Stiffer US gun con­trol mea­sures? Not any time soon, say ex­perts


With mass shoot­ings seem­ingly on a daily ba­sis, it ap­pears no place in the United States is safe from car­nage: not churches, not schools, not even the morn­ing news­cast.

The shock­ing on-air mur­der of a young re­porter and a cam­era­man by a dis­grun­tled for­mer col­league Wed­nes­day has once again re­newed calls for stricter gun con­trols.

That is sim­ply not go­ing to hap­pen, ex­perts said, and the trend in re­cent years has ac­tu­ally gone in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

“You can’t get rid of them,” Harry Wil­son, a pro­fes­sor at Roanoke Col­lege in Vir­ginia — near the scene of the latest shoot­ing — told AFP.

A land­mark 2008 de­ci­sion by the Supreme Court out­lawed ma­jor re­stric­tions on gun own­er­ship by rul­ing that the con­sti­tu­tional right to bear arms in­cluded the right to keep a loaded hand­gun for self­de­fense.

The gov­ern­ment can still im­pose some re­stric­tions, such as pro­hibit­ing con­victed crim­i­nals and the men­tally ill from own­ing guns and re­quir­ing back­ground checks prior to pur­chase.

But the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate has led to a dras­tic loos­en­ing of gun con­trols in re­cent years, de­spite the many calls to the con­trary fol­low­ing a se­ries of in­creas­ingly hor­rific mass shoot­ings.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama pushed hard but failed to re­strict the sale of mil­i­tary-style as­sault ri­fles and failed to strengthen back­ground checks af­ter 20 chil­dren were killed in a shoot­ing at a New­town, Con­necti­cut ele­men­tary school in De­cem­ber 2012.

Obama said last month that his fail­ure to tighten gun laws was the great­est source of frus­tra­tion dur­ing his time in of­fice.

“We’ve not seen any move­ment on na­tional gun law changes in re­cent years be­cause of the Repub­li­can party’s as­cen­dance at the na­tional level and also be­cause the gun lobby is very ef­fec­tive po­lit­i­cally at mo­bi­liz­ing their sup­port­ers,” said Robert Spitzer, a pro­fes­sor at State Univer­sity of New York at Cort­land who has pub­lished four books on gun con­trol.

Repub­li­cans are closely aligned with gun rights sup­port­ers and are strongly op­posed to en­act­ing most laws cham­pi­oned by Obama.

“Also, the gun lobby has been fairly ef­fec­tive at ad­vanc­ing its mes­sage that gun laws don’t re­ally mat­ter,” Spitzer said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

“There is mount­ing ev­i­dence that gun laws do mat­ter — es­pe­cially on peo­ple who ought not to have ac­cess to guns — but that is not the pre­vail­ing po­lit­i­cal mes­sage that many or most Amer­i­cans hear, which is that gun laws only re­strict hon­est peo­ple and don’t have an ef­fect on peo­ple who would do bad things with guns.”

There has been a sub­stan­tial shift in public per­cep­tions since Obama was elected in 2008.

In sur­veys con­ducted by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter in the 1990s and early 2000s, about a third of Amer­i­cans said it was more im­por­tant to pro­tect gun rights than to con­trol guns.

That jumped up to 45 per­cent in the years fol­low­ing Obama’s elec­tion and was up to 50 per­cent in July.

When asked about spe­cific poli­cies, how­ever, 70-85 per­cent of Amer­i­cans were in fa­vor of re­quir­ing back­ground checks at gun shows and in pri­vate sales, laws pre­vent­ing the men­tally ill from buy­ing guns and cre­at­ing a fed­eral data­base to track gun sales.

An “in­ten­sity gap” is of­ten cited as the rea­son why even these so-called com­mon sense mea­sures are not en­acted.

Gun rights sup­port­ers are fer­vent and well or­ga­nized. While there has been a surge in new gun con­trol ad­vo­cacy groups in re­cent years, they re­main out­num­bered and out­spent.

Guns are also a po­tent sym­bol of free­dom, pa­tri­o­tism and in­di­vid­u­al­ism in the United States, said Jim Tay­lor, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Ohio Univer­sity.

They are wo­ven into the fab­ric of the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence from the na­tion’s found­ing through armed re­bel­lion against a tyran­ni­cal king to the fron­tier folk he­roes like Davy Crockett.

And they sat­u­rate Amer­i­can cul­ture with count­less ap­pear­ances in movies, tele­vi­sion shows, books and songs on the ra­dio.

Ran­dom acts of vi­o­lence like a 2012 shoot­ing at a Colorado movie theater that left 12 peo­ple dead and 70 wounded can ac­tu­ally serve to re­in­force sup­port for gun rights.

“The per­cep­tion in the minds of some peo­ple is, ‘This is go­ing to keep hap­pen­ing and maybe I need to arm my­self,’” Tay­lor said.

Amer­ica’s gun vi­o­lence prob­lem can­not be solved with sim­ple so­lu­tions like back­ground checks, said Wil­son, who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about the pol­i­tics of gun con­trol and is also a po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor for the Vir­ginia news sta­tion tar­geted in Wed­nes­day’s at­tack.

“Most of these shoot­ers are buy­ing these guns legally,” Wil­son said.

“You can ask the ques­tion, ‘Why do we have the fire­power to do this to one another?’ You can also ask the ques­tion ‘Why do we want to do this to one another?’ Those are both im­por­tant ques­tions.”

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