The fixation with guns is an American nightmare

I have been researching gun violence and its prevention for more than 25 years, and much as I accept Jonathan Freedland’s analysis of the deep structures, party politics and ideological delusions that sustain this gun culture (America, how long will you sacrifice your children on the altar of gun worship?, 27 May), I often feel that there’s a mismatch between problems and responses.

After all, America has three gun violence problems. In order of victim magnitude these are: gun suicides, some 60% of all shooting deaths, mainly white middle-aged men; gun homicides, as many as 18,000 victims a year, disproportionately young African-American men; and mass shootings, producing around 1% of annual gun homicide victims.

It is undoubtedly the mass shootings that punctuate, focus and drive the “gun debate”, but strategies to tackle just one of these problems are unlikely to have much purchase on the others.

A sizeable majority of mass shootings are carried out with legally owned weapons, increasingly assault rifles, yet the daily carnage on the streets of inner cities, where the overwhelming majority of America’s young people are shot and killed, is dominated by illegal handguns. The fight will inevitably be a long and hard one, and gun-control measures are certainly a major part – though not the whole – of that. But we do need well-evidenced, credible policies that address the actual issues. There is no panacea here.
Peter Squires
Professor emeritus of criminology and public policy, University of Brighton

I found Jonathan Freedland’s excellent article saddening, not just because of the horror of the latest mass shooting but also the wider demise of America’s “promise of possibility” that the awful events in Uvalde and elsewhere reflect.

Like many people of my generation, I was attracted in my teens to the US by the promise and hope of its history, politics, music, film and literature – a promise that existed even amid the turmoil of the civil rights and anti-war protests of the 1960s and 1970s. We taught American history and American studies and focused on the American dream – the belief that a society could, in Freedland’s words, “form anew, free of the past”, a dream of endless possibility. But what hope now for America in the post-Trumpian era with a militant rightwing and seemingly all-powerful gun lobby? Maybe Malcolm X was right all along: “I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”
Neil A Wynn
Emeritus professor of 20th-century American history, University of Gloucestershire

As a member of Extinction Rebellion, I think the answer to Jonathan Freedland’s appeal must be direct action by the victims, specifically parents and children. As with climate change, marching and writing to politicians about gun control has had no effect, despite widespread support by the public.

The politicians responsible for non-action (leading Republicans such as Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell) must be targeted with blockades of their homes and offices by parents and children with graphic banners; the National Rifle Association should be sued for millions of dollars for the deaths that its lobbying has led to. No doubt this is already being done or considered, and it is arrogant for non-Americans to give their advice – but I’m not making any apologies.
Tony Waterston
Newcastle upon Tyne

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