Gun laws in the US have a considerably long history with dramatic developments in recent times. A big push to ending gun violence through legislations was expected with President Obama’s visit to Connecticut, where a gunman recently killed 20 children and six adults in a Newtown School in December last. The President had made it clear that he was determined to bring in tougher gun laws. However he received a major blow when the Senate voted against the proposed tougher laws, and rejected the new legislation requiring expanded background verification for gun buyers. The President, both emotional and angry, at the defeat of the proposed legislation, responded, saying that the powerful gun lobby had willfully lied to the American people (The Independent). These developments brought to the fore once again the politics of gun control in the US. Despite losing innocent victims time and again, the US continues to defy political support in the form of legislations, to end gun violence in the country. Meanwhile the debate on ending gun violence continues, even as the families of the innocent dead victims cry in silence, wondering whether their loved once would have been alive, had there been stricter gun laws in the country.
The US’s tryst with gun laws has indeed been very dramatic. The rights to own, carry or even conceal arms are regarded by many in the US as fundamental rights, although this is considered illegal in many countries. In March 2004 when the Senate extended the ban on assault weapons, both Democratic and Republican parties pointed out to the Second Amendment Rights that gave Americans the right to own weapons. In many countries, public accesses to weapons have been ruled out, with gun manufacturers only being able to sell to the government. Shootouts have become common in the US, given the easy sale of arms to the public which makes it difficult to monitor illegal use. The problems inherent with the gun laws in the US become clear, when gun use problems are compared between the US and a country without gun rights. Even earlier in 1994, when the “Brady Bill” was introduced by the Congress, it required prospective handgun buyers to wait for five days. The five-day wait period was for enforcement agencies to do background verification of the buyers. When gun manufacturers appealed against this, the Supreme Court described the background verification of the buyers, as being unconstitutional. The proposed law was subsequently revised requiring only the gun dealers to do an immediate verification, through a national online system. .
Gun use is regulated by the state and local rules, with differing level of importance on various issues. States have varying levels of controls over guns, from weak control to strong control. Some states do not allow concealed weapons, while many states issue licenses for carrying concealed weapons. Some states require individuals to prove their need to carry concealed weapon. However most states have a lot in common when it comes to crucial issues like use by minors, illegal drug users, mentally unstable etc. For instance, most states consider leaving a loaded weapon within a minor’s reach as a crime. Brady Bill has been effective to some extent; although only 3% of the gun applicants have been rejected due to Brady Bill, the people rejected are the ones most likely to take to armed crime. By keeping away guns from such criminals, deaths due to the use of guns by criminals have declined significantly. It must be noted here that the main cause of injuries and deaths associated with guns, arise from homicide and criminal assault. However social and gun control activists are convinced that criminals still find it easy to get guns, and therefore much has to be done in this direction. The fact that a considerable percentage of people amongst us are armed is a cause for concern.
It would be interesting to note that at one point of time about 60 to 70% of public opinion sought stricter gun control laws. However despite this no significant gun control law has been promulgated. Yet there are about 20,000 separate laws on regulation of firearms ranging across state, city, and local laws (Kwon et al.). The efforts to bring in stricter gun laws have repeatedly failed; a fact that could be attributed to the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). It is widely perceived in the US, that the gun politics in the country is dominated by the NRA since the 1960s (Beauchamp). The marketing strategy of the gun manufacturers too is indeed very shocking. Until 1994, the firearm manufacturers were free to circulate pamphlets to children, drawing them towards guns. Aiming to ‘start them young’ they even provided product details of guns to the children.
It is sad that the efforts to control shooting and crime, like that undertaken by President Obama have failed. Gun control has not been on the agenda of any party during election campaigns in recent times. Hope for stricter gun laws are gradually fading. Only when tragic shootings happen, do people seek tougher gun laws. The support dries up with time as the incident is forgotten. Opponents of gun control gained significantly when the US Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment offered strict control and thus there was no need for more control. The ruling put an end to the ban of handguns that was effective in Washington D.C. An important aspect of gun control lobbying is that gun control opponents are always capable of raising more money than gun control supporters (News Batch).
Tighter gun control has been seen to be associated with to less causality. Thus gun control saves lives and therefore the government has an obligation to save lives, by bringing in stricter gun laws. People think that keeping a gun at home increases protection for self and other members at home. However studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that the presence of a gun in the house makes it 4.8 times more likely for a suicide and 2.7 times more possible for a homicide in the home (Kellermann et al.). Sometimes pro-gun activists say that it’s not the guns that kill, but the people behind them. This argument doesn’t make sense and it’s like saying that the glasses one wear doesn’t see, it’s only the eyes behind them that see. Glasses like guns are tools that help accomplish what people want to do. It’s high time for the lawmakers and common citizens to understand the need for gun control laws and make our society a safer place.
It is high time for gun manufacturers to think and act ethically, because the gun scenario in the US desperately needs to be changed and this cannot happen without the support of the manufacturers themselves. Gun manufacturers should realize that that their profits are at the ruin of the children and the society. No amount of effort by the schools and community can change the situation without significant legislations, and contemporary developments have shown that legislations won’t be coming soon, ironically without the support of the NRA. The situation now urgently requires careful consideration by the NRA backed manufacturers to realize that gun opposition demands are for a safe environment which is also in the interests of their own children too.
Clive Beauchamp. In the wake of Columbine: Who is winning the great American gun war? School of Social Sciences and Liberal Studies Charles Sturt University – Mitchell.2000. Web. 22nd April 2013
CNN.com. Fear drives opposition to gun control 2012. Web. 21st April 2013
Gun information. Org. Freedom and Gun Control. Web. 22nd April 2013
Ik-Whan G. Kwon et al. The Effectiveness of Gun Control Laws: Multivariate Statistical Analysis American Journal of Economics and Sociology. Vol 56: 1
Kellermann A.L, Rivara FP, Rushforth NB et al. Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. 1993. The New England journal of Medicine 329: 1084-1091
News batch.com Gun Control Policy Issues. 2008. Web.19th April 2013
The Independent. Blow to Obama as US Senate defeats gun control bill 2013. Web. 21 April 2013