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Friday, April 29, 2016

Bosnia and Memory / Gun Culture in America

BBC Radio 4 - From Our Own Correspondent, A Man Dies Twice

"In Višegrad, it's as if the recent past never happened at all.

At the Muslim cemetery the local authority used an angle grinder to remove the word 'genocide' from the memorial to the dead. They also want to demolish a house where more than 60 people were burned alive by Serb militiamen.

The International War Crimes judge who sentenced 2 of the massacre leaders to life in prison remarked: "In all the long, sad and wretched history of man's inhumanity to man, Pionirska Street and Bikavac fires must rank high".

But when the international community carved out a peace deal in Bosnia, the Serbs were handed Višegrad and with it the right to control memory. The town now wishes to be seen as a tourist destination...

You would think, reading the news about guns in America, that everyone over here is locked and loaded at all times.

But even though there are just about as many privately owned guns as there are Americans, most Americans do not own a gun. Not even close. The best estimates are that only about a quarter of Americans own guns. It's not surprising then: the overwhelming majority of Americans tell pollsters they favor increased regulation of guns.

For instance, if I were to go to my local gun store to buy a gun, I'd have to produce identification and wait for a background check to make sure, among other things, I do not have a criminal record. Or, I could go to a gun show and buy one from a private citizen. No background check required.

Most Americans favor background checks for all gun sales. You would think, with that kind of overwhelming public support, such changes to gun laws would be an easy matter. But then, you don't understand how important money is in making laws in America.

The largest pro-gun group here is the National Rifle Association. Forget for a moment that overwhelming majorities even of its membership favor universal background checks. The NRA leadership staunchly opposes those or any other restrictions on gun owners. And they have the money to back it up. In the last 2 years the NRA has spent nearly $30 million lobbying lawmakers and contributing to their political campaigns. The money is spent telling gun owners that the government wants to take their guns away, and it works. Lawmakers are terrified of getting on the wrong side of the NRA. They've all seen candidates who got on the wrong side of the NRA and were defeated.

To give you some comparison about how effective the gun lobby is, consider this. In 1960 in America, guns killed about 16,000 people. Traffic accidents, on the other hand, killed more than twice that many. Through the 1970s and the 1980s, traffic deaths kept rising, reaching 50,000 a year. Americans were alarmed at that vehicular carnage and, over the strenuous objection of auto makers, one of America's signature industries, tough safety standards were enacted. Airbags, stronger frames, lower speed limits and more. And it worked. Even though the population has increased, the number of traffic deaths is lower than in the 1960s. Gun deaths, meanwhile, have almost doubled.

Guns now kill more Americans than traffic accidents. But so far, regulating guns has resisted similar legislative efforts, with Republicans, who are staunch NRA allies, firmly in control of both houses of Congress, any sort of meaningful tightening of gun laws seems unlikely. It's all about money.

If America were to limit the role money plays in electing public officials, a wide array of issues with wide public support would be dealt with. Anything from climate change, to healthcare, to guns"
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