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Gun laws still holstered after Navy Yard rampage

Washington navy yard blog
Families of children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary school marked  the 9 month anniversary of the shooting in Washington this week as gun reform activists renewed their call for tightened gun laws. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Twelve people were dead in a “secure” military facility. A gunman –  maybe two or three gunmen – were at large.

The day had not started well.

It was Monday, and I was setting out for the U.S.  Capital just north of my hotel. But a couple of kilometres south, in Washington’s Navy Yard, all hell had broken loose.


Neck and neck with the Fort Hood rampage -- in which an army psychiatrist (how crazy is that?) killed 13 people and wounded 30 others, under the influence of a radical Islamic cleric – this mass murder was described as the worst to take place on a military base.

By early afternoon it was clear that the Navy Yard gunman had also worked alone, cutting down innocent people after blasting his way through the building with a shotgun and apparently snatching a handgun from one of his victims.

Blocks away In the quiet confines of the massive, neo-classical Capital building, guards, staffers and congressmen shook their heads in dismay: “this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Washington.”

But by 5 pm, guns had followed me to the Capital. My interviews were abruptly ended.

A battalion of heavily-armed, black-clad security officers cordoned off the building and put it under lockdown “for safety reasons.” Cell phones squealed and politicians, workers and tourists were herded from the building.

Meanwhile, the media buzz was getting louder. The now-dead gunman’s personality, family and relationships were dissected in all available detail. Security at the Navy Yard was raked over the media coals.

But astonishingly little was said about the lethal elephant in the room – America’s (lack of) gun laws. Only a handful of politicians joined with gun control advocates in calling for tighter regulations.

Turning a conveniently deaf ear to the endlessly replayed clips of survivors describing the terrifying volleys of bullets, congressmen gave a brief nod to the “tragic” victims and their families, and went on with business as usual.

What could they say?  These, after all, were the same politicians who voted against the mildest gun restrictions while families whose children had been slaughtered in a Newtown Conn. school  last December watched from the gallery in disbelief.  

Now, in an extraordinary example of spin dexterity, the hyperactive gun lobby outdrew anyone who dared to question their more-is-better philosophy: “gun free zones” are to blame for mass murders because they encourage killers to run riot without opposition.  A contention that was shot down by numerous fact-checkers. But no matter.

“If 20 slain first-graders didn’t move Congress, the killing of a dozen adults – a depressingly ordinary event in this violence-numb nation – wasn’t about to change the equation,” lamented Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.

As I trudged back to my hotel, passing a busy nearby metro station, the traffic light turned red. Next to me were three young men probably on the sunny side of 20, hunched in their hoodies, making plans oblivious of passers-by.

“So, did you get the gun?” asked one.
“Yeah, I got it.”
“Where did you get it this time?”

I would never hear the answer because the light changed, and they walked on. But nothing else in the city, or the country, had changed.

Maybe next week I’d hear breathless TV reports analyzing their childhoods, their report cards, their girlfriends. And Congress would pause for a nanosecond to offer “thoughts and prayers” for their victims.

“The issue, for the foreseeable future, is settled,” Milbank pronounced grimly. “Gun control is dead.”

Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights in the former Soviet Union, Middle East and the U.S. She collaborated on the film Devil’s Bargain, on the international gun trade, with director Shelley Saywell.






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