The human cost of American gun culture

17 Oct 2017

 

Fifty-eight dead. Hundreds injured. The Las Vegas massacre is just another example of the devastation that guns can cause. Yet guns are still sold freely on the streets of America. So why is it taking so long for gun control laws to be put into place?

 

In the United States of America there are approximately 270 million firearms possessed by civilians (compared to only 897,000 carried by police). Close to 33,000 Americans were victims of gun-related deaths in 2011 and in 2014-2015 an average of 289 citizens were shot every day. According to a 2013 analysis by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 98% of US citizens live within ten miles of gun store. Guns are easily accessible and it isn’t hard to get a licence for one. There are only ten types of people who would be rejected by a background check, including felons, fugitives, drug addicts and the mentally ill. In some parts of America you can walk away from a store with a legal gun within a few moments of arriving. Many stores will run two checks on customers: a state check and a federal check. However, in thirty-nine out of the fifty states, stores without a federal firearms licence are under no obligation to do so.

 

So why is owning a gun so important to a lot of Americans? Quite simply, guns have been a way of life for hundreds of years - particularly in rural states such as the Carolinas and Texas where they are used for hunting. In addition to this, many people shoot simply for enjoyment. They use it as a way to relax, with many admitting that it is actually quite fun.

 

But it is the presence of firearms in the US Constitution that provides the most popular excuse. The Constitution values gun ownership above a lot of other things. The Second Amendment states that, “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.” Americans take the word ‘infringed’ very literally and if you mention gun laws to many, they get extremely defensive as their Constitution is symbolic of the freedom earned by their ancestors back in 1776.

 

In the age of nuclear weapons, many pro-firearm Americans argue that the real military of America is the citizenry itself. Should the military become incapacitated by a nuclear attack or some other large-scale weapon, then the responsibility to protect the country would fall to its citizens. While many Americans recognise that harsher gun control is a good idea, their will for self-protection undermines any moral anxieties.

 

The debate over gun control in America is an extremely loud one, but what are the fundamental arguments in favour of it? Statistically, increased gun ownership equals more violent crime and more suicide. When people have open access to guns, they are far more likely to use them. The other main argument is that arming everyone won’t help solve violent situations. After devastating massacres such as the Bataclan attack two years ago, Donald Trump said, insensitively, "You can say what you want, but if they had guns...if our people had guns, if they were allowed to carry...it would have been a much, much different situation." The issue with this comment is the fact that the attackers had guns to begin with. Trump doesn’t seem to accept the direct relationship between guns and violent crime. Now that he’s the President of the United States, stricter gun control laws are unlikely to be implemented any time soon.

 

The main thing we need to take from the constant mass shootings in the USA is that there is always hope; the most horrifying attacks often bring out the best in human nature. While these mass shootings are increasing in number, there is little we can do. What we can do, however, is stand with those Americans who believe that gun control is a good idea and hope that - one day - we may see change for the better.

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