©2019 Mina Marko

  • M. MARKO

America’s Number 1 Problem: No, It’s Not Trump or the Migrants

A year doesn’t pass without the news of some mass shootings in America. Each time there is a massacre as such, a debate on changing gun laws reignites in nationwide America. What is more awkward is that while the public revolves around the contention, little is done at the federal level to amend the laws accordingly because after every “mass shootings”, the trend seems to be the proponents of the guns offer condolences, the politicians make speeches about legislative efforts on gun violence, and the National Rifle Association holds on to obstructing, postponing and opposing most proposals to strengthen firearm regulations until the uproar passes, then it’s all back to the same practice until the next time.

America's gun culture originates from their 18th century’s Bill of Rights under the Second Amendment where it states “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The idea behind this right was to protect people from a tyrannical government such as the Revolutionists who fought against King George III. It had been a long time dispute who may bear arms but in a landmark case, District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), it was explained that America sees all of its citizens as militia and owning a gun is a protected individual right, independent of membership in any organised group or military unit. But long before the Supreme Court’s decision, America’s weapon obsession had been reinforced throughout the centuries by the country’s proliferation of firearms and the its many revolutionary and frontier history.

At first glance, America’s use of firearms is just like any other nation’s practice with firearms; the citizens use weapons to hunt animals, defend themselves, and shoot targets for competitions. But the problem arises when these weapons are used for something other than recreational means such as mass killings by the people who shouldn’t have owned a gun it in the first place.

If we take the definition of the mass shooting as an act of public firearm violence in which a shooter kills at least four victims, then according to the Washington Post, there have been 166 mass shootings in the United States between 1967 and August 2019. In broader definitions, however, this number extends to 2,200. These figures show that the United has more mass shootings than even in the countries with national service where most eligible adults know how to use guns. According to the Business Insider, Switzerland and Finland have the highest numbers of gun owners, and yet America’s mass homicides surpass any of countries-alike in the world.

The American public seems to be divided on the issue of proper use of weapons: the opponents hold that there should be more rules about the type of guns that people are allowed to have and stricter background checks to prevent dangerous people getting their hands on weapons. They also add that in countries where people aren’t allowed to carry guns, fewer people are killed each year by these weapons, therefore, America should change its rules. While the proponents argue that it is their right by law to possess guns to protect themselves if they need to do so.

While it should be noted that restricting citizens’ private gun ownership would violate the American Constitution, it would certainly reduce the killing sprees. Although, upon the will of the Congress, there are obvious ways to get around the First and the Second Amendment.

In the past, some states have taken half-hearted measures such as banning the high capacity magazines and assault weapons for civilian use but these laws proved so futile that they haven’t bothered with renewing them after their expirations. Even though some states ban or regulate ownership of assault weapons, the fact that most states do not require registration of guns and the lack of Federal program to register guns have been calamitous matters. In fact, the American weapon enablers are so concerned with their rights of gun ownership and personal privacy, that under Federal law a national gun registry is illegal.

Citizens can register guns only in California, Maryland, New York, Hawaii and the District of Columbia while other states merely collect data on sales. So despite that simple registration of any guns owned can potentially reduce the sales of illegal arms, disarm criminals and domestic abusers and can help the police trace the illegal guns, the hardcore defenders are adamant to view that tracking who owns what guns will interfere with their gun ownership that may eventually lead to the “rights of using guns may be taken away from them”. Notwithstanding, only reasons that someone might not be allowed to have a gun would be if they have a mental health illness, are a convicted criminal, or if they are not a US citizen but because the rules on gun ownership between different US states vastly vary, there are massive legal loopholes which aren’t sufficient to prevent the widespread killings. The track of the mass murderers are so transparent that it begs the question why no one has done any thing further to amend legal omissions on gun ownership. The killers usually tend to be young, socially dysfunctional, emotionally unstable, and has a history of violence. Yet, as though no one, including their families and friends, could predict the act of such hostility, there are no past records of the threat that person presented to the society. Like every stable government, the US should primarily protect the lives of its civilians and then the rights of its civilians. Consequently, scrutiny on gun owners and their families, should be tightened.

Another issue is that guns are relatively cheap to purchase in the US which explains the wide civilian weapon ownership. According to Bustle, the ordinary American citizens buy 14 million new and imported weapons every year. The American public justify their purchase of guns for their safety.

While, it is said to be the consensus of American citizens is change of laws on gun control, under the political power of the deep-pocketed NRA and the Congress who never agree, taking a decent step toward gun control has proved to be extremely difficult. Amending gun laws on national level is such a laborious step that regardless their political disposition, even a US president cannot change the rules on their own: as witnessed by the Democratic former President Barack Obama’s administration and the Republican house like of the current President Donald Trump’s. Welfare of the American public remains under constant peril especially when Mr. Trump openly supports gun owners’ rights.

However, even if no action is taken at the federal level, most states can utilise United Kingdom’s approach to rules and regulations on owning weapons. The UK has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. To mention a few, every British person who wants to own a gun needs to show a licence issued by the police, for the weapon and ammunition separately. They cannot buy absolutely every gun they want and they cannot buy or own them without special permission from the government. There are also much stricter checks done before they allow a person to have a gun.

Moreover, Switzerland, a country with conscription, also have strict rules for who can get a gun. The decision to issue people gun permits is decided by the Swiss authorities on a local level. Regions and cantons keep a log of everyone who owns a gun. Criminals, former convicts, alcohol or drug addicts aren’t allowed to buy guns in Switzerland. Even though hunting rifles and some semiautomatic long arms are exempt from the permit requirement, there hasn’t been a mass shooting in Switzerland for 18 years, which is an impressive time comparing to US’s daily record. This recent information, validates the opinions of the anti-gun activists who say that around the world, stronger gun laws have been linked to fewer gun deaths, as this has been the case in Switzerland.

Undoubtedly, taking drastic measures on gun control immediately is a complex process, but beginning to implement minor reforms over the time, can lead to great achievements in the longer term.

The first steps to public safeguarding should be toward enforcing eligibility rules where the gun purchasers must show proof of legal age, criminal record, and mental status. This method would deter the previously violent people from purchasing or possessing arms. Other options of progressive developments on gun control can include regional tracking of the sales and purchases of weapons; increasing the prices of guns, especially the assault rifles and assault weapons; right to report and investigate potentially illegal weapon users; and installing school and centres with metal detectors.

Clearly, implementing only one of the above won’t solve the problem of regular mass shootings, so in an honest effort for the security of the public, the states can adopt some of these rules, along with a campaign of buying back guns and cracking down on illegal weapon sales. Granted that these reforms are open to highly powered polemics on the invasion of privacy but we must question the logic of anyone against such preventative measures for their safety.

Because problems have solutions: because even under the pressure of an imposing organisation like the NRA, unified actions on gun ownership is necessary.

Because if American government do not interfere and impede the voracious regulations of pro gun parties, there will be a lot of news about the killings of innocent people.

And because the prevention of unnecessary deaths is more honourable than protecting gun rights.