The Rise of Gun Crime in the United States

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US gun crime: death for sale

Jared Lee Loughner was suspended from college and had been in trouble with the police. And yet he could buy a gun and go on to shoot Gabrielle Giffords and kill six others. What is it with guns and America?

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Ed Pilkington, Monday 10 January 2011 22.00 GMT o Article history
Handguns for sale in a shop in Red Falls, Idaho, USA. Photograph: Elaine Thompson/AP The next time you happen to be in Arizona drinking a cool beer with some time on your hands, ask the person along the bar to describe for you the Glock 19. Likelihood is he will know what you're talking about, as gun ownership rates in Arizona are among the highest in the world. Heck, he might even be packing himself, as it's legal in the state to carry concealed weapons into bars. He might begin by telling you that the 9mm Glock 19 is the workhorse of US law enforcement. Produced outside Vienna, it is the gun of choice of the New York Police Department. Its compact steel and plastic body is 174mm long, weighs 595g and retails for about $500 (£320). Since 2004, when federal restrictions on high-powered guns were loosened, you can clip to it a high-capacity magazine loaded with up to 30 bullets. It fires like a dream, the advert says, and, compared with the old revolvers it replaced, is "significantly more powerful and much easier to shoot fast and true". It was this model of killing machine that Seung-Hui Cho deployed when he went on his rampage through Virginia Tech on 16 April 2007, massacring 32 people. It was precisely the same gun that Jared Lee Loughner branded last Saturday morning outside Safeway in Tucson, Arizona, shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords through the head and killing six others. Loughner had bought the gun on 30 November from a Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson. Which, when you think about it, was kind of odd. A month previously, he had been suspended from the local community college because of his erratic and disruptive behaviour in class and told he could only return if he passed a mental health check that confirmed he was not a danger to himself or others. By November, he had begun posting weird YouTube videos that talked of brainwashing and dream manipulation, in which he referred to himself as a political terrorist. A few years previously, he had got in trouble with the police over drugs. A few minutes tapping his name into Google would have thrown up such worrying material, but Loughner was handed the Glock 19 nonetheless, no questions asked. It's a puzzling discrepancy – that a young man who was clearly suffering mental health problems and displayed threatening behaviour should be sold a powerful semi-automatic weapon without so much as a by-your-leave. But then Arizona has recently passed a law allowing anybody to carry a concealed weapon in public, without a permit. The only stipulation is that they must be over 21 (Loughner is 22). What is it with America and guns? Why does the most advanced democracy, which prides itself on being a bastion of reason and civilisation in a brutal and ugly world, put up with this carnage in its own back yard? Why does it tolerate the sea of blood that flows from gun incidents, with about 100,000 people killed or injured every year? Why does it accept an annual murder rate by guns that is 13 times that of Germany and 44 times that of England and Wales? People tend to remember the low points, such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968. But do they know that since those two men hit the floor, more than a million people have been killed in the US from the barrel of a gun? Every time a gun massacre happens in America, the pattern seems to be the same: initial bewilderment is followed by outrage, calls are made for a renewed look at the country's almost uniquely loose gun...
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