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By Martin Liptrot

By Martin Liptrot

A week in America | 16 February 2024

After yet another mass shooting in America, this time as people are celebrating Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl victory, Martin Liptrot discusses America's relationship with guns.

I’m sorry. This probably isn’t my best work.

I had written this week’s column about the conflicting personalities of two of the nation’s favourite games and how they’d swapped social roles. How the Super Bowl has now become the establishment’s go-to-event – politicians, movie stars, sports legends, authors, and business gurus were there.

Meanwhile at the golf – the Waste Management Tournament, dubbed the Desert Open – the police had to forcibly shut the bars and drag men and women who couldn’t stand up out of the bunkers, and get between the billionaire players and the slum dog millionaires in the crowd.

I was ready to post it.

It was, and is, a good piece but, considering what has happened this afternoon in Kansas City, Missouri – yes, Kansas City isn’t in Kansas – it would have been too flippant, especially for our US readers, and would have missed the opportunity to try and make sense of the happenings and implications of the latest horror.

America is a conundrum. It is the greatest of places for a million reasons, then something like today happens and it makes no sense. If you don’t know – there was a mass shooting.

This is the 49th mass shooting of the year already, with 74 deaths recorded.

Worth noting, these are events which the police classify as ‘mass shootings’ – it doesn’t take in to account the hundreds of gang shootings, scores being settled, or violent robberies which bloat these number considerably. Nor the massive numbers of suicide gun deaths which are America’s greatest shame.

But this one took the wind out of my sails. I’m writing this as a bit of a stream of consciousness and as the facts are slowly airing, so bear with me.

Imagine Everton won the Cup. Liverpool won the Champions League. City retained the Premier League title. The club wants to celebrate with its fans and decides to organise a Valentine’s Day parade in the afternoon and tens of thousands turn up.

I can see myself attending. The streets would be packed with ‘loved up’ fans and those out to have a bit of fun.

Kansas it is worth noting, is both a one-horse-town and a single team city – like Leeds or Newcastle or Portsmouth there are no disgruntled or bitter local rivals there, they’re all in it together.

But suddenly the carnival celebration – being aired live on TV – turns to heartache.

From nowhere gunmen – and it does seem to always be men – open fire with deadly automatic weapons – killing a DJ, critically wounding 22 more of which 9 are children. Three suspects are in custody, their motives currently unknown, but I guess madness.

It’s very easy to not only get a gun in America – there are more stringent licensing requirements to have a dog or a car – but to get a gun which is designed for frontline combat in war zones.

Automatic weapons – capable of unleashing up to a 1000-bullets a minute – can be acquired over the counter, or just as easily under the counter. In twenty seconds, in a crowd, a mad man can spray red hot lead at hundreds of innocent people.

The events unfolded on TV. ESPN, the Disney-owned sports broadcaster was there covering it live. They had provided rolling footage of the slightly shabby-looking stars of Sunday night’s game, their glam spouses, and plenty of local dignitaries looking for a moment of reflected glory. Travis Kelce – aka Mr Taylor Swift – was already out of control and behaving more boorishly than he normally does, perhaps revelling in his new-found reflected stardom.

Then, ‘bang-bang’ and the celebrations are over.

People are running for their lives, others are unaware of the unfolding tragedy, and the news reporters are trying to identify what is going on but are told to keep the cameras rolling.

As the afternoon progressed, we learned a little more about the injuries, the fatalities, and even a little about the perpetrators.

I was at work, watching the TV scenes unfold with others.

We passed comment about how awful it was. But people’s reactions were different. 

Some – perhaps immunised by the shear frequency of these events – paid only passing attention, reassured that it wasn’t anywhere near them or where people they knew lived, accepting it as just ‘news’ they were used to.

Others surprised me. They contextualized it. Only one dead.  Probably ‘gang related’. Not a terror event. Phew, the relief – it’s a manageable atrocity.

I’ve lived in the US a long time, but I have never been blasé or unmoved by the violence America is capable of. I’ve been on NY Subway trains when fatal knife fights have erupted, heard gunshots after dark in the wrong parts of town, and grieved with others at national moments of horror after sickening school shootings and the like.

I don’t think I am, or ever will be, indifferent to it all.

But then the story expanded.

In this age of camera phones and social platforms, a plethora of footage – much showing nothing of significance – was being shared. Many of the reels and threads are fronted by big balloon-faced men who are wholly unconvincing witnesses. Like those who claim to have seen a car crash unfold but in fact only turned around when they heard the impact, they presented their own inaccurate interpretation and bias-laden version of events.

These morbid montages were however gobbled up by the new media in lieu of any footage or coverage they have, sadly adding unwarranted gravitas to these false accounts about what has just transpired. Editors and producers are seemingly happy to have anything, no matter how flimsy, to pad out their broadcast or news feeds.

Now, just a few hours later, the serious news crews are there. Young reporters who had been despatched by local affiliates to gather some colour on the anticipated festivities, find themselves thrust into career defining moments as they are asked to share their insights with national news audiences, a task most aren’t quite ready for yet.

Police chiefs, hospital directors and city officials are next to share their sadness, shock, and outrage, before the politicians take the stage.

Never let a good crisis go to waste’ – ex-Obama aide Rahm Emanuel definitely said and both Winston Churchill and Nicollo Machiavelli are alleged to have uttered.

To be fair to Emanuel, he explained his meaning by adding, “and what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

Biden’s campaign team take note.

In an election which is already lacking genuine political heft and is more about which candidate is less intolerable, uninspiring, or unsuited to the top job, here might be an issue which galvanises voters – one way or another.

Once again, President Biden has announced his desire to ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

“Today’s events should move us, shock us, shame us into acting,” Biden said in a White House statement.

He called on Americans to “make your voice heard in Congress, so we finally act to ban assault weapons, to limit high-capacity magazines, strengthen background checks, keep guns out of the hands of those who have no business owning them or handling them.”

Biden’s record on gun control is mixed. In 1994, he played a significant role in passing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which included an “assault weapons” ban. This law prohibited the sale of certain semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines that could hold 10 rounds or more.

However, this ban had a sunset provision, meaning it expired after 10 years in 2004, and had some woolly language about grandfathering existing weapons on the banned list.

The provisions were undoubtedly inserted to appease and work around the enormously powerful gun lobby. They provide hundreds of millions in campaign funding to candidates who follow the Charlton Heston school of thought – “If you want to confiscate my guns, you’ll have to take them from my cold, dead hands.”

Sounds fair enough to me.

And while Biden has been consistent in his desire to ban assault weapons – is there any other kind? – he hasn’t been able to build the required consensus to make it happen.

I sympathise somewhat. During his period in the White House, the fractious nature of politics has meant we’ve been unable to balance a budget or provide support to Ukraine. Congress is completely inept and ridden by partisan division at the expense of much bigger challenges.

Finding the 60-plus votes in the senate, where the majority is in single digits is unlikely, while a Presidential executive order would likely be challenged on constitutional grounds – the right to bear arms and raise a militia to protect the security of a free state – and other such antiquated nonsense.

So, this is America. Where we will wake up tomorrow and 2 young children have lost their mother. Parents will be sat at their children’s hospital bedsides, the injured, scarred and traumatised will try to make sense of what happened in front of their eyes only 24 hours earlier.

But in every city in every state, another high-powered weapon will also be sold.

That is madness.

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Martin Liptrot

Martin Liptrot is a Public Affairs, PR and Marketing consultant working with UK, US and Global clients to try and ‘make good ideas happen’.

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