By Anna Noble
The US has more guns than people.
Enshrined by the Second Amendment, gun rights have so far proved untouchable, but this comes at a deadly cost. In 2019, 38,300 people died from gun violence; statistics provided by the NPR in 2019 show that the US has a higher violent gun death rate – 3.96 per 100,000 – than Somalia, Thailand, Afghanistan, Syria, Cambodia, and Yemen.
From 16th March this year, CNN reports that there have been 45 mass shootings in the US; including four in which four or more people have died. Put simply the US has had more mass shootings in the past month than the UK has had in modern history.
It is tempting to ask how many people have to die before the US changes its gun laws.
The recent mass shootings in Atlanta, Boulder, and Indianapolis and renewed calls for stricter gun laws. Polls have found that the majority of Americans want stricter gun laws: Pew Research found that 93% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans said they favoured background checks, including at gun shows and private gun sales. A 2019 Politico poll found that 70% of Americans support an assault weapons ban, including 86% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans.
The US lags behind most of the world on enacting gun control. Most countries, when faced with mass shootings, have enacted robust gun control. In the UK, this was after Dunblane, in Australia it was Port Arthur; for New Zealand, the Christchurch massacre.
The argument against gun reform is that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms and as a constitutional right this should not be regulated. Yet this was written 200 years ago at a time when technology was vastly simpler, semi-automatic weapons capable of killing dozens of people in seconds did not exist.
In fact, as The Washington Post highlights, the authors of the Bill of Rights “were not concerned with an individual or personal right to bear arms”, with courts traditionally ruling “right of individual citizens to bear arms existed only within the context of participation in the militia”.
This precedent was only overturned in the National Rifles Association-backed 2008 Supreme Court Case District of Columbia v Heller which found the Second Amendment gives an individual right to own a gun for self-defence outside of a militia service.
Progress on gun reform has also long been rendered paralysed by the NRA’s influence over court cases, Republican presidents, and crucially Congress. In 2018, half of Congressional incumbents received financial contributions and/or support from the NRA. In reality, this means that the NRA has ensured there is not enough support in Congress to enact gun control.
However, there are arguments that progress could potentially be made if the gun lobby decreases in power, or its ties to Congress diminish. The NRA filed for bankruptcy in February and has decreased its spending on political matters: in 2018, gun control groups outspent the NRA.
Nevertheless, even with the NRA’s power diminishing, Republicans remain committed to the Second Amendment and their “thoughts and prayers” response to mass shootings.
Bi-partisan gun control legislation is also unlikely when considering the hyper-partisan tensions which currently exist in US politics.
If the US were going to be shocked into changing its gun laws by horrific mass shootings, it would have already happened; after Columbine or Sandy Hook or Parkland or Virginia Tech or Las Vegas or Orlando.
In truth, it is doubtful that any number of deaths will convince the NRA, Congress, and the Supreme Court to support gun control.
The best hope for gun control is that the Democrats either abolish the filibuster or significantly increase their Congressional majority in 2022 to gain the necessary 60 votes in the Senate to support such legislation. This is unfortunately unlikely.
Image: MHM55 via Creative Commons