Sun | Jun 24, 2018

Obama's assault on assault weapons

Published:Monday | February 4, 2013 | 12:00 AM
In this photo released by the White House, President Barack Obama shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David, Maryland, on Saturday, August 4, 2012. The president is butting heads with liberal gun-rights advocates. - AP

By Garth A. Rattray

Almost every Jamaican family has someone in the United States of America. Our loved ones risk being maimed or killed by warped individuals with easy access to powerful firearms and ammunition.

In the Columbine High School massacre (April 20, 1999) - 12 students and one teacher were murdered, 21 other students and three other adults injured. In the Virginia Tech massacre (April 16, 2007) - 32 were murdered and 17 wounded.

In the Aurora, Colorado, theatre massacre (July 20, 2012) - 12 patrons were murdered and 58 injured. In the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre (December 14, 2012) - 20 children and 6 adults were murdered, and 2 people were injured.

All attacks were carried out by 'sick' individuals armed to the teeth with easily obtainable firearms and ammunition.

The Sandy Hook massacre broke the hearts of people all across the globe. It prompted President Obama to push harder than before for several gun-control proposals, but opponents want none of that. The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and its staunch retinue have a paranoid, self-serving and jaundiced view of the proposed gun-control changes. They couch their objections in the Second Amendment, which they project as immutable and untouchable.


The amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America, the 10 'Bill of Rights' (written by James Madison and ratified on December 15, 1791), were crafted during a tumultuous time in American history when individual rights were in need of protection. It was the era immediately following the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party and the War of Independence (the American Revolution).

Interestingly, between 1630 and 1825, only single-shot, smooth-bore, gunsmith-made pistols and rifles existed. They had to be loaded through the muzzle. Compare that to the readily available and popular semi-automatic AR-15 rifle (the type used in the Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings). Its 30-round magazine can be emptied in about five seconds.

The Second Amendment states, "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." There is no intent to repeal that amendment, even though modern-day America - with instant communication, efficient policing, SWAT teams, reservists, a strong and well-distributed military and several security agencies - makes a militia redundant.

Self-defence is one thing, but accumulating easily acquired assault rifles, military-type weapons, shotguns, numerous handguns, several high-capacity magazines and hundreds of warheads is ridiculously dangerous (especially in the hands of aggrieved, disgruntled, volatile and mentally unstable individuals).

The Supreme Court of the United States Heller Decision (argued March 18, 2008 - decided June 26, 2008) defended the Second Amendment, but stipulated "reasonable restrictions" to firearms. It saw no 'right' to "keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose".


President Obama is spearheading a push for: universal screening, less accessible firearms and ammunition; a ban on 157 types of assault weapons; a ban on high-capacity magazines; research on gun violence, and a beefing up of mental health.

But, some opponents claim that cars kill more people than guns (although nobody buys a car intending to kill people). Some claim that guns are needed as long as ghettos exist (a blatantly ignorant, racist and classist view of security issues).

Forty-five per cent of US homes have guns. Almost 12,000 people die from gun-related violence annually. Since the ban on assault weapons expired nine years ago, 40 per cent of all the shootings in the history of the USA have occurred. There were 15 mass shootings in 2012 alone.

A CNN/Time (telephone) poll of 814 adults nationwide revealed that 55 per cent agree with stricter gun-control laws, but 61 per cent feel that that would be futile. Obama faces a steep, uphill battle in Congress, but I hope that he prevails.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and