The old expression "divided by a common language" has long been used to explain the differences between Britain and America .
But how do you explain the vast differences between the two nations when it comes to curbing gun violence? This weekend I was shocked to read in the Boston Globe that an association of police chiefs in New Hampshire planned to raffle a gun a day - starting with one similar to the one that mowed down 20 children in the Newtown massacre,
This prize gun, a Ruger SR-556 semiautomatic carbine that holds 30-round magazines, a military-style assault rifle, is the first of 31 prizes scheduled to be raffled by the New Hampshire police chiefs in May . It closely resembles the weapon used to massacre the children and six adults at Newtown, Connecticut.
It has a retail value of $1,995, folding iron sights, a collapsible stock, and weighs 7.4 pounds, according to the manufacturer’s website.
The raffle is already sold out, with 1000 entrants paying $30 each for tickets .
The raffle has unleashed "a storm of criticism" against the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, the Boston Globe reported at the weekend. But even they didn't think this horror story deserved top of the page prominence.
The website of the police chiefs leads with news of the gun raffle. It says, "The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is proud to to offer 31 chances to win some of today’s most popular NH made sporting firearms." A complete list of all the firearms to be raffled off follows.
Critics of the chiefs however accused then of " tone-deaf insensitivity" while memories of the Newtown killings - just 200 miles from New Hampshire - remain fresh.
Over May, the police chiefs will give away other semiautomatic assault rifles, bolt-action hunting rifles, and semiautomatic and single-shot handguns.
The raffle is to benefit a New Hampshire law-enforcement training academy for 14- to 20-year-olds.
Republican State Representative Al Baldasaro, who helped write the state’s “stand your ground” law, which allows people who feel threatened to use force to protect themselves, defended the police chiefs.
He said, "There’s nothing wrong with what the chiefs are doing. The only ones who are saying it’s insensitive are these liberals out there who want to take away your guns. The shooting in Newtown had nothing to do with law-abiding citizens.”
John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, a gun-control group based in Newton, Massachusetts , was among those outraged by the raffle .
“It’s disgusting that any law-enforcement agency would be voluntarily giving away military-style weapons,” he told the Globe.
“This raffle giveaway should be cancelled and shame on the New Hampshire Police Chiefs Association if they don’t.”
But the chiefs are not backing down . Anne Dalton, the association’s executive director, said the raffle would proceed as planned.
In a statement, the group’s president, Police Chief Paul Donovan of Salem, New Hampshire, said, "While this raffle falls on the heels of the recent tragedy in Newtown, the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police extends their deepest sympathies to the families and first responders.
“New Hampshire Chiefs of Police feel the issues with these tragic shootings are ones that are contrary to lawful and responsible gun ownership.”
Other chiefs declined to comment.
New Hampshire does not require a licence to buy or possess a gun. But background checks will be performed as required by law when the winners pick up their firearms at an authorised dealer, according to the association website.
On the website, the chiefs association boasts of “31 chances to win some of today’s most popular New Hampshire-made sporting firearms.”
Sturm, Ruger & Co., which has a manufacturing plant in Newport, New Hampshire., and Sig Sauer, based in Exeter, New Hampshire., have provided firearms for the raffle, which will be held at Rody’s Gun Shop in Newport, New Hampshire.
A Sig Sauer handgun was one of three weapons carried by Adam Lanza, the Newtown killer, in the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14.
At the top of Sturm Ruger’s website, a banner proclaims: “Protect your rights! Gun rights are under attack. We, the silent majority, need to speak up now and make sure our voice is heard to protect our rights.”
Gun-rights activists are defending the raffle as a good cause organised by responsible law enforcement officials. Ironically in the US, police officers have been a strong voice for stricter gun control.
Before the federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, 28 New Hampshire police chiefs signed a letter in an unsuccessful effort to extend the ban.
State representative Baldasaro, in the Marines for 22 years, said gunmen had twice struck at Mr. B’s, his family-run restaurant in Somerville, Mass.
“After the second shooting, we shut it down,” Baldasaro said. “It’s not the guns, it’s the individual. With all these drug addicts and criminals, those are who we should be going after.”.
Critics of the raffle,point out that the Ruger SR-556 to be awarded on May 1 is not only similar to the Newtown weapon, but resembles the semiautomatic weapons used in the cinema shootings in Aurora, Colorado in July, and the Dec. 24 ambush in New York state that killed two firefighters.
Cathie Whittenburg, spokeswoman for the New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence said these guns were " designed so you can kill as many as people as possible in as short amount of time as possible. As horrific as the shooting in Newtown was, the gun did what it was designed to do.”
Baldasaro didn't agree that the gun’s firepower was a good reason to cancel the raffle or change its prizes. “It’s very simple,” he said. “Some law-abiding citizen is probably going to win that gun.”
Brit Piers Morgan has been one of the leading voices on CNN in the outcry after the Newtown massacre. Maybe like me he is baffled by Americans' love affair with deadly weapons. It will be interesting to see what he has to say about this mind-blowing raffle.