It’s no secret that gun violence is reaching alarming proportions in the United States, with over 47,000 firearm related incidents (and counting) in 2015 alone. Even more shocking: there have been 355 mass shootings in only 344 days so far this year. Overall, gun deaths this year will probably for the first time exceed the number of deaths from people who die in car accidents. Given this distressing statistic, we can’t help but wonder why the most powerful country in the world isn’t taking more extreme measures to put an end to these domestic tragedies.
Why Amending US Gun Laws Is So Difficult
President Obama has cited multiple polls showing that the majority of Americans agree that US gun laws need to be changed. If the majority of the US population, and even the president, are for these amendments, why do they prove so difficult to push through congress? Pro-gun support groups, such as the National Rifle Association, have a huge influence when it comes to gun lobbying, rallying supporters with fear and distrust of government. Through intimidation of Republican politicians, the NRA is able to turn support for gun rights into a test of conservative values, diverting attention away from guns to mental illness, and deterring those in power from focusing on the bigger issues when it comes to gun violence.
America is also becoming increasingly polarized, with those of differing political beliefs living ever-more contrasting lives. The America that believes guns make the country more dangerous wants to disarm the America that is sure their safety relies on keeping firearms close by. This difference in perspective makes it difficult to enact a smooth reform.
The Issue Is Bigger Than Mental Health
In the wake of every mass shooting, pro-gun supporters are quick to claim that gun violence is more about the mental health of the perpetrator than the fact that one-third of the US population owns a firearm, and that many more have the right to do so. They claim that if the government spent more time cracking down on mental health, gun violence would decrease significantly, as those most likely to instigate would be locked away with no access to firearms.
Study after study has shown that those with a mental illness have no more propensity to commit violence than the average person. If you envision a typical school shooter – young, male, isolated, and considered a bit “strange” by peers – you’ve just described a huge percentage of teenage boys in the US, the vast majority of whom will never be violent in their lifetime.
Cracking down on everyone who has, or has had, a “mental illness” is a diversion of attention and resources from the fact that firearms shouldn’t be available to the general public. Proportionally, America doesn’t have more people with mental health problems than any other country; yet it is the only one with so many mass shooting incidents.
Pro-Life and Pro-Guns: The American Paradox
On October 1st, 2015, the same day as a mass school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, North Carolina passed a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for women to finalize their decision to have an abortion. The irony here? North Carolina doesn’t have a waiting period to buy a gun.
Over 50 new abortion restrictions have been enacted in the US during the first half of 2015, but not a single bill has reached the US House floor attempting to address gun violence. Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent investigating healthcare organizations such as Planned Parenthood – organizations that save lives and provide safe and constitutionally-protected healthcare to those who cannot afford it – yet the government won’t tap into their budgets to save lives of those out of the womb. And what to think about the recent shooting in Colorado’s Planned Parenthood center, from a man who took lives under the motive of saving ones?
Given the current rate of gun violence in the America, its female citizens are 11 times more likely to die from a gunshot than in any other developed country. Not only that, the emergence of shootings at the hands of toddlers – yes, children under the age of three that accidentally fire their parents’ guns – are starting to occur every week in the US, killing generally a family member or another kid. Isn’t this another alarming sign of things needing to be changed?
Leading By Example: How Australia Has Decreased Gun Violence By Nearly 60%
In 1996, Martin Bryant opened fire in a cafe in Port Arthur, Tasmania, killing 35 people and wounding 23 others. As a result, Australia enacted one of the largest gun reforms in recent history, and gun deaths plummeted.
As a federation, Australia’s national government has limited power. At the time of the shooting, the national government controlled gun import, but not gun sales or ownership. In order to pass a reform, then Prime Minister John Howard convinced the country’s states to pass the gun control laws themselves, threatening to hold a nationwide referendum that would alter the Australian Constitution and grant the national government all power over gun control. Howard won this battle because there was majority support across the country for banning high-powered firearms, ultimately creating the National Firearms Agreement. Beyond banning specific weapons, legislation now required a genuine reason to own a gun – self defense not included. Australia also removed over 700,000 guns from its streets through a mandatory gun-buyback program.
A decade after the NFA reform, Australia’s firearm homicide rate fell by 59%, and the firearm suicide rate fell by 65%, without increases in other types of deaths. This made Australia the gold standard in gun reform.
What Will It Take To Make A Change?
It’s clear that the US still has a long way to go when it comes to establishing stricter gun laws, but if all of the above is still not enough to warrant a serious reform, what about a situation such as the recent influx of violence at the hands of ISIS? For as steadfast as many Americans hold their anti-terrorism views, one would assume that being a member of a terrorist organization would prohibit that person from possessing a firearm. Turns out that under current US federal law, it doesn’t. The law that prohibits felons, fugitives, drug addicts and domestic abusers from purchasing a firearm, doesn’t include those on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist, with suspected terrorists making over two thousand purchases from American dealers between 2004 and 2014. Given the recent unrest executed by ISIS in France, for which ISIS had to go to the trouble of illegally smuggling their weapons into the country due to France’s strict gun laws, how is the US not more concerned about the possibility of ISIS purchasing guns on its own soil and using them on its own citizens? The recent mass shooting in San Bernardino has just been recognized as an act of terrorism, the responsible couple having pledged allegiance to ISIS. Will it push America to start taking even baby steps toward reforming gun control laws?
The United States clearly has a long way to go when it comes to providing a gun-free community for its people, but what is it finally going to take to say, “enough is enough” and make a change?