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Newtown shooting renews focus on gun control

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora and now Newtown - again and again, gruesome shootings have rocked the US. Consternation is widespread, but change to American gun laws is not expected soon.

US President Barack Obama had to fight back tears on Friday afternoon (14.12.2012) as he appeared before the press at the White House. "We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years," he said, wiping tears from his red eyes. "And each time I learn the news I react not as a president, but as anybody else would - as a parent." The nation is in a state of shock.

Police have described the scene at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in the small town of Newtown, Connecticut, as the worst they've ever seen. TV reporters had to struggle to maintain their composure on air. Parents across the country cannot believe that once again, a school has been the scene of a terrible tragedy: at least 28 dead, including 20 children, the sad result of mass shooting in which the alleged gunman also killed himself.

President Barack Obama wipes tears as he makes a statement (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

"We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years"

Astronaut Mark Kelly - husband of the former Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords who was severely injured in early 2011 in an assassination attempt in Tucson, Arizona, in which six people were killed - said on Facebook that he and his wife would pray for the victims and survivors.

"As we mourn, we must sound a call for our leaders to stand up and do what is right," he wrote. "This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve leaders who have the courage to participate in a meaningful discussion about our gun laws - and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America. This can no longer wait."

Bad marks for Obama            

But whether Kelly is able to find anyone willing to respond to his comments is questionable. In his brief address, Obama in an address on Saturday made no mention of US gun laws, though he did say, "We have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this. Regardless of the politics."

On Friday, the president's press secretary, Jay Carney, said it was not the day to discuss the usual Washington policy debates.

In March 2011, two months after the attack on Giffords, Obama wrote in a commentary in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper that a way must be found to "make the United States of America a safer, stronger place." Since then, however, nothing has happened. And even in his commentary, Obama limited himself to the better implementation of existing laws, rather than introducing new, stricter laws nationwide.

Under Obama's presidency, gun laws have even been relaxed: it is now permissible to carry weapons in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates stricter gun laws across the country, gave Obama a failing grade of F in 2009.

Among other failures, the campaign accused Obama of not closing the loophole that allows weapons to change hands at gun shows without background checks. This background check is also not required when a weapon changes hands privately within state boundaries. And the restriction on the ownership of semi-automatic weapons, which expired in 2004, has also not been renewed.

A hand hovers over a selection of guns. Foto: Larry W. Smith dpa

Change to US gun laws is not expected any time soon

Gun ownership 'a fundamental right'

The right to private gun ownership is enshrined in the US Constitution. The Second Amendment on the fundamental rights of every American citizen reads: "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."

Americans make good use of their right. According to a Gallup poll in October 2011, 47 percent of all American households own a gun - the highest rate since 1993.

There are two possible reasons for this statistic. Either there has been an actual increase in the number of Americans possessing a weapon - in 2011, the FBI did note an increase in requests for background checks for weapons purchases - or, gun owners simply have fewer problems openly admitting to owning firearms. Incidentally, the increase in gun ownership is a bipartisan phenomenon: among Democrats, gun ownership increased in 2011 from 32 to 40 percent compared to 2010, an even greater increase than among Republicans (52 to 55 percent).

No legislative changes in sight

A young boy is comforted outside Sandy Hook Elementary School REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin

The Newtown shooting is the latest in a series of mass killings this year

The increase in gun ownership can certainly not be linked to the crime rate in the US, as the number of violent crimes has been declining. In 2010, there were fewer murders, rapes and robberies than in 2009, though firearms did play a prominent role in the crimes that did occur. Nearly 70 percent of all murders and 40 percent of all robberies were carried out with weapons.

It's the mass shootings that have most frightened the nation: April 20, 1999, Columbine High School, 13 dead; April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech University, 32 dead; November 5, 2009, Fort Hood, 13 dead; July 20, 2012, Aurora, 12 dead.

But even after such massacres, the gun lobby, led by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), has continued to stand behind the Second Amendment and rejected legislative change. On the evening of the massacre in Newtown, the NRA reaction on both Twitter and its website was the same: silence.

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