"Guns don't kill people, people kill people?!"
The recent San Bernardino mass shooting that left 14 dead was unusual in that it involved a young couple who had stable jobs and an infant. Unfortunately in America what aren’t unusual are the mass shootings themselves.
According to the Guns Violence Archive, in 2015, America has seen 12,224 deaths in relation to gun violence, 640 of them being children. There have been a total of 310 mass shootings and as of the 1st October, 45 school shootings. There are currently 270 million firearms possessed by citizens of America and it is estimated that half of all civilian owned guns on the planet are held by Americans. In the time taken to write this article that figure has risen and by the time it’s published, it will be even more. There are currently no background checks when buying a firearm through private sale and trigger lock laws only exist in nine states. With there being 48,314 gun related incidents in under a year and only 1,116 of them being defensive shootings, why is there so little being done to prevent gun crime and why isn’t “common sense” legislation being introduced to tighten gun laws?
Barack Obama came into the White house fighting gun violence and promising a change. His speech after this week’s incident expressed an exhaustion and frustration that has already been expressed in his previous 15 speeches, which have become a “routine” for him. He made it clear that tighter gun laws in other countries have made an incredible difference in decreasing gun crime altogether and stopping mass shootings (look at Australia and the UK) and presented a case advocating tighter gun controls. So here we are again. The president of the supposedly most powerful state in the world wants reform in his own country, and opinion polls also suggest that 80% of Americans are advocates for background checks when buying a gun. Why is there nothing being done?
There are two main groups stopping the implementation of gun laws in the states: Congress and lobbyists. The main lobbyists are the National Rifle Association (NRA) which boasts five million members and has been lobbying to stop gun law legislation for the last forty years. (Its unofficial slogan is “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”) Because of the size and wealth of the group they are able to elect politicians with pro-gun manifestos and devote all their time to stop legislation being passed. The “right to bear arms” which is what the NRA and other gun advocates use in their defence comes from the second amendment and is therefore written in the US constitution; “The rule book”. This amendment was written before the US had their own army, when civilians might have perhaps needed something to defend themselves throughout the violent process of colonisation, however it is still used today to justify the ownership of firearms.
The other key group halting the process is congress. The 2014 elections gave congress the largest republican majority since 1931, giving them control of both the houses of congress and the senate. This therefore means it is extremely difficult for Obama, a democrat, to push through any legislation without approval from the republicans. With the dominant demographic supporting the “right to bear arms” being white republican males (according to PEW research centre) there is little surprise that Obama’s proposals for the tightening of gun laws were defeated. Even after the recent shootings in San Bernardino, only 4 out of the 54 republicans voted in favour for the introduction of background checks when purchasing a firearm online or at a gunshow.
All this means is while there are mass shootings happening nearly weekly and there is a popular consensus to tighten gun controls, it is extremely unlikely that anything will happen for as long as the republican party maintain their majority. What it will take to change these gun laws, I don’t know.