America's passion for guns needs a serious review

17 Apr 2018

A large display of the renowned American gun culture happened on October 1, 2017 when gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on a large crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas.  58 people lost their lives and 546 were injured. This mass shooting has been named the deadliest attack in American history and has once again highlighted the question: Why does America have such an extreme rate of gun violence?

 

I wanted to address the issue of gun violence in comparison to other countries across the world. America’s gun problem is completely unique and I struggled to believe the statistic that America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and nearly 16 times as many as Germany. However, in some ways it didn’t surprise me that the USA is way in front of other developed countries in terms of gun-related homicides simply because America has many more guns than any of the other developed nations. There is not another developed country that has anywhere near the same rate of gun violence as in the United States of America. According to the Congressional Research Service there are more than 300 million guns in the USA, which is almost twice as many guns per capita as there were in the late 1960s, and gun sales are unfortunately continuing to increase. Furthermore, despite America only having 4.4% of the world’s population it possesses just under half (42%) of the civilian owned guns around the world. These numbers amazed me and led me to believe that there must be two potential reasons why gun ownership is continuing to increase. Firstly, because American citizens are scared and feel that they need to protect themselves from crime and danger, which highlights the culture of fear that is present in the USA, and, secondly, because they are exercising their constitutional right given to them by the Second Amendment, which guarantees an individual’s right to bear arms.

 

There is stark racial disparity in gun violence in the United States of America. The majority of the country’s day-to-day gun violence is concentrated in America’s poorest and most racially segregated neighbourhoods. These areas happen to have high levels of unemployment and a poorer quality of education - both of these factors I believe are highly influential when it comes to looking at the gun crime rate of individual states. Gun crime in the USA has a tendency to favour African Americans as victims and they make up over half of the overall gun murder victims. This clearly demonstrates that racism is still very much alive and a part of American culture. The geography behind gun crime in America has led millions of Americans feeling reassured that they will not be affected by gun crime in their country.  I think that part of the reason why America has such a high rate of gun violence is because many people are just not aware of the extremity of the problem.

 

Furthermore, I think that it is important to highlight the fact that mass shootings actually only make up a small percentage of America’s gun violence, so mass shootings are not particularly helpful when trying to understand gun violence in the USA. There are various types of gun crimes that need to be addressed in more detail. In practice mass shootings are rare in comparison to other types of gun-related deaths. Homicides do not account for half of the total number of deaths caused by guns; in fact, two-thirds of the 33,000 gun deaths a year are suicides, compared to a mere 1.5% of deaths being from mass shootings. People are not familiar with how infrequent mass shootings are because the media places such a huge emphasis on them. For example, on November 1st 2017 there was a shooting in a supermarket in Colorado where three people were murdered. People are not aware of these smaller scale shootings simply because the media are not reporting and publicising them to the extent that they broadcast mass shootings. These different kinds of gun deaths all need to be addressed in various ways because they all have different trends and characteristics. For example, suicide rates are increasing compared to homicide rates, which are falling significantly and there is no doubt that large-scale gun atrocities have increased since the beginning of the 21st Century. These trends all vary from one another because the situations and people involved are different.

In order to gain a wider understanding of the gun problem in America you will need to focus less on mass shootings and more on shootings that have a more universal scope of influence. This also suggests that the solutions to these problems should be different. Policies that have been implemented in order to reduce homicides amongst young black men include programs that aim to strengthen trust within communities, and offer people a way out of crime.  These programs will not have the same effect on preventing suicides within elderly white men. Furthermore, the idea of background checks and laws aimed at reducing the number of people obtaining a gun may prevent a person with a criminal record from purchasing one, however it may not prevent a mass shooting by an individual with no previous history. This suggests that gun violence is not one single problem that America faces and it requires more than one solution in order to properly address the issue.

 

A key example of where government intervention with regards to gun ownership has been successful is in Australia. After the country’s deadliest mass shooting in April 1996 at a seaside resort in Tasmania, which left 35 people dead and over 20 with serious injuries, the Australian government, lead by Conservative leader John Howard, enforced a number of changes to the gun laws in order to see a decline in mass shootings. At the heart of this new legislation was a buyback program. The government confiscated over 650,000 guns by purchasing these firearms from the owners. A new registry was also created of all the guns owned in the country and new legislation stated that a permit was needed in order to purchase any type of gun. This has had an overall positive result with homicides dropping by roughly 42% during the following seven years after the legislation was imposed. Furthermore, according to research by Harvard Australia’s firearm suicide rate also declined by 57%. I am aware that this buyback program cannot be held fully responsible for the drop in homicide and suicide rates in Australia, however it is evident that it was a key influencing factor in the declining trends. These laws have helped Australia attempt to eliminate mass shootings. However, Australia’s gun problem is dramatically smaller in scale than America’s is and therefore suggests that the Australian model is not the best way for America to address this problem of gun violence. In 1995, the year before the introduction of gun buybacks, Australia experienced 67 gun murders. This number is fewer than the number of murders in Oklahoma City alone last year. This therefore demonstrates the huge scale of the problem that America faces. Moreover, this solution may not deem hugely practical for the USA because of the number of firearms that are owned by the American citizens. The USA has a dramatically larger number of guns than Australia and, therefore, in order for America to match the proportion of firearms that were collected in Australia, the USA would need to purchase 90 million firearms. This clearly demonstrates that the likeliness of this solution drastically changing the current American status quo is slim primarily because of the practicalities of carrying it out.

 

Gun violence is a stain on America and is damaging its reputation, as one of the leading global countries and the constitution requires amending in order to ensure a fall in the rate of gun crime. The constitution should be protecting the American citizens from being victims of gun crime instead of facilitating it. While I agree that the USA should not have complete constitutional blanket protection from the usage and ownership of guns, I also believe that gun ownership should not be outlawed entirely because as stated in the Constitution people should have the right to protect themselves.

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