The United States have recently witnessed a sharp escalation in public mass shootings. Incidents in 2016 alone such as the massacre at an Orlando nightclub and the shots fired during a peaceful protest in Dallas have brought the subject of America’s ever-growing need for gun control to the worldwide stage.
While the USA continues to be the world economic power and a model for 21st century democracy, such national achievements are tempered by the fact that one of the most dangerous weapons of war has tragically become the most cherished emblem of American culture.
Gun ownership among US civilians now exists to such an extent that over 88% of the American population own at least one firearm, a statistic that seems incomprehensible by European standards. This figure is not set to fall anytime soon because purchases are driven up as much by fear as they are by enthusiasm. In other words, those who are opposed the climate in which guns are made so readily available are nonetheless inclined to buy one for the sake of protecting themselves against violent crimes such as murder and armed robbery. The consequences of the gun-epidemic are indeed catastrophic – the Telegraph claims that 80 Americans are killed every day in firearm assaults.
At the very heart of the problem is the sheer power that is wielded by the gun lobby itself. Due to the large-scale profits of the business, the chief advocates of arms ownership are able to bankroll the politicians who support their cause. In 2012, the National Rifle Association backed 25 Democrats and 236 Republicans, giving them a powerful voice both in Congress and the Senate.
For more than a decade, campaigners for gun control have been putting increased pressure on the US authorities following the many widely publicised massacres which have occurred in recent years, especially the shootings at a primary school in Connecticut, conducted by the disturbed teen Adam Lanza. The current government’s inability to tackle such a serious problem remains a deep thorn in President Obama’s side, who has unsuccessfully fought to have regulations on the sale of such deadly weapons passed through Congress.
When giving a speech in January, Obama stated:
We are not inherently prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. It does not happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close.
What’s most staggering about the opponents of gun control is that they refused to give ground on one of the most moderate proposals ever drafted by a US government. The bill which Obama put forward did not try to reduce the quantity or variety of guns available on the market, nor did it call for a substantial rise in tax duties for gun owners. The only measure the president was trying to implement was that of ensuring the purchasers were properly assessed in order to prevent individuals with a long criminal record or a history of mental health problems from obtaining such a weapon, something which even most firearm advocates in Britain and Europe agree is a necessary precaution.
The biggest factor preventing any changes in American gun policy, however, is that of heritage. Ever since the formation of the US constitution in 1787, the very notion of a government altering the document, which many Americans still regard as the bedrock of their freedom, is one which triggers waves of controversy. The only constitutional law to have ever been repealed was the Prohibition of Alcohol (1920-1933). Gun ownership exists primarily as a result of the Second Amendment: ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms‘.
Tragically, this passage of the document has been taken out of context. The Second Amendment was created in the year 1791, at a time when American democracy was still in its infancy, to allow the American people to defend themselves if the regime turned dictatorial. But over two centuries later, it is highly unlikely that such tyranny could occur since no president is allowed to remain in office for more than eight years. With this in mind, arming civilians is endangering civil liberties as opposed to protecting them… Rather than being a safeguard against state oppression, it allows individuals with extreme views to inflict serious harm upon peaceful communities.
Regardless of whether the US authorities are willing to admit it or not, the extent of gun ownership in America is an ongoing social catastrophe. The sad reality is that the situation is not set to improve anytime soon, especially given the current climate in which the Democrats seeking reform are vetoed by a predominantly Republican Congress. Sales of firearms pumps 6.2 billion in taxes into the US economy each year, whilst they have also resulted in an annual death toll of 32,000 people (12,000 murders and 20,000 suicides). Like so many other evils, therefore, the power of the US gun lobby is ultimately sourced by the consumer.