If not now, when? Amer­ica’s end­less gun con­trol de­bate


Since Amer­ica’s latest school car­nage the de­bate on gun con­trol has flared anew, as ev­ery time a mass shoot­ing rocks the na­tion. The ar­gu­ments are well-re­hearsed, the ri­val po­si­tions seem­ingly ir­rec­on­cil­able.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has led re­newed calls for a com­pre­hen­sive re­form in the wake of the com­mu­nity col­lege shoot­ing in Ore­gon, but gun con­trol ad­vo­cates doubt the sta­tus quo will shift an inch.

“Any ex­pec­ta­tion of real change in the fore­see­able fu­ture is just wish­ful think­ing,” said Jimmy Tay­lor, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at Ohio Univer­sity and au­thor of “Amer­i­can Gun Cul­ture.”

On one side of the de­bate are gun rights ac­tivists who in­voke the Sec­ond Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion to op­pose any at­tempt to re­strict ac­cess to guns or to con­trol where they can be taken.

Their ar­gu­ment hinges on two key premises: no law can pre­vent crim­i­nals or the men­tally un­sta­ble from get­ting their hands on a gun or open­ing fire; faced with these real threats, law-abid­ing cit­i­zens need guns to pro­tect them­selves.

On the other side are the out­raged gun con­trol ad­vo­cates, who have lost hope of pass­ing mean­ing­ful na­tional re­form through the pro-gun Repub­li­can Party-con­trolled Congress.

In­stead, they are fo­cus­ing their fire on state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments in the hopes of at­tain­ing more lim­ited goals.

One bat­tle has been push­ing for uni­ver­sal back­ground checks prior to gun pur­chases, a mea­sure re­cently adopted in Ore­gon along with 18 of the 50 U.S. states. Else­where, the mea­sure has re­mained out of reach de­spite hav­ing sup­port from a vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans.

As for ma­jor re­form, even with a ma­jor push from the pres­i­dent, there are sim­ply too many leg­isla­tive and le­gal hur­dles to pass­ing sig­nif­i­cant gun con­trols, Tay­lor told AFP.


the sheer num­ber of firearms al­ready in cir­cu­la­tion in the coun­try — 270 mil­lion — and the num­ber of peo­ple with un­de­tected or badly treated men­tal ill­nesses, would seem to make it im­pos­si­ble to pre­vent mass shoot­ings, he added.

‘Hard-wired belief’

The car­nage in Rose­burg, Ore­gon was the 45th school shoot­ing this year and the 142nd since the mas­sacre at Sandy Hook ele­men­tary school claimed the lives of 20 small chil­dren in 2012, ac­cord­ing to Every­town for Gun Safety.

Each shoot­ing re­opens wounds for past vic­tims.

“The hard­est part is know­ing it could have been pre­vented,” said Yvonne Crasso, who lost her sis­ter to gun vi­o­lence in 2012.

“At this point ev­ery­one has blood on their hands,” she told AFP. “Send­ing our thoughts and prayers are not enough. We as Amer­i­cans need to be held ac­count­able for in­ac­tion and for con­tin­u­ously vot­ing for mem­bers of Congress who do

the not sup­port com­mon-sense leg­is­la­tion.”

Andy Parker, the fa­ther of a jour­nal­ist shot dur­ing a live broad­cast in Vir­ginia, blamed the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion for block­ing “rea­son­able safe­guards” which could pre­vent “sense­less tragedies” in a scathing op-ed pub­lished in USA To­day Fri­day.

Ex­perts say the gun rights or­ga­ni­za­tion has a lock on the de­bate be­cause its mem­bers are sim­ply more vo­cal and mo­ti­vated than the so-called silent ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans who sup­port some level of gun con­trol.

“The Pres­i­dent was right to point out that many gun own­ers do not sup­port the stances of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, but those that do are the ones that write letters, show up at protests, and all the rest,” Stephen Saide­man, a pro­fes­sor at Car­leton Univer­sity in Ot­tawa, wrote in his blog.

At the heart of the mat­ter is what Joan Burbick, a pro­fes­sor at Washington State Univer­sity, de­scribes as the na­tion’s “hard-wired belief in guns.”

“I do not think that many Amer­i­cans want change,” the au­thor of “Gun Show Na­tion” told AFP.

“Ev­ery mass shoot­ing only re­in­forces their belief that the world is a dan­ger­ous place and that their gun pro­tects them from these dan­gers. They be­lieve the gun is nec­es­sary.”

There are how­ever some longterm de­mo­graphic trends which point to a shift in at­ti­tudes and the wan­ing power of the gun rights lobby, said Gregg Carter, a pro­fes­sor at Bryant Univer­sity in Rhode Is­land who has writ­ten sev­eral books about guns in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.

Gun rights ac­tivists tend to be white Repub­li­cans while women, im­mi­grants and peo­ple of color tend to be more likely to sup­port both Democrats and gun con­trols: and their num­bers are grow­ing.

And while gun sales have been very strong for the past two decades, the over­all rate of gun own­er­ship is ac­tu­ally down, he added.

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