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All That Gunsmoke

The television series Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas, in the 1890s and began as a radio program that CBS aired from 1952 to 1961 . . . the program’s enduring success resulted largely from the psychological drama and tense situations that were resolved with moral ambiguity rather than with a showdown at high noon.

Encyclopedia Britannica

A gun is usually acknowledged to be a weapon from which a bullet is fired, and a ‘smoking gun’ is literally one from which a bullet has emerged, causing a puff of smoke to appear at the end of the barrel. On the other hand, a smoking gun is frequently defined as “a piece of incontrovertible incriminating evidence”, and there are countless smoking guns in the United States right now : some in politics, but many in literal circumstances in which people have been killed. We are told that “as of September 24, 2019, 334 mass shootings have occurred in 2019 . . .  In these shootings, 1,347 people were injured and 377 died.” In almost every other country in the world, this would be regarded as a massive domestic problem that required decisive action, such as that taken so swiftly by New Zealand after a horrific gun attack by a terrorist in March 2019.

But not in America, where concentration is on political smoking guns, and the attention given to mass killings is bizarrely dismissive.

One of the latest smoking gun reports concerns the ongoing Trump impeachment inquiry, in which there is compelling evidence that he tried to persuade the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival, former vice-president Biden. The Economist reported that “On October 22 America’s top diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, testified to House investigators that President Donald Trump threatened to withhold $391 million in military aid unless Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, opened an investigation into the son of Joe Biden, one of Mr Trump’s potential rivals in next year’s election. It was the clearest and most detailed account to date — from a public servant whose career spans five decades and nine administrations — of Mr Trump leaning on a foreign leader to help his re-election effort.”  There have been similar statements from several other trustworthy individuals who even in the era of Trump were surprised at the squalid deceit they had witnessed. It’s been a particularly American series of gunsmoke fandangos.

***

Killing, however, was not confined to the US, and it was reported on October 10 that in Germany “A gunman in military outfit went on a rampage in the city of Halle, killing two people, with further bloodshed averted only because the attacker’s homemade firearms malfunctioned”  Footage on a livestreaming platform showed the gunman becoming increasingly frustrated as his weapons repeatedly malfunctioned. “In at least three instances the video shows the suspect pointing a gun directly at a victim only for the weapon to jam.”

At the end of his shooting frenzy he is heard saying “At least I’ve proved homemade weapons are useless” and later it was reported that the accused assailant was Stephan Balliet, aged 27, who “spent several hours giving evidence before a federal court judge.”

We are informed by German Culture that “The German system of gun control is among the most stringent in Europe. It restricts the acquisition, possession, and carrying of firearms to those with a creditable need for a weapon. It bans fully automatic weapons and severely restricts the acquisition of other types of weapons.”

On the other hand, in the United States of America any individual may own a personal weapon, as confirmed by the Supreme Court District of Columbia v. Heller decision of 2008, and soundly endorsed by President Trump in a speech to the National Rifle Association in 2017 when he declared “let me make a simple promise to every one of the freedom-loving Americans in the audience today: as your President, I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms — never, ever. Freedom is not a gift from government. Freedom is a gift from God.”  Like the votes of the NRA’s gun-loving fanatics.

But there would have been a very different outcome to the Halle shooting onslaught if all Germans had the right to keep and bear arms, and if there had been the gift of freedom for Stephan Balliet to go to a supermarket where they are for sale to all.

In a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, on August 3, 2019, 21 year-old Patrick Crusius shot dead 22 people with an assault rifle. Two of the 25 injured were still in hospital when he appeared in court on October 10.  A month after the shooting, as reported by CNN, Walmart “said it will stop selling handgun ammunition and ‘short-barrel rifle ammunition,’ such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber, that can also be used on assault-style weapons, after selling all of its current inventory [emphasis added]. Walmart will continue to sell long barrel deer rifles and shotguns and much of the ammunition for those guns. The company sells guns in about 3,900 stores.”

Walmart’s modest anti-slaughter actions after the El Paso killings prompted the National Rifle Association to berate the company and announce on September 3 that “The strongest defense of freedom has always been our free-market economy. It is shameful to see Walmart succumb to the pressure of the anti-gun elites. Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by lines at other retailers who are more supportive of America’s fundamental freedoms. The truth is Walmart’s actions today will not make us any safer. Rather than place the blame on the criminal, Walmart has chosen to victimize law-abiding Americans. Our leaders must be willing to approach the problems of crime, violence and mental health with sincerity and honesty.”

It is difficult to imagine the mental processes of whoever wrote that demented gibberish, and their lack of balance is placed in perspective by the New York Times’ report that it “examined all shootings between Memorial Day [May 27] and Labor Day [September 2] in which three or more people died, not including the gunman” and counted 26 mass gun attacks in which 126 people were killed.  The National Rifle Association cannot explain how these hideous atrocities could possibly demonstrate “fundamental freedoms” but it seems it doesn’t need to explain anything very much in order to maintain its influence over the American people, because it has the backing of countless politicians including Trump, who spoke with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association (annual salary $985,000), for half-an-hour on August 20.

Then on September 27 Mr La Pierre visited the White House where he and Trump “discussed prospective gun legislation and whether the NRA could provide support for the president as he faces impeachment and a more difficult re-election campaign.”  It is notable that so far in the 2020 presidential election cycle the NRA has donated $16,800 to Trump and over a quarter of a million dollars to other politicians and political agencies.

The moral smoking gun in America is the repulsive behavior of the National Rifle Association, an organization whose reaction to the real smoking guns that kill US citizens in horrific and ever-increasing numbers is to denigrate those who seek to control and reduce the slaughter. They are the traitors to true American values, as was demonstrated by Trump’s tweet tirade about Beto O’Rourke, a politician supporting gun control who withdrew from the list of those seeking the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 election.  Mr O’Rourke’s home town is El Paso, scene of the August Walmart slaughter, and he had proposed the buyback of assault rifles, which prompted ferocious criticism from the gun fanatics.  He wants to “end the epidemic of gun violence” but Trump called him ‘pathetic’, ‘nasty’ and a ‘poor bastard’.

All that gunsmoke will continue in America, and we must all hope that the smoking guns involving President Trump will assist in his removal before there are even more mass murders of innocent people by assault weapons that he and the National Rifle Association are so happy to see in all the stores.  But as with the Gunsmoke TV series, it looks as if there will continue to be moral ambiguity rather than a showdown at high noon.

More articles by:

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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