The recent shooting of two journalists during a live TV broadcast in Virginia has re-opened the debate about gun control policy in the US. Various commentators have suggested that the availability of guns in America is the root cause of such crimes, while others have suggested giving more people firearms is the only way to defend the population from gun violence.
Either way, the debate over gun ownership in the US has become more charged as a result. A recent video featuring a number of famous faces encouraging Americans to demand gun control laws displays the extent to which some Americans have become frustrated with the level of gun violence within the country.
However, support for gun ownership across the country is also easy to find, with only 47% of Americans supporting stricter firearms legislation. The pro-firearms lobby led by the National Rifle Association is well-supported and well-financed, with pro-firearms groups defending the right to bear arms, claiming that guns help to save lives and reduce crime. In a recent interview, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt, claimed that gun control policies such as background checks on firearms owners and gun-free zones were ineffective, suggesting getting rid of them ‘would be a huge step in reducing what dirtbags can do when they decide to go out on a murder spree’.
There is also an ideological element to the debate on gun control. The second amendment of the US constitution states that the right to bear arms is necessary for the security of a ‘free state’ and shall not be infringed. Supporters of the amendment argue that imposing further control on the ownership of guns, whether at national or state level, is tantamount to a restriction on the freedom of ordinary American citizens.
Such opposition has lead to an impasse, meaning that the national administration is limited in its ability to pass new gun control laws due to opposition in Congress. Previous attempts to introduce gun reform after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2013 were stymied by senators, leaving Obama able to enact only limited reform through executive orders. In some states local governments have now taken action themselves to plug the gaps, introducing measures such as background checks on gun purchasers and restricting the carrying and use of firearms within some public areas.
Some argue that such policies have no real effect on gun crime, whereas others argue they are essential to reduce America’s gun homicide rate, which is 20 times higher than the rest of the developed world. With such a gap between the pro-firearms lobby and those campaigning for tighter restrictions on firearms legislation it is difficult to see how a consensus will be achieved.