Gun Control: America’s Relationship With Firearms

Following the recent school shooting in Sana Fe, the gun debate in the US has been whipped up once more. As mass shootings continue to plague the nation with little legislative change, is there likely to ever be a ban on firearms in America?

High school students lie down in the hallway outside the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan in the US Capitol Building. Handmade paper signs reading, “Allow the Vote” are taped to their shirts. They are pressuring Ryan to act on a number of bills currently stalling in Congress, including H.R. 4240, which would provide for universal background checks for gun sales. One girl wears a blue sweatshirt bearing a logo: ‘March for Our Lives’. They allow themselves to be arrested and are led out of the building in plastic handcuffs. Cell phone footage captures their resolve. Half a million people watch this act of civil disobedience. These Maryland students are members of Montgomery County Students for Gun Control. They have taken up the rallying cry of their peers in Parkland, Florida. This is their fight.

After 17 students and faculty members were murdered in yet another mass shooting, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were determined to be the last school shooting. Armed with passion and a message, they took to the streets of Washington, D.C. in the March for Our Lives to demand gun control. Then came Santa Fe, and another 10 students and teachers lost their lives in a Texas high school. For genuine change, “Thoughts and prayers” need to give way to action, but just what action is appropriate is up for debate, and everyone has an opinion.

photo via flickr

Alone in the World

The US stands as an anomaly when it comes to the rate of mass shootings. Theirs is the highest in the world. This amounts to a mass shooting (defined as four or more victims shot in a single incident) every ten days. According to CNN, “The US makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, but holds 31% of global mass shooters.” The US also has the world’s highest rate of personal firearm ownership. Are these two things related?

Advocates of the Second Amendment say no. “People kill people; guns don’t kill people,” is a common refrain among members of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA). The idea of a gun ban – at least a partial one – is not totally unheard of in the US. In 1994, President Clinton passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was in place until 2004. Did it work? The results are inconclusive.

In 2004, Christopher S. Koper, now an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University in Virginia has said that “although the ban has been successful in reducing crimes with AWs [Assault Weapons], any benefits from this reduction are likely to have been outweighed by steady or rising use of non-banned semi- automatics with LCMs [large-capacity magazines], which are used in crime much more frequently than AWs. Therefore, we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence.”

In 2013, when asked about the potential effects of a reinstatement of this ban, Koper replied, “a new ban on large capacity magazines and assault weapons would certainly not be a panacea for gun crime, but it may help to prevent further spread of particularly dangerous weaponry and eventually bring small reductions in some of the most serious and costly gun crimes.”

The Second Amendment – which many argue has lost its original meaning – seems to be at the heart of the gun control issue. What would it take for it to be repealed?

According to CBS News, it would be a major undertaking. Most likely, the proposed amendment would have to pass the House and the Senate, and then be ratified by the legislatures of 38 out of the 50 states. In a political climate in which any sort of gun control legislation cannot even pass with a simple majority, this would be extremely unlikely.

While a total ban on firearms may be out of reach, survivors of mass shootings and other advocates for gun control say that there should be restrictions on the ownership of semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 (the weapon of choice for many mass shooters) and that more work should be done to close the ‘gun show loophole’ which allows private gun sales to take place without any sort of background check, potentially placing guns in the hands of dangerous individuals.

Many in the public believe change is slow to come because legislators prioritise the money of the ubiquitous gun lobby over the lives of vulnerable students, as demonstrated in this 2017 political cartoon.

photo via unsplash

“Gun Rights Are Human Rights”?

Kaitlin Bennett, the Grassroots Director of Liberty Hangout, a self-described ‘libertarian media outlet’ that espouses anti-socialist views, courted controversy on Twitter when she wrote, “There should be NOTHING controversial about supporting the right to self-defense. It should be VERY controversial, however, to want to strip people of their right to self-defense. Gun rights are human rights.”

When asked to clarify her statement, Bennett responded that these were “inalienable rights.” It is obvious that the Second Amendment is very important to a large segment of the population. American lawmakers cannot risk alienating these citizens, who often live in more rural areas where hunting is prolific and politics tend to be conservative.

Santa Fe, New Mexico is one of these communities. The demographics of Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas could not be more different. While Parkland is an affluent community whose residents swiftly took up the cause of gun control, Santa Fe is a quiet, conservative community, largely resistant to change. The high school was the subject of a 2000 Supreme Court ruling, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, which said that the school board could not allow students to pray over the loudspeaker before football games.

In a recent interview with NowThis, Santa Fe student Bree Butler stated that she supports mandatory gun safes or trigger locks, as well as background checks and mental health evaluations for gun owners and their family members. She emphasizes, “…just because I attended the March for Our Lives rally in March doesn’t mean that I want the government to come and take everybody’s ARs.”

From the country’s founding, guns have played a large role in American culture, from the idea of a “well-regulated militia”, to revolver-toting cowboys, and a strong culture of hunting in bucolic rural communities. Unfortunately, mass shootings and the restrained political response have also become ingrained in this culture. Many agree that something has to be done. Pressure is mounting, due in no small part to the student activism spearheaded by the Parkland students, who refused to accept mass shootings as the status quo. The debate over gun control will rage on, and until an agreement is reached between the opposing factions in this fight, lives will continue to be needlessly lost.

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