By Varun Dua
The US gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association (NRA), has been standing in the way of Congressional gun-control reforms, even in the wake of strong emotional backlash, following multiple mass shootings in schools and malls in the US recently. It is appalling to see how miserably the American legislators have failed to uphold the framework of the constitution, which is supposed to “ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Apart from the Western and Southern states, the majority of the state leans in favour of heavier control over guns, however, the make–up of the senate, with a skewed ratio to mid-Western and Southern states, doesn’t reflect the true position of the majority. The gun-advocacy groups have taken backing from the non-sensical interpretation of the second amendment, which states “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”. The context of the amendment is lost to them, as it was meant for the protection of former colonies from standing armies.
Witnessing shootings — be it in schools or in their communities – can have a devastating impact. Children exposed to violence, crime, and abuse are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol; suffer from depression, anxiety, fail or have difficulties in school, and engage in criminal activity. The traumatic effects of the actual shootings notwithstanding, the schools have started conducting lockdown drills, meant to give students experience over such situations. Most of these drills are done in an intense fashion and are themselves having traumatizing effects on students and parents alike.
The last major gun control law was passed in 1994, in which assault weapons were completely banned, and evidence suggests it reduced the occurrences of mass shootings during that period. However, with a sunset clause requiring explicit renewal after 10 years, the ban ceased to exist in 2004.
But is only some powerful lobbying responsible for this mess? Or the apathetic politicians? A local American website claims to have data, tracked over six years, showing a high proportion of students of colour on campuses where these shootings take place. This mirrors the wider problem of gun violence in America and points to increasing violence related to white supremacy. Compare this situation to how the American government reacts to protests for “Black Lives Matter”. People participating are termed as “Black identity extremists” and are probably subject to more background checks than to someone buying an assault rifle. Or maybe we could look at the way the “war on drugs” was fought during the crack epidemic, and how black people were demonised and brought to justice (or not!). There are loads of other examples where the government reacted (or overreacted) to situations, like when AIDS was thought to be a gay disease and the government clamped down on gay clubs and homosexual sex, to how illegal (and sometimes legal) immigrants are being rounded up and being deported by the department of ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Although stricter gun laws and background checks on people buying them would be a step in the right direction, a more directed approach in addressing the growing problem of white supremacy and anti-color sentiment should be the panacea for the longer term. And this would not be possible if the legislators do not intend to accept it as a problem, which seems to be a little difficult at this point in time, given that they have a majority white voter base.
The American government can also take a leaf from the measures taken by other governments around the world to reduce gun violence. Australia had a buy–back programme, through which they destroyed weapons with a one-time tax to cover the expense in the late 90s. The UK approached the problem with a multipronged policy of bans, registration and buy–back programmes. Japan has programmes where people have to undergo tests and mental health evaluations to own a gun. Norway has a very unique way to deal with gun problems. They have trust-building mechanisms between police and the public at large through programmes like community policing. This has not only reduced gun violence, but crime in general. These tried and tested methodologies could be reviewed/adopted, keeping in mind the sensibilities of American people. However, again, this is subject to whether the American legislators would like to wake up to the truth and act accordingly.