“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”; American Gun Laws in the 21st Century

Three brothers between the ages of 6 and 16 sit at a table to eat and have the usual arguments that brothers have, this one about food. Only this story doesn’t end as usual. The middle brother, aged 13, draws a handgun, fatally wounding his 6 year old brother before turning the gun on his 16 year old brother, injuring him, and then himself. This is not the start of a screenplay; this is the true story of a family from Florida. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Simply type into Google ‘child kills sibling’, and you are met with some truly tragic headlines such as ‘5 year old Kentucky boy fatally shoots 2 year old sister’, ‘Utah boy accidentally shot and killed by his sister’ and ‘9-month-old dies after being shot in the head by 5-year old’. These are just small parts of the story of America’s gun problem. This is, in many ways, the most tragic part of the story. Young children, all with no real idea of what they are doing, finding weapons designed to kill and using them to full and devastating effect. And these, lest we forget, are simply the accidents involving children.

It seems like you hear about another shooting in America every week. In the most terrible of ways, we’ve come to expect it now. We, and by ‘we’ I mean us here in Britain, see gun crime as being endemic to America as a country, something intangibly and incorrigibly entwined with their national identity. And can you blame us? According to the Guardian, there are 90 guns for every 100 people (15 times as many per 100 as in England and Wales). Since 2004, not a single year has seen less than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. To put that into context, that’s 85 deaths A DAY. For 2011, that meant that 10.3 per 100,000 people were killed by guns. Not necessarily a large figure until you realise America has over 200 million people in it. Of course, it’s needless to say that not every single one of those deaths is a murder. In 2011, of the 32,163 people killed by guns, 11,101 of those deaths were homicides. The rest of that number is made up of suicides (19,766 for 2011), unintentional gun deaths (851 for 2011), gun deaths from an undetermined cause (222) and justifiable gun deaths (617). Let’s not forget on top of all that the tens of thousands of non-fatal gun injuries sustained a year (81,396 for 2012). These figures tell the story of a nation that is the throes of a serious problem. Remember the Ebola threat last year? If it had had the impact it was predicted to have, it would have killed 30,000 in West Africa over the course of a full year. This was considered to be an epidemic, an international health scare, or the beginning of the end times if you were of a more apocalyptic persuasion. And yet the same numbers of Americans die EVERY YEAR from gun-inflicted deaths and the outcry is… Not there. To say it is none-existent is untrue, and unfair to those who work tirelessly to try and change the situation. However, on the whole, America does not seem to want to do anything to stop these deaths from occurring year in, year out.

Where does the blame for this lie? The first, and perhaps most obvious, port of call is of course the constitution. As I’m sure you’re all aware, the legality of guns on America comes from the Second Amendment of the constitution, which reads; ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ The need in America in 1791 (which is when the Second Amendment was adopted) for a militia with ready access to weaponry is understandable. America took the lead of England and decided that a standing army would be too costly, both in terms of money and of food, and therefore decided that the best form of defence for their new country was a relatively small but reasonably trained group of regular citizens, who would in times of need take up their guns and defend America. Another consideration of course for 18th Century Americans was the unpredictable nature of the frontiers. Wild animals or pissed off locals who were angry that you’d just built your outhouse on the grave of their great-great grandfather could attack at any moment, and the people needed a way to defend themselves. Therefore, the Second Amendment, in a period of development, helped protect the fledgling American nation. But there inherently lies the issue. The America of the 21st Century is radically different to that of the 18th. America now has a regular army, and a navy and an air force, plus an arsenal of nuclear weapons. In terms of security, they’ve pretty much already got everything covered without needing to bring the citizens into it. The chance of a foreign power invading America is virtually zero, and, let’s be honest, if that power could overwhelm America and all of her NATO allies, I highly doubt that a few citizens with Colt .45’s are going to make them stop and seriously take stock of whether this was the right course of action.

This leads onto the next problem. A justification for the right to bear arms that is often heard is that the American people can use it in case of a tyrannical government repressing the people, a la the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. However, there are several issues with this. Firstly, considering the setup of American politics, it’s highly unlikely if not impossible that any political extremist would gain even a modicum of power. Secondly, have you seen the American army recently? I mean, just take a look at what they’re sporting. If anyone seriously thinks that they can fend off the evil encroachments of a tyrannical government with an AK-47 when the government in question has access not only to the very latest military hardware not accessible to the public but also TANKS, JETS and INTERCONTINENTAL BALLISTIC MISSILES, how on earth does the little man stand a chance? This isn’t Star Wars, and the American Army aren’t the Storm troopers on Endor, although that would be quite the sight to see. The argument that gun laws allow the people to fend off a tyrannical government just doesn’t hold water, especially not in the modern day.  Another justification of why gun laws shouldn’t be changed lie in respect for the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. This is completely understandable, considering the fact that the Constitution has never been changed. Except in 1865. And 1919, of course, though this was repealed in 1933. And 1920. And… I’ll drop the act. There have been 27 changes to the American constitution. Let’s not forget, the right to bear arms is an Amendment in itself. Furthermore, people have used the constitution and a desire to preserve it as a justification for barbaric acts before. Slavery was legal under the constitution until 1865, there were restrictions on who could and couldn’t vote which needed three separate amendments and of course there was plenty of other things that needed changing or modifying as America changed and modified. With regards to gun laws, they haven’t changed with America. A major obstacle to any change is the NRA.

The National Rifles Association, founded in 1871, is, according to the FORTUNE Power 25 list, regarded as the most influential lobbying group in America by lawmakers and congressional staffers (with the AARP knocking the NRA into second for lobbyists, trade association executives as well as lawmakers and their staffers). In 2012, the Guardian estimated that the NRA had 4 million members, and a budget of $300 million, spending $3 million of that on lobbying in a non-election year. The NRA is also either inherently stupid or evil. The problem lies in how they perceive themselves and how they are percieved. The NRA is often described as the oldest civil rights movement in America and the perception of guns as a civil right is exactly the reason why it’s so hard to legislate gun control or any kind of meaningful ban. Combine the fearsome lobbying power with the inherent civil rights sheen that the NRA has, and you have a situation in which any attempt to control guns is blocked.

Take the case of Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia who, until the Sandy Hook massacre, had been an ardent supporter of the NRA. Following that horrible day, Manchin proposed a Bill in which background checks, federally mandated for purchases from licensed dealers since 1994, would be extended to conventions and Internet sales. And, as the New York Times writes, the climate favoured Manchin’s efforts;

“A newly re-elected President personally stung by the gun tragedies on his watch; a fractious and self-doubting Republican party; the seemingly bottomless financial resources of the New York mayor and ardent gun-control activist Michael Bloomberg, whose alliance of more than a thousand mayors throughout the United States, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, would sponsor an aggressive wave of TV ads; and the forceful but sympathetic lobbying presence of Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who had been shot in the head in Tucson, along with the voices of the Newtown parents whose children were killed. Given this climate and the overwhelming public support for universal background checks, even the NRA was braced for the passage of some version of Manchin’s gun-control bill. But no version did pass. Four months after the Newtown shooting, on April 17, the bill failed to win the necessary votes to make it through the Senate. The most fearsome lobbying organisation in America prevailed once again.”
The NRA managed to defeat a bill that almost everyone in America had wanted through to the sheer power of their lobbying organisation. And the sad thing is that this was only a bill for background checks on buying guns, not actually restricting guns in any way at all. Despite all the pressure, despite the entire clamour for change, the NRA won out in the end. It’s not only the blocking of bills that has made the NRA dangerous. Continuing with the Sandy Hook massacre, in the aftermath, the NRA proposed that instead of any form of gun control, what were actually needed were more guns. Yes, then-NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre, in a statement described as ‘haunting and disturbing’ by former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, said “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun. I call on Congress today to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation”. Of course, this is a great idea. I mean American police officers have never accidentally or unlawfully killed anyone with a gun. Oh, hang on…
The NRA have consistently proven that their policies on guns are out of line even with their supporters, with Mark Kelly, Gabrielle Giffords husband, saying “The NRA could have chosen to be a voice for the vast majority of its own members who want common sense, reasonable safeguards on deadly firearms, but instead it chose to defend extreme pro-gun positions that aren’t even popular among the law abiding gun owners it represents”. It’s like this. The NRA is like a parent who keeps treading on wayward Lego bricks their irresponsible child has strewn across the floor. Most sensible parents would simply try to educate their children as so to avoid suffering a similar occurrence in future. However, instead of taking that logical step, the NRA think that pouring a bucket of Lego on top of that wayward brick will magically build a Lego house, or perhaps and X-Wing if they’re lucky, and it won’t hurt so much to tread on because it’s a lot bigger. The problem is, if such a situation were to occur as the NRA suggested at the end of 2012, how long would it be before one of those armed guards started to shoot up a school because of a lack of proper vetting procedures? Or how long till someone leaves a loaded gun lying around on a playground and a child picks it up, thinking it’s a toy, and opens fire on their classmates and teachers? This level of disconnect with reality and even with their own supporters shows the NRA continues to be a major obstacle to any kind of meaningful gun control in America.

It doesn’t look like America will have any kind of meaningful gun legislation anytime soon, and gun violence doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon. Just take a look at http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/. There have already been 74 mass shootings this year, and we’re only a third of the way through the year. If there is gun control, what should be done? I find it highly unlikely that there will ever be a complete ban of guns in America as we have had here in Britain. However, if the sheer amount of deaths in America is going to be in anyway curtailed, there needs to be something. More complete background checks, for example. Perhaps the banning of the purchase of assault rifles, which, at the end of the day, have one purpose, and that is to mow down lots of people, hardly justifiable for home defence. Whatever happens, and I maintain that something does need to happen; it will be a tough fight. The NRA will lobby and protest and claim infringement of civil rights or unnecessary government involvement in people’s lives, radical gun nuts will have rallies showing off their automatic weapons and how safe they are, and more people will die as nothing is done. Do I see it coming soon? If there’s a Republican President in 2016, you can safely bet that there’ll be no gun control motions throughout that President’s tenure, meaning that thousands of innocent people could be killed before there’s even another attempt to end the madness. Sad really.

Special Feature by Jake Williams



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