Does the US Still Care About Gun Control?
With the war in Ukraine, rising inflation and climate pledges to meet, is gun control still on the political agenda?
While those with different views on what gun control in the US should look like may argue over what constitutes a “mass shooting”, the numbers for 2023 aren’t in dispute.
As we tip into the second half of the year, data from the Gun Violence Archive lists over 300 instances of “mass shooting”. This grim statistic puts the US on course for its worst ever year of gun violence.
Gun ownership remains a deeply contentious and complex issue, fueled by historical, cultural, and constitutional factors. The nation’s diverse attitudes towards gun ownership reflect a wide range of perspectives, encompassing gun enthusiasts, advocates for stricter gun control measures, and various positions in between.
Within the current presidential term, the last response to reviewing gun laws by Congress came in June 2022, following the Robb Elementary School massacre where 21 people died. The response to this latest mass shooting was the $13.2 billion Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. As well as receiving the expected Democrat support, the legislation received backing from 15 Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and 14 House Republicans.
In the wake of shootings earlier this month, President Biden in a statement reasserted his wish to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. However, the prospect of this ever being approved remains unlikely in the absence of GOP support and raises the question of whether more reform is likely.
Knowing more mass shootings are sadly inevitable, what are the prevailing views that will influence future debate?
Gun Enthusiasts and Supporters of Gun Rights
A significant portion of Americans remain strongly supportive of the right to bear arms, citing the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as a crucial aspect of their freedom.
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.
Advocates argue firearms provide self-defense, deter criminal activity, and safeguard against potential tyranny. Organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) actively promote the protection of gun rights.
The NRA describes its role as follows:
While widely recognized today as a major political force and as America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights, the NRA has, since its inception, been the premier firearms education organization in the world. But our successes would not be possible without the tireless efforts and countless hours of service our nearly five million members have given to champion Second Amendment rights and support NRA programs. As former Clinton spokesman George Stephanopoulos said, “Let me make one small vote for the NRA. They’re good citizens. They call their congressmen. They write. They vote. They contribute. And they get what they want over time.”
Taking this view into daily life, the data on US crime rates between 1990–2023 shows that while the murder/homicide rate in the US dropped from a high of 9.71 per 100k people in 1991 to 4.4 per 100k in 2014, they have been rising since this point to a level of 6.52 in 2020.
Whether the data supports the NRA view that “more guns = more deterrent = less crime” remains a hotly debated point, depending on where you stand on this issue.
And with the NRA having a long record of providing financial backing to Republican Senators, a change in the GOP approach does not seem imminent in the current political sphere.
Advocates for Stricter Gun Control Measures
On the other side of the spectrum, many Americans advocate for stricter regulations surrounding gun ownership. Concerns over public safety, reducing gun violence, and preventing mass shootings drive their calls for enhanced background checks, limitations on high-capacity magazines, and the banning of assault weapons. Organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action are active in this realm.
Moms Demand Action describes their purpose as:
Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. We pass stronger gun laws and work to close the loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families. We also work in our own communities and with business leaders to encourage a culture of responsible gun ownership. We know that gun violence is preventable, and we’re committed to doing what it takes to keep families safe.
Among their wide range of activities, are:
- Making enhanced background checks the “foundation of any effort to reduce gun violence across America”. The organisation cites that “more than 3.5 million illegal gun sales have been blocked in the past 20 years.”
- Gun Sense Action Network — a group of volunteers who work to share “gun sense policies” and raise awareness of the organisation.
- “Disarming Domestic Abusers” — taking action to tackle gun violence against women, quoting the US as the worst offender in the developed world.
Moderate and Centrist Stances
Within the debate on gun ownership, there are individuals who hold more moderate positions. They often support some level of gun control while acknowledging the importance of responsible gun ownership and the rights of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms. These perspectives often call for a balanced approach that addresses public safety concerns while respecting constitutional rights.
Cultural and Regional Influences
Attitudes towards US gun ownership are also influenced by cultural and regional factors. Rural areas, where hunting and sport shooting are prevalent, often have a higher acceptance and appreciation of gun ownership as a cultural tradition. Urban areas, on the other hand, may be more inclined towards stricter gun control measures due to concerns about crime and public safety.
One of the players in this space is The Center for American Progress, which describes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans.”
In a 2022 report titled Gun Violence in Rural America, their findings include the following analysis:
Gun ownership rates among rural citizens are higher than they are in urban areas, which can lead to increased gun violence
46 percent of adults who live in rural areas are gun owners, compared with only — 19 percent of adults in urban areas and 28 percent of suburbanites
Three-fourths of rural gun owners stated that they own multiple firearms.
States with higher levels of gun ownership tend to experience higher levels of gun violence.
Communities with high levels of gun ownership are more likely to experience intimate partner homicide:
— If an abusive partner has access to a firearm, they are five times more likely to kill their victim.
Children between the ages of 5 and 14 in rural areas are hospitalized for gunshot wounds at significantly higher rates than their city-dwelling peers.
This reports, and in keeping with the non-partisan position of The Center for American Progress, concludes with a focus on “commonsense gun laws” rather than entrenched policies driven by party politics. They state:
Gun violence continues to damage the lives of citizens across the nation, but our political leaders have the ability to prevent the senseless losses of lives. Unfortunately, pro-gun political leaders have failed to enact commonsense gun violence prevention measures that can save lives and have actively made it easier for guns to fall into the wrong hands. It is easy for these same leaders and the media to criticize urban, Democrat-led counties, but the truth is that rural communities within several Republican-led states have experienced a level of gun homicides that matches or outpaces that of their urban neighbors. It is time for political leaders to show their constituents that their lives matter and push for commonsense gun laws.
In an unstable world — is more US gun control likely or needed?
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was one of the most significant advances in gun control in many years and widely-heralded. But as the data reveals, the levels of “mass shootings” show no sign of reduction.
With already significant input into supporting Ukraine and the risk of further escalation, economic turmoil from the war and the post-pandemic impact on the economy, inflation and the scourge of “greedflation”, and the impending environmental catastrophe facing us all, are politicians really still interested in more gun reform? Is it needed or are cynical calculations about votes — on both sides of the political debate — ahead of the next presidential election going to kick this into the long grass again?
In the year that is likely to go down as the most violent in US history, can this issue really be cast aside once more? If it is, then there is one further thing we can add to the phrase immortalised by Benjamin Franklin:
“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” — and for further heartbreaking mass shootings.
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