new laws because we should focus on enforcing existing ones while in the same breath promising they will not enforce present restrictions.”

Current laws around the possession of weapons are very inadequate but one recent study found that more than 60% of the nation’s counties say they feel bound by sanctuary thinking and thus won’t enforce existing gun laws.

Consistent polling shows a clear majority of Americans - liberals and conservatives - want gun ownership limited to people over 21 who are trained in weapon use and who are deemed worthy of a permit by the police. AR-15-type assault weapons should only be found in a government armory. A gun license should have the same importance as a driving license.

These modest proposals, eminently sensible and suffused with popular wisdom, would surely end the weekly massacres. However, because of the clout of the National Rifle Association, any one of them, even banning the purchase of assault weapons, has the same chance of enactment in congress as Governor Chris Christie has of winning the Republican nomination for president – and Maura and her family will be heading for Dublin.

Gerry OShea blogs at


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