2007-04-30 : Made in America


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2007-04-30 : Made in America

Postby GOSA » Fri, 2007-05-04 08:52


Made in America
Gary Younge
30 April 2007 11:59

Dave Hancock talks about his .38mm Smith & Wesson as though it were $3
800 of Dolce & Gabbana. “It’s light, easy and comfortable to carry,” he
says, easing the snub-nose pistol out of his pocket and gazing at it

Hancock, who works at the Bob Moates Sports Store in Midlothian,
Virginia, loves guns. At the handgun counter, he slips out a jet-black
9mm Glock 19 -- the kind that Cho Seung-hui used to slay 32 of his
fellow students and then himself last week -- and hands it to me. It’s
heavy, and doubtless feels all the heavier for its immediate
associations. Hancock shows me how to reload the magazine. Then pulls
the trigger and watches me flinch.

The relationship between this weapon and the massacre that took place on
Virginia Tech campus 320km away is not moral but functional, he insists.
“They flew airplanes into the World Trade Centre, but nobody is saying
we should stop flying,” he says.

Hancock believes there might be a case for stronger checks on the mental
health of prospective gun owners. But, if anything, he argues, what
happened last week is an argument for more people to carry weapons, not
fewer. “If one single professor had been carrying a legal weapon, they
might have been able to stop all this,” he says.

The main problem with the obvious retort that if guns were less easily
available Cho’s insanity would probably have been less deadly is that it
is obvious. The debate between advocates of gun rights and gun control
reached a painful stalemate long ago.

Painful because, in a country where more than 30 000 people die every
year from firearms, there is a lot to talk about. Stalemate because
neither the arguments nor the balance of forces of those who make them
seem to change sufficiently to break the logjam.

“The right to bear arms” is enshrined in the Constitution. The founding
fathers intended it so that citizens could protect themselves against
state tyranny. Now gun lobbyists argue that they want them to protect
themselves from other citizens.

However, in the more violent cities in the United States there is
hostility to that view. “When they wrote the Constitution I don’t think
they really had this crazy kid in mind,” says Debbie Yorizzo, a
student-teacher at Hunter college.

In 1966, after Charles Whitman shot dead 14 people in Texas, The New
York Times wrote: “Whatever the motivation, it seems clear that the way
is made easier by the fact that guns of all sorts are readily available
to Americans of all shades of morality and mentality.” It would have
been no less prescient had they published it last Tuesday.

A Pew research poll, taken before the shootings, shows that, although
public support for greater gun control has waned over the past 10 years,
most people still back it.

The trouble is, despite everything that happened on April 16, nobody
with the power to do anything substantial is interested in having a
substantive debate about it. The shootings returned guns to the centre
of national conversation but left them on the margins of political
discussion. Before the 2000 election, the National Rifle Association
(NRA) boasted that it was so close to George W Bush that it would be
working “out of his office”. It has been pretty much true to its word.
Virginia governor Tim Kaine said last week he held “nothing but loathing
for those who take the tragedy and make it political”.

And so the murders were rendered into a purely emotional event borne
from a psychotic moment -- a subject more likely to be resolved by Oprah
or Dr Phil than by the House and the Senate.

Like hot air, the week’s coverage of the shootings expanded to fill the
space available to it. The issue of gun control was occasionally raised,
but rarely seriously discussed. Instead, they kept asking “How could
this happen?” The US’s innocence is one of its few eternally renewable
resources. Its ability to shock itself with the predictable is itself

‘Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell,” wrote Graham
Greene in The Quiet American. “Wandering the world doing no harm.” There
were few who couldn’t see this coming even if no one knew where or when.

Amid the hours of reconstruction and speculation, we heard from creative
writing professors about the tell-tale signs of psychosis in student
literature and from student counsellors about referral procedures. Some
of it was interesting. But, whatever route the interviews took, they
always ended up at the same destination -- if someone wanted to do this,
there was nothing we could do to stop them.

By last Thursday, CNN was reduced to gleaning insight from the woman who
drives the student shuttle bus and screening Cho’s rambling rants.

The videos made Cho the source of much revulsion but proved unworthy of
moral panic. Some commentators tried to emphasise his Korean birth as
somehow relevant to the slaughter. But Cho was made in the US, every bit
as much as his elder sister who had gone to Princeton. True, he was an
immigrant, who came to the country at the age of eight. But his parents
were “good” immigrants -- legal, solvent and self-employed. At home they
had been poor. Now they’d put one child through an Ivy League college
with money from their dry-cleaning business.

Back at Moates’s store, a draw for a silver Para-Ordinance Model 1911
.45 automatic was due to take place last Thursday. The 1911 is part of
the company’s new line of “gun rights” pistols, which carry the
guarantee that Moates will donate $25 to the NRA for every one sold. The
“Bloomberg Gun Give-away” was intended to cock a snook at the New York
mayor, who has issued a lawsuit against several gun stores for selling
firearms that end up being used by criminals in New York.

Moates is no stranger to lost causes. In the parking lot, two cars bear
Confederate registration plates. One says “Secede”, the other “Lee.CSA”,
honouring Robert E Lee, the general who led the South to defeat in the
civil war. Inside, on the book rack is a work entitled The Real Lincoln:
A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda and an Unnecessary War.

But when Moates refused to postpone the raffle out of respect for the
victims in Blacksburg, it looked as if his “pride” and “attitude” would
result in him shooting himself in the foot. “The draw is April 19,” he
told the New York Daily News. Last Tuesday a clerk said nothing had changed.

Suddenly, last Wednesday, Moates had a change of heart. “We didn’t want
to be insensitive to the people in Blacksburg. But we also didn’t want
the draw to take place quietly,” says Dave Hancock. “So we put it off
until May.” Within a fortnight everything will be back to normal. The
draw will take place with much fanfare. And the US will prepare its next
surprise. -- © Guardian News & Media Ltd 2007
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