by Oreoluwa D. Babatope.

Policy Areas: Governance and Social Justice

The recent twin mass shooting incidents in the United States has brought about a fresh challenge to the country’s authorities over the need to act swiftly to protect the lives of its innocent citizens. It is, however, doubtful if the authorities will be courageous enough to seize the moment to act decisively and differently from what it had been known for. Despite the rampant occurrence of mass shootings, the country is yet to come up with gun control measures that will limit access to gun and its abuse. America has to take lessons from other jurisdictions, which have launched tighter gun control laws. Also, President Trump has to start behaving like a true leader and unifying agent. He has to move beyond mere condemnation and act.

Comments

The United States of America is a country well known for being riddled by incessant gun violence. Data from the Gun Violence Archive reveal that in 2019 alone, America has already recorded 251 incidents of mass shootings in which over 1000 people were shot and over 270 people have died.[2] Describing the ongoing high levels of gun violence in the country as a ‘human rights crisis’, the Amnesty international issued a travel warning, calling on people worldwide to exercise caution and have an emergency contingency plan when traveling throughout the USA.[3] Also, citing the recent mass shootings as indicators of danger and rise in hate crimes, Uruguay and Venezuela have discouraged their citizens from traveling to the United States.[4] For a country that appears to place so much value on security and emphasis on the fight against terrorism and external attack, the attitude of the American government towards internal attack on its citizens is surprising. The mass shootings are almost always followed by an outpouring of outrage; condemnation of the act and perpetrator(s) by authorities and citizens alike; calls for stricter gun laws; pushback from pro-gun activists led by the National Rifle Association (NRA); blaming the incident on mental illness; and finally, an eventual impasse-until the next mass shooting takes place.

The public opinion on gun control laws is mostly divided. Apart from the 46% of Americans who want stricter gun laws,[5] there are those who campaign against all forms of gun control and argue that more guns make the country safer. Relying on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, the pro-gun activists and NRA insist that their right to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. The fulcrum of the arguments against stricter laws is that, ‘guns do not kill people, people kill people.’ Thus, the focus should rather be on people and the reasons they commit such heinous acts. Due to the general history of humans’ violent nature, it can be opined that there is some logic to these arguments. The guns do not work without someone pulling the trigger. On the other hand, however, guns should not be made readily accessible to people who have no problem using it to cause harm. If it is the people that are violent, does it then make sense to make available to them, the means to perpetuate such violence? With more than 390 million guns owned by civilians in the United States, the country tops the list of civilian gun-owning countries (as shown in figure 1 below). In such a situation of unbridled access to guns, it is absolutely impossible to prevent the weapons from falling into wrong hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Fig 1)[6]

The call for stricter gun laws have been repeatedly made by anti-gun activists and concerned citizens. After mass shootings in Scotland and New Zealand, massive campaigns for tighter gun controls were launched. Scotland has now made it illegal to buy or possess a handgun and legal gun owners in New Zealand are to return their military-style semi-automatic weapons, which were banned after the incident, in exchange for cash;[7] a gun buy-back scheme. Why, then, is there a continued hardline defence of gun ownership in the USA? Why has the NRA refused to consider the right to life above the right to own guns? Why does the NRA’s wishes hold so much influence in the US government? BBC reports reveal that in terms of lobbying to influence gun policy, the NRA’s spending jumped from about $3m per year to more than $5m in 2017. It is also believed that coupled with the gun-enthusiasts in government, the NRA’s biggest assets are its ‘pro-gun voters’ who can be mobilized in an election and would “take the NRA voting guide to the polls.”[8] This further strengthens the groups’ power in government, as prospective candidates needing their votes would want to give in to their agenda. The Washington Post[9] reports that President Trump’s openness to endorsing extensive background checks for gun buyers has prompted warnings from the NRA and raised concerns as to how far he will go on any effort. With this level of political involvement by the association, the status of America’s gun control is no surprise.

It must be understood that policies and government decisions would not always favour all parties involved. There will definitely be backlash from dissatisfied corners. This should, however, not deter the government and appropriate stakeholders from taking necessary steps to find meaningful solutions to gun violence which has become a national security emergency. For this to occur, an all-encompassing approach is needed. The focus should be on both the guns and the people. Stricter legislations should be combined with mental and psychological evaluation in schools, workplaces, etc. This is not to promote discrimination, but to encourage seeking proper healthcare. The American people must not allow themselves become conditioned to this reality.

The concerned and aggrieved rhetoric of politicians is meaningless when they fail to pass the laws and take the actions necessary to protect Americans. We cannot afford for this cycle to continue, and if we’re not prepared to do everything within our power to end this cycle, then shame on us as a people.” – John R. Allen. President, The Brookings Institution.

 

[1] This article is taken from The Punch (Online) News. Available at: https://punchng.com/putting-a-halt-to-mass-shooting-in-us/. Date: 08/08/2019.

[2] Ibid

[3] Tweeted by the Amnesty International @amnestyusa on the 7th August, 2019.

[4] Parker C. (2019, August 7). Gun violence in America prompts Amnesty International and a growing list of countries to issue travel warnings. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/08/06/gun-violence-america-prompts-growing-list-countries-issue-travel-warnings/

[5] BBC NEWS (2019, August 5). America’s gun culture in charts. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41488081

[6] Ibid.

[7] Punch Editorial (2019, August 8). Putting a halt to mass shooting in US. Retrieved from https://punchng.com/putting-a-halt-to-mass-shooting-in-us/

[8] Nadolny T. L. (2019, August 7). The gun control fight has started. Could turmoil at the NRA be a game-changer? USA TODAY. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/investigations/2019/08/07/el-paso-and-dayton-shootings-weaker-nra-open-door-gun-control/1942846001/

[9] Dawsey J. & Seung M. (2019, August 7). Trump’s openness to extensive background checks for gun buys draws warning from NRA. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-openness-to-extensive-background-checks-for-gun-buys-draws-warning-from-nra/2019/08/07/a5f82060-b92d-11e9-a091-6a96e67d9cce_story.html