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article imageAmerica's passion for guns intact as shooting toll rises

By Sebastien Blanc (AFP)     Feb 28, 2016 in World

A rifle as new state symbol. A bill that lets young children use handguns under supervision. As mass shootings shatter lives, the fascination with firearms among many Americans shows little sign of fading.

Over the past week, two gunmen killed at least nine people in unrelated rampages in Michigan and Kansas.

Add to that the death in Indiana of a father who was accidentally shot by his six-year-old son who found a loaded revolver lying around and pulled the trigger.

President Barack Obama -- who offers his condolences to families of loved ones lost after each mass shooting -- has decried the "routine" nature of reporting about and responding to such tragedies.

But faced with a Republican-controlled Congress unwilling to move forward on the matter, Obama -- who made fighting gun violence his chief resolution for 2016 -- is left with his wheels spinning.

In January, he shed tears as he announced limited measures to tackle the rampant violence that kills around 30,000 Americans each year and called on citizens to punish lawmakers who oppose more meaningful reforms.

A person wearing a holstered gun listens to Republican presidential contender Senator Ted Cruz on Fe...
A person wearing a holstered gun listens to Republican presidential contender Senator Ted Cruz on February 21, 2016 in Pahrump, Nevada
Ethan Miller, Getty/AFP

In the speech, Obama formally unveiled a handful of executive measures that will make it harder to buy and sell weapons, but which he admitted would not stop the scourge of mass shootings.

And in a country where there are more guns than people, and with Republicans vying to take back the White House in November, it remains to be seen, what -- if anything -- will change.

- Official state rifle -

Senators in Tennessee -- in a near unanimous vote -- designated a rifle that is said to be capable of destroying commercial aircraft as an official state symbol.

The .50-caliber Barrett, manufactured in the southern state, joins a range of other Tennessee state symbols. These include the mockingbird as "official state bird" and the raccoon as "official wild animal."

"These 'anti-materiel' sniping rifles can strike accurately from a distance of more than a mile" (1.6 kilometers), the Violence Policy Center, a non-profit organization that advocates for gun control said.

"They can penetrate light armor, down helicopters, destroy commercial aircraft, and blast through rail cars and bulk storage tanks filled with explosive or toxic chemicals, all with potentially catastrophic effect."

Gun shop manager Mike Jones  50  beside a display of automatic weapons in a gun store on February 23...
Gun shop manager Mike Jones, 50, beside a display of automatic weapons in a gun store on February 23, 2016 in Simpsonville, South Carolina
Mark Makela, Getty/AFP

Still, the semi-automatic weapon is available for sale to civilians.

For the vast majority of Europeans, South Americans and Asians, there is little doubt that a firearm is best kept as far as possible from places where people live, let alone from children.

In the US state of Iowa, however, there was debate this week about whether the hand of a preschooler was big enough to hold a revolver.

In this Midwestern state, where conservative Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz won his party's first presidential nomination contest earlier this month, the House passed a bill 62 to 36 that would allow children under 14 to use handguns with parental supervision.

It is not unusual for some Americans to spend their free time at the gun range, with families sometimes going there both for a meal and to shoot.

Damon Thueson  (right) shows Joel Zae  (left) how to hold a gun at a gun concealed carry permit clas...
Damon Thueson, (right) shows Joel Zae, (left) how to hold a gun at a gun concealed carry permit class put on by "USA Firearms Training" on December 19, 2015 in Provo, Utah
George Frey, Getty/AFP

"What this bill does, the bill before us, allows for one-year-olds, two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds to operate handguns," said Kirsten Running-Marquardt, a Democratic Iowa state representative.

"We do not need a militia of toddlers. We do not have handguns that I am aware of that fit the hands of a one- or two-year-old."

The bill now heads to the state's Democratic-controlled Senate.

The backers of the bill point to the Second Amendment of the US Constitution and argue it should be up to parents to decide when the time is right to let their children use guns.

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