AMER­ICA’S GUN OB­SES­SION (maybe) ex­plained

The coun­try’s Con­sti­tu­tion pro­tects the ‘right of the peo­ple to keep and bear arms’, but this needs to change

CityPress - - News -

’’ Mak­ing more guns more ac­ces­si­ble means more guns, and more guns mean more deaths

Last Sun­day night, it hap­pened again – a mass shoot­ing in the US. In Las Ve­gas, a shooter opened fire on thou­sands of peo­ple at­tend­ing an open-air coun­try mu­sic con­cert, killing 58 and in­jur­ing more than 500 oth­ers. The shoot­ing has al­ready led to dis­cus­sions about gun con­trol. Amer­i­cans have heard these types of calls be­fore. Af­ter ev­ery mass shoot­ing, the de­bate over guns and gun vi­o­lence sparks up again. Maybe some bills get in­tro­duced. Crit­ics re­spond with con­cerns that the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to take away their guns. The de­bate stalls.

It has be­come an Amer­i­can rou­tine in the af­ter­math of a mass shoot­ing in the coun­try.

So why is it that, for all the out­rage and mourn­ing af­ter these hor­ren­dous events, noth­ing seems to change?

To un­der­stand that, it’s im­por­tant to grasp not just the stun­ning sta­tis­tics about gun own­er­ship and gun vi­o­lence in the US, but the coun­try’s unique re­la­tion­ship with guns – un­like that of any other de­vel­oped coun­try – and how it plays out in their pol­i­tics to en­sure, seem­ingly against all odds, that the cul­ture and laws con­tinue to drive the al­most rou­tine gun-re­lated vi­o­lence that marks Amer­i­can life.

AMER­ICA’S GUN PROB­LEM IS UNIQUE

No other de­vel­oped coun­try in the world has any­where near the same rate of gun vi­o­lence as the US. The coun­try has nearly six times the gun homi­cide rate as its neigh­bour Canada, more than seven times as Sweden and nearly 16 times as Ger­many.

The US has by far the high­est num­ber of pri­vately owned guns in the world.

In 2007, it was es­ti­mated that the num­ber of civil­ianowned firearms in the US was 88.8 guns per 100 peo­ple – al­most one pri­vately owned gun per Amer­i­can and more than one per Amer­i­can adult. The world’s sec­ond-ranked coun­try was Ye­men, a quasi-failed state torn by civil war, where there were 54.8 guns per 100 peo­ple.

An­other way of look­ing at it is that Amer­i­cans make up about 4.43% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, yet own roughly 42% of all the world’s pri­vately held firearms.

MORE GUNS MEAN MORE GUN DEATHS

The re­search on this is over­whelm­ingly clear. No mat­ter how you look at the data, more guns mean more gun deaths.

Op­po­nents of gun con­trol tend to point to other fac­tors to ex­plain Amer­ica’s un­usual gun vi­o­lence, such as men­tal ill­ness.

Jonathan Metzl, a men­tal health ex­pert at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity, said this was just not the case.

Peo­ple with men­tal ill­nesses are more likely to be vic­tims, not per­pe­tra­tors, of vi­o­lence. And while it’s true that an ex­tra­or­di­nary num­ber of mass shoot­ers (up to 60%) have some kind of psy­chi­atric or psy­cho­log­i­cal symp­toms, Metzl points out that other fac­tors are much bet­ter pre­dic­tors of gun vi­o­lence in gen­eral – al­co­hol and drug mis­use, poverty, his­tory of vi­o­lence and, yes, ac­cess to guns.

An­other ar­gu­ment is that fewer peo­ple would die dur­ing these mass shoot­ings if even more peo­ple had guns, thus en­abling them to de­fend them­selves dur­ing the shoot­ing.

But, again, the data shows this is sim­ply not true. High gun own­er­ship rates do not re­duce gun deaths, but rather tend to co­in­cide with in­creases in gun deaths.

Ex­perts widely be­lieve this is the con­se­quence of Amer­ica’s re­laxed laws and cul­ture sur­round­ing guns. Mak­ing more guns more ac­ces­si­ble means more guns, and more guns mean more deaths.

Re­searchers have found this is true not just with homi­cides, but also with sui­cides, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and even vi­o­lence against po­lice.

WHERE ARE THE LAWS?

If you ask Amer­i­cans how they feel about spe­cific gun con­trol mea­sures, they will of­ten say that they sup­port them.

Ac­cord­ing to Pew Re­search Cen­tre sur­veys, most peo­ple in the US sup­port a fed­eral data­base to track gun sales, back­ground checks, bans on as­sault-style weapons, bans on high-ca­pac­ity am­mu­ni­tion clips and bans on on­line sales of am­mu­ni­tion.

So why don’t these mea­sures get turned into ac­tual law?

That’s be­cause they run into an­other po­lit­i­cal is­sue – Amer­i­cans, in­creas­ingly in re­cent years, tend to sup­port the ab­stract idea of the right to own guns.

This is part of how gun con­trol op­po­nents are able to kill even leg­is­la­tion that would in­tro­duce the most pop­u­lar mea­sures, such as back­ground checks that in­clude pri­vate sales (which have 85% sup­port, ac­cord­ing to Pew). They’re able to por­tray the law as con­trary to the right to own guns, and gal­vanise a backlash against it.

THE GUN LOBBY IS REL­A­TIVELY RE­CENT, BUT ENOR­MOUSLY POW­ER­FUL

The sin­gle most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion when it comes to guns is, un­doubt­edly, the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion (NRA). The NRA has an enor­mous stran­gle­hold over con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics in Amer­ica.

The NRA was, for much of its early his­tory, more of a sport­ing club than a se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal force against gun con­trol, and even sup­ported some gun re­stric­tions.

The NRA fears that pop­u­lar and seem­ingly com­mon­sense reg­u­la­tions, such as ban­ning as­sault-style weapons or even a fed­eral data­base of gun pur­chases, are not re­ally about sav­ing lives, but are in fact a po­ten­tial first step to­wards end­ing all pri­vate gun own­er­ship in the US, which the NRA views as a vi­o­la­tion of the sec­ond amend­ment of the US Con­sti­tu­tion.

So any time there’s an at­tempt to im­pose new forms of gun con­trol, the NRA ral­lies gun own­ers and other op­po­nents of gun con­trol to kill these bills.

OTHER DE­VEL­OPED COUN­TRIES HAVE HAD SUC­CESSES WITH GUN CON­TROL

In 1996, a 28-year-old man walked into a café in Port Arthur, Aus­tralia, ate lunch, pulled a semi­au­to­matic ri­fle out of his bag and opened fire on the crowd, killing 35 peo­ple and wound­ing 23 more. It was the worst mass shoot­ing in Aus­tralia’s his­tory.

Aus­tralian law­mak­ers re­sponded with new leg­is­la­tion that, among other pro­vi­sions, banned cer­tain types of firearms, such as au­to­matic and semi­au­to­matic ri­fles and shot­guns. The Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment con­fis­cated 650 000 of these guns through a gun buy­back pro­gramme, in which it pur­chased firearms from gun own­ers.

It es­tab­lished a reg­istry of all guns owned in the coun­try and en­sured that all new firearm pur­chasers re­quired a per­mit.

The re­sult was that Aus­tralia’s firearm homi­cide rate dropped by about 42% in the seven years af­ter the law passed, and its firearm sui­cide rate fell by 57%.

MASS SHOOT­INGS ARE A SMALL POR­TION OF ALL GUN VI­O­LENCE

There are any­where from a dozen to a few hun­dred mass shoot­ings in the US each year.

Yet other, less cov­ered kinds of gun vi­o­lence kill far more Amer­i­cans than even these mass shoot­ings. Un­der the broad­est def­i­ni­tion of mass shoot­ing, these in­ci­dents killed about 500 Amer­i­cans in 2013. That rep­re­sents just a frac­tion of to­tal gun homi­cides – more than 11 200 that year. So, while politi­cians of­ten lean on mass shoot­ings to call for gun con­trol, the prob­lem goes far be­yond those in­ci­dents.

Even the 2012 mass shoot­ing at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Con­necti­cut – in which a gun­man killed 20 young chil­dren, six school per­son­nel and him­self – catal­ysed no sig­nif­i­cant change at the fed­eral level.

Since then, there have been, by some es­ti­mates, more than 1 300 mass shoot­ings. And there is ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve there will be more to come.

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