Two weeks ago, gun control was thrust back into the limelight in America after yet another college shooting, this time at Umpqua Community College, where 9 people were killed. As Obama said in his national broadcast, these shootings are becoming all too familiar. So why does the self-proclaimed “greatest nation on earth” not do something about it? How can the world’s most powerful and developed country have laws allowing such random killings to take place?
The shooting and subsequent arguments over the current gun control regulations were a major focal point of the Democratic Party debate last week. All five candidates on stage strongly condemned the shooting, and talked of the need for new weapon regulations. Further, current front-runner Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie Sanders over his previous support for pro-gun legislation back in 2005.
However, it was Sanders’ response to Clinton’s attack that in my view is the most eye-opening, “all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I hope all of us want,” (implement more restrictions on firearms). It is shocking how a US senator, democratically elected and currently attempting to win the Democratic party nomination, has so reluctantly accepted that there is very little any one can do on the subject of gun restrictions.
It is a very similar standpoint to that of Obama, who in an interview with the BBC earlier this year admitted that his inability to change gun regulations was one of the greatest regrets of his presidency. Back in 2012, Obama attempted to reintroduce President Clinton’s assault weapon ban after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, (where 20 children and 6 adults were killed) but the law never passed, being defeated 60-40 in the Senate. His failure to pass this bill,and from simply watching his broadcast and statement after the shooting at
Umpqua Community College, made his own intense personal frustration over the situation abundantly clear.
From an outsider’s point of view, as a British citizen, it seems alien that a country that has suffered such tragic deaths as a result of gun crime is unable, and more importantly unwilling to do anything about it. For example, in 2013, 33,169 people were killed in gun-related incidents, or 1.3% of all deaths that year, but no new laws or restrictions were passed.
It is also the accessibility of weapons, and the ease with which anyone can buy a weapon, that is shocking. Unlike in Britain, where a license is required to own a gun, any individual has the right to buy a weapon from a private seller in the United States without a background check. This immediately allows potentially unstable characters, such as James Holmes – the shooter at the Batman screening in 2012, and Christopher Harper-Mercer – the assailant at the shooting at Umpqua Community College two weeks ago, the chance to buy heavy duty weapons, especially since the ban on civilian assault weapons ended in 2004.
Rather than trying to combat this issue, there is potential new legislation which will legalise carrying weapons on university campuses in a number of states. Whilst common sense would suggest that this is to supposedly allow students to defend themselves against a potential shooting, in fact the argument being put forward by the National Rifle Association and other advocates of weapons on campuses is that carrying a weapon will deter people from committing sexual assault and rape, as women will be able to act in self-defense. However, it will also drastically increase the number of weapons present at universities, and thus the chances of either accidental, or intentional shootings.
Florida is one of the states where this legislation is in effect, and the state representative, Dennis Baxley, was quoted as saying, “If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you’re responsible.” Whilst reducing the rate of sexual assaults and rapes on American university campuses is obviously an important and sensitive issue, this is surely not the most effective method.
What’s more, there is a huge disconnection between those passing the laws and campaigning for their existence, and those who are affected by them. Lawmakers such as Dennis Baxley in Florida, and Michelle Fiore – a Nevada state assembly member – strongly support the guns on campus bills, despite the fact that 78% of students, 95% of college presidents and 89% of police chiefs do not believe that guns on campus will help protect women. In fact, some think that the presence of weapons on university campuses will only increase the rate of sexual assault, as it will arm the perpetrators.
Surely the time has come for American lawmakers, at both state and federal level, to listen to the public outcry against weapons, and to finally resort to common sense and restrict their use and accessibility. For too long, policy makers have been unwilling to take on politically powerful groups such as the National Rifle Association, at the expense of young lives. Unless there is a drastic change in attitude and approach in Washington, mass shootings will continue to plague America.