Shotgun wedded: why America is continuing to lose its battle with gun violence
Every space in the US has the potential to become a site for mass murder. A Tops Supermarket in Buffalo and a hospital clinic in Tulsa are just some of the recent places that have been affected by devastating gun violence. Churches, festivals, parking lots, parties, parks, universities, and town squares have all become locations of tragedy.
Not even schools are safe. On 24 May, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas became the 27th school shooting of 2022 with the lives of 19 children and two teachers claimed. Killed by a gunman who was barely an adult himself, parents now grieve the loss of lives and futures stolen from children who were eight, nine and ten.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012, the fourth-deadliest mass shooting in American history, that saw six-and seven-year-olds killed along with their teachers, no change to gun laws came about. A decade later, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos was still able to purchase a gun the moment that he became an adult, walk into the school and lock himself in a fourth-grade classroom to begin a massacre.
In the US constitution, the Second Amendment states that people have the right to “keep and bear arms” within the framework of a “well-regulated militia”.
Hundreds of the nation’s children have been gunned down before their lives have even begun. Yet no gun reform laws have been passed. With Americans wedded to a weapon seen as their constitutional right, what will it take for gun reform to be passed?
In the US constitution, the Second Amendment states that people have the right to “keep and bear arms” within the framework of a “well-regulated militia”. This has long been interpreted as enabling people to have personal weapons, and careful litigation by lobby groups has seen gun law cases tried under a more conservative Supreme Court, making this law. Cases such as DC vs Heller in 2008 and McDonald v Chicago in 2010 have legitimated personal weapon ownership across the nation.
Across the 50 states gun laws vary greatly. California has some of the strictest in the nation, requiring several administrative processes to gain a gun license and the sale of semi-automatic weapons, which are at the heart of mass shootings, is illegal. Elsewhere, Wyoming has little to no restrictions, allowing the sale of semi-automatic weapons, despite not requiring any background checks or even a gun licence.
With the majority of mass shootings being perpetrated with legally bought weapons, it is unsurprising that the states with the most relaxed gun laws have a higher frequency of mass shootings. Texas, where the Uvalde shooting took place, has been the location of half of the top ten deadliest mass shootings in the US.
America has seen more mass shootings this year than there have been days in 2022.
America has seen more mass shootings this year than there have been days in 2022. Yet this depressing statistic is not unique; since the Gun Violence Archives began tracking gun violence in 2014, America has averaged around 400 mass shootings a year. During this time thousands of people have had their lives claimed, and their families live irreparably damaged.
Yet despite this, gun reform on both a state and federal level remains not only controversial but improbable. As politicians offer thoughts and prayers, legislation to tackle the issue is few and far between. After Sandy Hook, various laws to regulate gun laws across the nation were put forward. But even the most conservative proposals, such as the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey Bill, were voted against.
Many pro-gun figures state that banning guns simply won’t work given that they are in such extensive circulation across the US. The ‘good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun’ narrative is often deployed. But the security guard at the Buffalo store was the first killed by the shooter, and the police took almost an hour to go in to challenge the Uvalde shooter. The good guys with guns currently aren’t enough to stop people being killed.
Many are afraid of what it means for other constitutional rights if this one was somehow removed..
But passing regulatory policies is no easy feat. In fact, there is a multitude of barriers in place. Firstly, many Americans support the right to own weapons, as it was written into the document defining their national identity. 52% of Americans support the tightening of gun laws, with only a slim majority asking for reform. Despite the amendment being written when guns could only fire three rounds a minute, rather than multiple shots per second, like today’s semi-automatics do, guns are firmly embedded into US culture. Many are afraid of what it means for other constitutional rights if this one was somehow removed.
From this comes an extensive and powerful wing of gun lobbying that runs off a culture of fear. Every mention of the infringement on the right to bear arms comes with a surge in sign-ups for pro-gun organisations. Morbidly, events like mass shootings, that raise the gun debate, compel more people to fund those working to keep gun ownership legal. Groups such as the National Rifle Association wield extreme power over local and national politicians.
Politicians, who personally support gun ownership, and are heavily influenced by the NRA, have long prevented reform. Republicans, along with a few Democrats, have repeatedly acted to prevent gun regulation. Beyond just voting down reform, they have utilised processes in the US political system, such as the filibuster. Opponents work to run down debate time for laws through talking, stopped only if 2/3 of the Senate vote to end the filibuster. Laws that don’t have over 60 senators set to support them are doomed to die in the Senate.
as the president heads into the 2022 Midterm elections, the likelihood of Biden passing divisive measures dwindles.
But what about the power of the President to regulate gun laws? Calling for greater reform, President Joe Biden has repeatedly appealed to other politicians asking them: “Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” But others such as Rep. Mark Pocan have suggested that it may take an executive order from the president and avoiding Congress altogether may be the way to actually get any changes implemented. But as the president heads into the 2022 Midterm elections, the likelihood of Biden passing divisive measures dwindles.
With laws unlikely to change, turning to tackle the social ills that contribute to gun violence in the US is an alternative approach. Interwoven into US gun culture are the forces of white supremacy and toxic masculinity. The Buffalo Shooting, like the Charleston Massacre and Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting, were racially motivated attacks; in which Black and Jewish communities were targeted by white supremacists.
While not all shootings are racially motivated, race plays massively into the demographics of mass shooters. Of the 129 instances of gun violence between 1982 and 2022, that statistics deem mass shootings, 68 were perpetrated by white assailants. Looking at mass shooter statistics, data on all gun violence, and overlaps of perpetrators being involved in domestic abuse, mass shootings can be seen as a predominantly white male issue.
it’s not a matter of if but when the next tragedy will strike America’s youth.
Preventing the spread of alt-right spaces online, such as 4Chan and other white supremacist or incel sites, could help prevent the creation of white supremacists. Furthermore, greater mental health provisions through the increase in universal healthcare and the de-stigmatisation of mental health among men could also help.
However, this too looks unlikely. Increased restrictions on the teaching of critical race theory, that limit talking about America’s past of slavery and oppression, means that white supremacy is not going to be addressed any time soon. Talk of online moderation sparks fears of authoritarian state powers, and universal health and social care are equally opposed by Republicans and unlikely to pass too. The prospect of tackling the core social issues that influence mass shootings looks equally bleak.
As the news cycle struggles to keep up as bullets rip their way through communities at a seemingly exponential rate, America continues to lose its battle with gun violence. With every new school year, another cohort of children will learn and practice school shooter drills. Until both guns are regulated and circumstances facilitating the creation of mass shooters are tackled, it’s not a matter of if but when the next tragedy will strike America’s youth.