Political Standoff in the US: Gun Reform
Hardly a week goes by where one does not come across a headline that mentions a local shooting incident in the US. Despite being the greatest country in the world, the US has consistently failed to adequately regulate firearms within its borders. According to the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution, people have ‘the right to keep and bear arms which shall not be infringed’. When a country whose very own constitution boasts the right to ownership of arms, there is not a lot one can do. However, a Constitution drafted over 200 years ago does leave some scope for amendments as per the present state of affairs. With countless mass shooting incidents reported almost every week, why have successive American presidents refrained from actually revising the Second Amendment? Why have the leaders of the greatest superpower abstained from making the changes which could drastically reduce the crime rate in the country?
The past few years have witnessed a sharp rise in the debate around the gun laws in the US, owing to the increasing amount of incidents involving firearms. From robbery to suicides to mass school shootings, easy access to guns in almost every household has made it utterly crucial to restrict or amend the law against the possession of firearms. The US has reported over 115 mass shootings since 1982, out of which the 11 deadliest shootings have been post 2015. In 2016, 75% of all homicides were firearm homicides, which amounted to around 15,000 reported incidents. The mass shooting at Las Vegas in 2017 is the deadliest incident in modern American history, which claimed the lives of around 60 people. These are just some of the latest incidents in the country, which were mostly recorded in urban counties where over 50% of the US population resides. When talking of gun-related episodes, people generally interpret it as mass shootings and murders, while completely neglecting suicides, which contribute to almost 60% of gun-related deaths in the country.
With suicides, school shootings and other mass shootings at an all-time high, several administrations have deliberated relentlessly on this issue. The American populace remains visibly divided when it comes to stricter restrictions. According to a report presented by RAND, the US has the world’s highest civilian gun ownership, which is something that is proudly flaunted by some Americans. The possession of a gun or any sort of firearm is seen as a trivial means of protecting yourself in the US, and stricter laws are seen making it tougher for people to protect themselves and their loved ones. Most of the debate typically orbits around the Republicans and the Democrats and their respective stances on the issue: a significant number of Democrats (over 80%) believe that guns laws should be stricter owing to the current situation, while a majority of the Republicans not only oppose the stricter gun laws, one-third of them also own a gun, rifle or a pistol.
Ironically, lawmakers in many Republican-run states aim to expand access to firearms on the grounds of 'individual liberties and public safety.' One of the key actors in this debate is the National Rifle Association (NRA) which even aided the state of Tennessee to push a bill through the legislature to remove the state’s permit requirement to carry a handgun. The NRA, a far-right organisation founded in 1871, is currently being operated by its executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre and vehemently opposes any form of change or restriction and aims to ‘support and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis’. The first thing that one would witness on their website is a notice to stop the “gun-ban agenda” by the Biden administration, further proving their fervent hostility against any sort of stand that the government might take. Today, the NRA is one of the most powerful special lobby groups in the country, with enough capital—as much as USD 250 million a year—to influence members of Congress on gun policy. With its intense backing of the Republicans and its increasing influence on the country's decision-making regarding gun laws, it becomes an arduous task to take a unified approach for the entire country.
Past governments have struggled to come to a tangible solution to curtail violence related to firearms given the lack of a more cohesive outlook throughout the US. However, the Biden government vowed in its manifesto to tackle the grave issue that has cost the country numerous lives. One of the most renowned tactics has been to implement a stricter background check before the purchase of a firearm. Massachusetts, for example, is one of the least affected states when it comes to firearms-related violence. Gun laws in Massachusetts primarily focus on thorough background checks to reduce the chances of any potential danger. In order to purchase a gun, one must obtain a gun license from their local police department, which usually takes weeks consisting of paperwork, an interview, and a background check, after which the police chief still has the right to deny the person from obtaining the gun license. Once a person obtains their gun license, they would still need to clear additional background checks before a purchase is finalised, after which the firearm will be registered in the Massachusetts Gun Transactions Portal.
Keeping to their promise, in March 2021 the US House of Representatives approved two bills to spearhead their gun control campaign that has been long due in the country. The first bill would aim to expand background checks for those purchasing weapons via all means- be it over the internet, at gun shows or through private transactions. The second bill would give authorities ten business days to complete federal background checks before licensing a gun sale. As of now, such sales could proceed if the federal background checks remain incomplete within three days. The two bills serve as a necessary change of attitude in American politics where amendments for gun-related laws have been long ignored. Almost every Democrat supports gun control measures, claiming that stricter checks could reduce cases of suicides, domestic abuse, and other felonies. On the other hand, Republicans ardently argue that the legislation would not only infringe upon the citizens’ right to bear arms, it is also not the most effective measure to ensure safer American streets.
Although a stricter background check is a step in the right direction, some have argued that even that would not be sufficient to lower the crime rate revolving around guns. According to reports, a stricter background check does not guarantee a decrease in crimes and violence related to guns and other firearms. Therefore, researchers have also weighed up the additional factors that could contribute to reducing gun-related crimes in the States, such as an increase in the deployment of police officers, which has resulted in a decrease in the number of mass shootings. In addition to this, psychological aid and evaluation must be used for assessment to identify a person's state of mind and assess their situation accordingly. The American Psychological Association recommends a ‘comprehensive community approach’ to identify strategies and collectively take constructive steps in reducing gun violence.
An issue as important as gun violence in the US requires consistent support and coordination between both the Democrats and the Republicans, who are majorly antithetical in their approach towards gun laws. Furthermore, though the Biden administration has initiated reforms, more focus on a comprehensive psychological evaluation and education is necessary to combat the issue at ground level. Nevertheless, it is still uncertain what the future holds for Americans and their deceptive fondness for their guns, especially under President Biden.
Written by Shubhangi Misra
Shubhangi Misra is a columnist at DecipherGrey.