A look at the controversial issue of gun control in the USA:
Gun control is yet again a hot-topic issue in the United States, especially with the recent school shooting on Oct. 1 at Umpqua Community College in which ten individuals were killed. Sadly, this is nothing new or shocking to the American people as, according to Vox News, there have been 142 school shootings since 2013 with 73 victims being killed and 104 injured. Even so, there are very few issues that are so politically divisive in the mind of the American public.
US gun ownership levels have always been staggeringly high. According to an article by the Washington Post, there are now more guns than people in the US (1.126 firearms per capita). But gun possession as an American cultural phenomenon is not something that happened by chance or some sort of historical accident. American infatuation with gun rights has been a prevalent part of its culture since the very inception of the nation.
The US was founded with an extreme distrust of large centralized governmental institutions – and this sentiment is still very much alive today, and is embodied in current political movements such as the Tea Party or Libertarian movement. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the bill of rights in the US constitution – meaning, that at least at the time, gun possession was seen as a fundamental right of all American citizens. This right was conceived somewhat as a component of the political system of checks and balances that the constitution aimed to achieve. The general thinking was, “What better way to dissuade a government from tyrannical activity than an armed populace?”. The access to firearms is arguably the greatest contributing factor to the success of the American Revolution. In the minds of the framers of the constitution, if the central government ever decided to overstep its bounds, the people would again have the capacity to wrest independence from the government through the use of force if necessary.
Proponents of gun control claim that things have fundamentally changed since the founding of the US. They claim that restrictions are now necessary to curb the excessive violence associated with firearms. President Obama noted that, “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries”. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who is in favor of increased gun control, has pointed to Australia as evidence of successful gun control policies. In 1996 Australia expanded its gun control measures, banning certain sorts of firearms, making licensing laws more restrictive and requiring that registered firearms comply with national standards. According to an article by CNN, since 1996 “The risk of dying by gunshot in Australia fell by more than 50 per cent — and stayed there”, and these measures also led to “a drop in firearm suicide rates of almost 80 per cent in the following decade.” Yet, gun rights activists claim that such a comparison is not appropriate and over-simplifies the issue of gun-related violence.
According to a 2013 article by Pew Research Centre, gun homicides are down by 49 per cent since the peak in 1993 – gun rights activists argue that this discredits gun control proponents as gun restrictions have somewhat eased up since then due to legal measures such as the expiration of the “Federal Assault Weapons Ban” in 2004 and the enactment of the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” in 2005 which legally protects firearms producers when their products are used to commit crimes. Proponents of gun rights also proclaim that increased restrictions would not prevent criminals from obtaining and using firearms – if anything, they claim gun control would make the general public less safe.
Though the US seems incredibly polarized on the issue there seems to be general consensus on at least one issue related to these mass shootings – it is that the people committing these crimes are, for the most part, mentally ill. Following the October 1st shooting at Umpqua Community College President Obama said, “We don’t yet know why this individual did what he did, and it’s fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations may be” – Agreeing with him on the opposite end of the political spectrum was Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who, in an interview with CNN, said “This isn’t a gun problem, this is a mental problem”. Yet, if this is true it must be reconciled with the fact that the US is one of the very few economically advanced nations with such a high rate of homicide and gun related violence – the subsequent question has to be whether or not the US is simply a nation that is for some reason rife with violent forms of mental illness (more so than other nations) or if easy gun laws simply allow such individuals to manifest their violent tendencies.
Assistant External News Editor