On 13 March, 1996, a man walked into Dunblane School, Stirling, and massacred 17 people, most of whom were children. Six weeks later, a man walked through the popular tourist spot of Port Arthur in Australia and killed 35 people.
In the months and years after these horrific events, both the UK and Australian governments enacted strict, sweeping gun control laws that have largely been effective in curbing large-scale gun crime. Australia, in particular, has not had a single mass shooting since that event.
In the United States, however, there have been 47,395 shootings in this year alone. 11,844 people have died, including the 58 in the latest tragedy in Las Vegas. In the wake of this awful crime, the satirical news website The Onion once again ran their infamous headline: “No Way To Prevent This, Says Only Nation On Earth Where This Regularly Happens.”
This is the fifth time they have had to post this article since May 2014, only changing the location and the ever-increasing numbers of the dead. Unfortunately they cannot post it every time there is a mass shooting, as they would be doing so nearly every day. So why does it keep happening? Why has the most powerful country in the world not been able to decisively deal with this issue like the UK or Australia have done?
The answer is a combination of political cowardliness, arcane laws and – inevitably – money. The US Constitution’s Second Amendment enshrines the right of private citizens to possess firearms in law, and so they do. The US has the largest supply of civilian-owned firearms in the world; around 300 million weapons. Nowhere else in the world are they so readily available: at big supermarkets, in small family shops and at gun shows, where there is no requirement for background checks before a private sale.
Not only are there millions of weapons that are able to be easily purchased, often without any kind of background checks or waiting period, but organisations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) are actively involved in preventing any gun control measures from passing Congress. The NRA is one of the largest and most powerful lobby groups in the country, and it is largely due to their influence that the US has not been able to take steps on gun control.
Because of their huge membership and subsequent popularity across the country, they have significant funds and can exercise considerable political clout. Critics say that this effectively ‘buys’ members of Congress and ensures no restrictions on gun ownership can ever be passed. Over the course of their careers, ten US senators (including former presidential hopeful John McCain) have collectively received over $42 million from the NRA. This number only includes these ten individuals, and does not include the rest of the Senate or any of the members of the House of Representatives. Even those who are not in the pocket of the NRA are unable to do anything substantial, because it is effectively political suicide to campaign for tighter restrictions.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 95 of the 100 biggest political beneficiaries are Republicans. In the increasingly ritualised aftermath of these tragedies, they offer their ‘thoughts and prayers’, say that now is not the time to be talking about gun control and then bury the issue until the next event occurs. These legislators are very often the same ones who claim that the problem is not one of guns, but of a lack of mental health services in America. This argument might carry more weight or plausibility if those making it weren’t so often simultaneously voting to gut healthcare provisions and access to insurance.
Some experts say that since the failure to introduce gun control legislation after the murder of 20 elementary school children in the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012, it is evident that nothing will convince Americans to relinquish or even modify their Second Amendment rights. In fact, since that shooting, there have been efforts to increase open carry legislation and gun sales have spiked.
With the Republicans currently controlling the White House, Senate and House, any measures on gun control are effectively dead in the water. So how many innocent people will have to die before America changes its mind, and how long will they have to wait?
Image: joshlopezphoto via flikr