For a body of people with manifestly indefensible views, the US gun fraternity continues to enjoy a deferential hearing in Britain, at least on the regular occasions when its principles result in a massacre. The routine attrition, of a mass murder (that is, four or more people) a day, is now so unremarkable, such an entirely expected aspect of American culture, that it can no more warrant sustained foreign coverage than does the violence that afflicts civilians in, say, day-to-day Afghanistan or the lashings allegedly critical to a harmonious Saudi Arabia.
But, as with those countries, when the loss of life in America is big enough to shock, the gun-averse world pauses. In the case of the US, however, our news organisations go further and invite those who facilitate the savagery – firearms enthusiasts – to put the case for more. If this approach ever catches on, we might yet hear, when a car bomb goes off in a crowded market or the Saudis complete a mass execution, impassioned justifications from the implicated terrorists, politicians or clerics. A supporter of the Taliban, or advocate of cutting off adolescents’ heads, would be invited to remind us that a lot more people are killed by unstable fridges and that we should respect, in any case, that such bloodshed necessarily proceeds from his country’s founding principles.
Following the Las Vegas shooting, Mark Walters, of Armed American Radio, a station serving the indigenous death cult, was duly heard on the BBC, making light of the event, although he was disgusted by the fuss over something so predictable. Actually, Walters remarked, he foresaw another big killing pretty soon: “It’s more than likely being planned by some psychopathic lunatic right now,” he assured the Today programme. Which is pretty thoughtless of the psychopathic lunatic. “I predict,” Walters said, “that when that happens we will see the immediate calls from the Democrat left – screaming politics, politicising and dancing in the blood of the victims before the bodies are even taken to a morgue – for more gun control.”
Perhaps some perverse interpretation of Ofcom’s balance, as applied to our special relationship, explains why, after the Las Vegas massacre, heartbreaking interviews with survivors and with campaigners for gun control who have lost children in shootings alternated with contributions from gun apologists, turning sense on its head. No, these brutes insisted, nothing had gone wrong. It was as if someone had come on air the morning after the Grenfell disaster and said it’s a fundamental right to save on building materials, stop dancing in the ashes.
Bereaved mothers, including a woman whose young son and his boyfriend were killed in the Orlando nightclub shooting, were informed that they’re nothing special: “Human beings have been killing each other since the dawn of time.” Moreover, the cultists repeated, presumably since this inversion works so well at home, it’s opponents of guns – like her – who will have the blood of innocents on their hands, if atrocities lead to restrictions on sale.
“You have to understand that guns save lives, guns prevent crime,” Channel 4’s go-to AAR celebrity, Neil McCabe, informed Krishnan Guru-Murthy, deploying one of the lobby’s favourite fictions, “and you’re asking Americans to, what, to disarm themselves because of an incident in Las Vegas?”
Addressing their domestic audience, after these and other similarly undemanding encounters, Walters advised colleagues, in a think piece, “Blah blah blah… more gun control”, on how best to browbeat the naive – or maybe simply stunned – British interviewer. “Now is the time to extract the truth from these crybaby’s [sic], that what they truly seek is outright banning and confiscation of your firearms”.
Then again, media crybabies are probably aware of the futility of these occasions. Men previously unmoved by the murder of tiny children at Sandy Hook, then of the young people out dancing in Orlando, are happily re-advertising, not unlike supporters of the Taliban and Isis – and evincing levels of irrationality that surely echo theirs – their proud withdrawal from civilised norms. Ask a National Rifle Association supporter to give up his semi-automatic? Just to save lives? When – another firearms argument goes – wicked owners could just as easily kill their families, or 60 innocent strangers, with trucks? Do we want to ban trucks?
It’s pointless, as well as insulting to the victims, to keep giving their protestations an attentive hearing. You might as well ask her assailant why it was OK to shoot Malala in the head, or draw out human traffickers, or interview Qatar’s stadium builders on the merits of bonded labour: whatever the answer, it is of strictly anthropological interest.
In terms of respectability, admittedly, the US gun lobby has the advantage over many rival specialists in human suffering, of presidential patronage, having paid for this in cash. Some vestigial moral authority adheres to that office, thanks to Donald Trump’s predecessor, and there’s little doubt, from his tweets, that the current president senses the world’s expectations. Britain has often benefited from his guidance, most memorably and disreputably, a few hours after Islamist terrorists murdered civilians at London Bridge. “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack”, he tweeted, “and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’”
Whatever the president tweeted at himself, after a mass murder perpetrated by a white American male using his legally acquired arsenal, his public response, for civilians alarmed by the US epidemic of gun violence, was to defer action, that lawmakers will discuss the issue “as time goes by”. Gun users cheerfully, no doubt correctly, translate this as “our guns are safe”.
Although, unlike his efforts on behalf of global environmental and nuclear catastrophe, Trump’s alliance with the NRA endangers principally his compatriots, this staggering acceptance of the latest homegrown massacre could be what finally – if it cannot guarantee pariah status – shreds US claims to global leadership. A country that accepts 93 firearms deaths a day, on a wayward reading of an 18th-century statute, is not obviously better placed than the ostracised Aung San Suu Kyi to lecture on human rights or, as Trump at the UN, on global security. He fretted about “rogue regimes” that even threaten “their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity”. Idiots. Don’t they know over-the-counter semi-automatics will do the job perfectly well?
True, Britain is hardly well supplied, these days, with moral high ground, what with our public demonstrations of xenophobia and Etonian-inflicted self-harm. In fact, since the dual calamities of Brexit and Trump, there has been a certain rivalry between resident crybabies of the respective nations over which is more deserving of international contempt. The nation that put the orange narcissist temporarily in charge or, as some of us insist, the nation staggering blindly towards the clifftop, with an unprincipled racist for foreign secretary?
Whichever now has the lead in self-inflicted pariahdom, Britain surely has enough unspeakable fantasists of its own, without inviting US contributions, presidential and otherwise.