More than any other developed country in the world, the US has the dubious honour of having the largest number of firearms in circulation per capita. Ownership of firearms in the US is almost 89 per 100 people. Understandably, this means the US also has the unfavourable lead in the number of firearm deaths each year.
The mass shooting tracker puts the number of mass shootings in the US in 2015 at 248. When we think that we are only 240 days into the year, that really puts into perspective the scale of the problem the country faces.
That’s not to say that mass shootings are the main cause behind the number of firearm related deaths each year. Suicide remains the leading cause, followed by firearm crime, such as gang shootings. But their ever growing frequency is a major cause for concern for both the public and the Government alike.
The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. However, the laws surrounding the purchase and possession of a firearm weapon differ from state to state, and there has been a trend for looser gun control since the 1980s.
While each state has overall control of its firearms laws, the Brady Law, a federal regulation, requires background checks to be carried out, but only if the sale is made by a licensed dealer. Opponents argue that this still leaves almost 40% of all sales with no checks.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the strongest and most powerful lobbies in Washington DC. Since 2009, it has spent many millions of dollars rolling back or quashing gun control laws before they are passed.
While the NRA and its advocates argue that looser gun control laws would mean less gun crime, common sense, as well as statistics, would indicate otherwise. The higher the number of guns the higher the frequency of gun related crime, including homicide and mass shootings. Of the ten states with the strictest laws, seven have the lowest records of gun related deaths.
Among the stricter states, it is illegal to carry a firearm in public in Illinois, California, Florida and DC. New York also prohibits them unless they are used for hunting in rural areas.
At the other end of the spectrum, Louisiana is among the lowest ranking states for its gun laws. It is not necessary to obtain a permit to buy a gun, dealers do not need a license to sell them, and once purchased, firearms are not required to be registered.
Georgia has gone so far as to now allow guns in public places such as bars, restaurants and churches. Up until yesterday, you could buy a gun in Walmart while doing your weekly shop at the supermarket chain. It has now decided to ban the sale of automatic weapons in its stores following the latest horrific attack on two TV journalists shot and killed during a live broadcast by a disgruntled former employee of their station.
Most of the mass shootings that take place in the US are not reported on the news internationally, or sometimes even nationally, it’s become such a common occurrence, it’s just not really that newsworthy anymore. However, there are a few incidents that are so shocking and brutal, that the world can’t help but sit up and take notice.
Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora – Colorado, the Charleston church shooting and now what seems to be an execution on live TV in Virginia. What else needs to happen before the laws are changed? Will they ever be changed?
Congress has tried many times, after such attacks, to bring in legislation ensuring necessary background checks and tighter controls for certain types of firearms, however they have failed every single time.
The US spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year protecting its citizens from international terrorism. In a statement released shortly after the two journalists were killed, President Obama said:
“What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism.
“We’re willing to spend trillions of dollars to prevent terrorist activities, but we haven’t been willing, so far at least, to impose some common sense gun safety measures that could save some lives.”
So what is the problem? Why is the nation which prides itself as the leader of the free world, the most developed nation on earth, unable, or unwilling, to transpose laws to control the sale and use of firearms?
Following a high profile case in 2008, the Supreme Court declared that any change to ban guns in the US would be unconstitutional. This was welcomed by a sizeable percentage of the population.
And that is the root of the problem. The divide between the pro and anti gun lobbies is one of the biggest polarising debates in the US today, and it will continue to be so for many years. Any laws that could bring down the number of casualties and fatalities would help. But the harsh reality is that any improvements in gun control law would be marginal at best. Of course, saving a few lives is better than saving none, and the pro control movement should never give up the fight to do this, but people must accept the reality that this number will always be trivial in relation to the number of fatalities.
The simple answer is that the US will never not have a gun control problem. There will always be guns in circulation. If there were to be changes in the law, wouldn’t that only drive the sale of firearms underground, in which case the millions of guns in the US would all be completely unregulated and untraceable?
The pro-gun lobby (read NRA) argues that in order to bring down the level of gun crime, the best solution is to encourage more people to own guns and carry them in public. This, they say would lower the number of fatalities in mass shootings as bystanders would be able to fire back at a shooter and stop them in their tracks.
The depressing reality is that to some extent, they may have a point. Why? Because in the near impossible chance that Congress may one day pass what is seen as a politically impassable and constitutionally ambiguous law to restrict or confiscate guns, this is the most likely scenario.
Breakout star of the Presidential Race, Republican candidate, Donald Trump, disagrees with President Obama. He believes tighter gun control laws are not the way to go, rather the focus, he says, needs to be shifted onto mental health. While he too has a point, the idea that the Government does not need to address the issue of guns but push the onus onto something else entirely is as much terrifying as it is sad.
If this were to happen, how tragic would it be for one of the most powerful nations on earth to admit defeat when it comes to protecting its own citizens from themselves?