It is a sobering fact that it was fifty years ago this month that US President Lyndon B Johnson first called for urgent action to introduce strict gun control laws.
His plea followed the shooting of 42-year-old, Senator Robert F Kennedy, who was fatally gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel, on June 5th 1968, shortly after winning the California presidential primaries.
A front-page report in the South China Morning Post dated June 7th 1968, stated that President Johnson wanted to “bring the insane traffic in guns to a halt “and to slow down the violence and spare many innocent lives. In an emotion charged TV address, the President ordered a special gun crime commission to investigate “why we inflict such suffering on ourselves.”
Five decades later, the suffering continues.
According to the website www.gunviolencearchive.org there were 61,707 violent firearms incidents in the USA last year including 15,619 deaths. 735 of those deaths were of children aged 11 years old or younger and 2,332 were aged 12-18 years. Three times more children were killed by guns in peacetime America in 2017 than UNICEF estimate were killed in the Syrian civil war, (900) over the same period.
The statistics for 2018 are even more chilling. More than 28,000 violent gun incidents to May 31st including 5,870 deaths. This year, guns have already claimed the lives of 258 young children and more than 1000 teenagers many of whom were slaughtered in the 23 mass shootings at schools across the USA. All the above figures exclude the approximately 22,000 suicides by firearm, recorded every year in America.
The scale of the problem begs the question how can it have been allowed to fester and grow over the course of five decades in a representative liberal democracy?
The 1968 SCMP report went on to say that legal progress on gun regulation was bottled up in Congress due to the objections of the powerful pro-gun lobby. Some four in five Americans canvassed in a telephone poll shortly after Kennedy’s death, strongly supported greater gun control at a local and federal level but nothing significant has changed since.
Since 1968, thousands of American children have died and families have been traumatised by futile tragedies they can never hope to recover from. Was this mass suffering necessary, just so a few corporations might make a few extra dollars or bigots and bullies could retain the freedom to brandish deadly military grade assault weapons?
It’s a uniquely American madness and even a populist administration like Mr Trump’s seems paralysed when it comes to challenging the most powerful of vested interests. Of course, the USA is not the only nation with an increasingly dysfunctional and monetarised democratic process.
There is very little in the way of democracy in China of course, but also an almost complete absence of gun crime and mass shootings. The only super powerful vested interest in China is the ruling Communist Party (CCP) and its primary objective remains the preservation of its political legitimacy. This means both suppressing dissent (in Hong Kong, Xinjiang province and elsewhere) while delivering improved economic, environmental and social well-being for loyal Chinese citizens.
History demonstrates that totalitarianism usually ends in tears and democracy has proven to be the least bad form of government. If it’s blatantly high-jacked by powerful elites acting contrary to the public interest though, it risks being increasingly devalued while the stock of the Chinese model of government might start to rise.