THE world is asking who could have planted explosive devices in the crowds watching a sporting event. Boston’s marathon will be forever remembered for more than athletic prowess.
But the significant long-term debate this week across the Atlantic will be on gun control. The horrific Sandy Hook massacre last November saw 20 children aged six and seven and six adults lose their lives to a crazed gunman.
President Barack Obama was demonstrably moved and affected by the tragedy. So, his presidential legacy may be defined by a landmark change on gun control. Obama is taking on the most powerful lobby in American politics. It is a constitutional right to bear arms in the US. But the assault weapons of today are a far reach from the pistols used in 1789, when Congress passed the second amendment to the US constitution.
No matter. The American gun lobby in full cry is something to behold. The National Rifle Association contributes to many politicians’ re-election campaigns to ensure no restrictions on gun control and has had its way for many years. Bill Clinton was the last president to try and ban automatic weapons and failed.
But Obama senses a moment. The Connecticut shooting was so awful that pressure on Washington lawmakers is now intense. Last week, the president met Sandy Hook families who lost children and then flew them in Air Force 1 to Washington DC. These parents then met lawmakers on Capitol Hill. They asked for mandatory background checks on anyone buying a gun and restrictions on certain types of weapons. By any standards, the requests were reasonable. This was not a request for an outright ban on guns.
This week Congress will vote. Most divisions split down party lines. So, making law is hard going. That is why Obama brought the parents of Sandy Hook to Washington. Legislators are more likely to listen to their pleas than the president’s own advocacy.
In the UK, gun control is, thankfully, not the argument. Laws on who can hold a gun licence and for what reason are tough. The Dunblane murders saw to that. Now the Scottish Government is consulting on licensing airguns. This follows the tragic death of Andrew Morton, two, who was hit by an air gun pellet in Glasgow in 2005. There were 514 firearm offences in Scotland during 2011-12. Of these, 195 involved an air weapon. The SNP’s parliamentary majority means that licensing will happen, but what will it achieve?
On farms, pest control and teaching the safe handling of weapons is necessary. But owning an airgun in a city is hard to understand. Licensing should stop drug addicts having an airgun. But licensing should not stop country kids growing up on farms being taught how to handle an airgun safely. Fortunately, however, this debate in Scotland is a million miles away from gun control 3,000 miles to our west.
• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland