We will never know what demons haunted Adam Lanza’s mind when he walked into his old school in Newtown and killed 20 children and six adults — among them his mother. But we do know that he killed with the guns he cradled in his hands. Lanza’s murderous spree, preceded by the slaughter at a gurdwara in Wisconsin on August 5, and the movie theatre massacre in Colorado on July 20, are part of a larger epidemic of gun violence in the United States. Ever since 1982, as a careful mapping exercise by Mother Jones shows, there have been at least 62 mass murders — defined as acts that claimed four or more victims — carried out with firearms. Three-quarters of the 142 guns used by the killers, as in Lanza’s case, were legally obtained. Firearms violence in parts of the U.S. is now more lethal, in population-adjusted terms, than in many theatres of insurgent violence. Harvard University’s Injury Control Research Centre has underlined the stark link between firearms proliferation and homicide, showing that both in the U.S. and in other industrialised countries, high gun-ownership levels are linked to high rates of homicide. It takes no great deductive genius to understand the link: a violent individual with a gun will be more able to kill, and can kill more people, than a violent individual without a gun. Elsewhere in the world, tighter gun laws have been shown to save lives: Israel, for example, has seen a sharp decline in suicides after soldiers were prevented from taking their weapons home on leave. Lanza might have been crazed, but his madness would have posed no risk to society had it not been for a liberal gun-ownership regime.
Yet, the U.S. refuses to act — a prisoner to the greed of its gun manufacturers, the wilful ideological misreading of the constitutional right to bear arms, and a popular culture that has turned firearms ownership into fetish. Since 2009, the pro-gun National Rifle Association has pushed 99 separate pieces of legislation making gun ownership easier; eight States, incredibly, allow them to be carried in bars. Newtown itself, the New York Times has reported, resisted modest gun-control efforts after complaints against unlicensed firing-ranges. America’s firearms addiction poses a risk to others. Guns legally manufactured and sold in the U.S. — ranging from 9mm handguns, available in India only to police, to .50-caliber sniper rifles designed to punch through armour — have flooded into Mexico, where more than 30,000 people are estimated to have died in mafia violence since 2005. Nine out of 10 illegal weapons in Mexico come from the U.S. For the good of the region, and his own people, President Barack Obama must take the initiative to end the madness.