Gun control debate gathers little steam

Updated: 2013-09-17 23:55

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Monday morning's shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, in which 13 people, including the shooter, were killed, left two other major happenings of the day largely unnoticed as cable news networks went into overdrive to cover the rampage.

One was the long-awaited announcement by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that chemical weapons were used in Syria on Aug 21. The other was US President Barack Obama's address to the nation on the fifth anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis.

Obama delayed his speech for about an hour as he was briefed about the shooting at the military facility in the capital.

In his speech, Obama vowed to pursue "whoever carried out this cowardly act", but he did not mention gun control, as he did after the deadly shooting in December in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where a 20-year-old fatally shot 20 children and six adults.

After the incident in Sandy Hook, Obama said, "We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics." He vowed to use "whatever power this office holds" to prevent such tragedies in future.

He also promised to make gun control a central issue of his second term, and appointed Vice-President Joe Biden to lead a gun violence task force. However, both Obama and Biden were dealt a heavy blow in April when the US Senate rejected a bill seeking tougher gun control.

Survey after survey shows that US citizens are divided in their attitudes toward gun control and ownership. While more US citizens, 54 percent to 43 percent, agree that stricter gun laws would reduce the number of deaths caused by mass shootings, the public, by a comparable margin of 58 percent to 39 percent, say that stricter gun laws would make it more difficult for people to protect their homes and families, according to a Pew Center survey early this year.

The gun control fight was also mirrored at the Howard County Fairgrounds in Maryland on Sunday when people swarmed to a gun show to buy weapons before a new law takes effect.

At one booth, a boy about 10 years old was talking to customers about a dozen handguns displayed on the table. His father showed them a small revolver, which he described as his son's favorite.

Several booths were selling AR-15s, the kind of semi-automatic rifle used by 34-year-old Aaron Alexis in Monday's shooting.

One vendor told China Daily that people had flocked to the gun show because the Firearm Safety Act of 2013 will take effect on Oct 1. The tougher law adds 45 guns to a list of banned assault weapons, limits handgun magazines to 10 rounds and requires gun buyers to submit their fingerprints and obtain handgun qualification licenses.

While Obama made no mention of gun control on Monday, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein called for new gun control laws.

"When will enough be enough?" she asked in a statement. "Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life."

Nevertheless, there is little indication that the Washington Navy Yard shooting will renew another vigorous debate about gun control in the US, where civilians own an estimated 270 million to 310 million guns.