Land of the Free: Can Joe Biden settle this argument down once and for all?
“According to Vox, as of 21st July 2020, 2654 mass shootings have taken place in the United States since Sandy Hook, causing the deaths of 2908 people and wounding over 11,000“
From a European, and especially British perspective – being, as Britain is, one of the world’s few nations where police do not routinely carry guns – the American love for guns can be baffling, after all, why would anyone possibly need an assault rifle for home defence?
There have been countless gun-related atrocities that have only served to occasion more of those outside of the United States to question how long this can go on. Chief among these atrocities in recent years has been the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
On the morning of Friday 14th December 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother at her home in Newton, Connecticut. A short while later, he forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and proceeded to fire upon those that he encountered. In less than five minutes, Lanza had killed twenty-six people: six adults and twenty children, before shooting himself in the head. The Sandy Hook shooting shook the nation and remains a dark day in the history of the United States – the shooting did, however, also reignite the debate over gun control.
The response to the Sandy Hook massacre may have seemed promising to advocates of stricter legislation on guns – nevertheless, eight years on, little has changed. According to Vox, as of 21st July 2020, 2654 mass shootings have taken place in the United States since Sandy Hook, causing the deaths of 2908 people and wounding over 11,000. Unsurprisingly, every mass shooting in the United States sparks calls for tighter gun laws. It seems though, that these scarcely have an effect; after all, the United States’ two worst shootings, the Orlando nightclub shooting and the Las Vegas Strip shooting took place in 2016 and 2017, killing 49 and 61 people respectively.
Of course, mass shootings are not the only way in which the gun control problem manifests itself, America is plagued by crime involving guns – in fact, gun homicide rates are 25.2 times higher than any other high-income nation. The number of guns owned by Americans makes up nearly fifty percent of the world’s civilian gun ownership. This not only lends itself to a larger number of murders involving guns, but also to a huge amount of both accidental and intentional suicides involving guns; as reported by CNN, gun related suicides are eight times more common in the United States than in any other high-income country.
So why are guns such an entrenched part of American society?
The issue is a deep rooted one, following the secession of the 13 colonies from the British Empire, the Bill of Rights was passed. It is the famous Second Amendment to the Constitution that stipulates the right of Americans to possess firearms – ‘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’.
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By HARVEY DORSET: CULTURE Columnist
At the time of the Second Amendment, the United States was an unsteady, fledgling nation, anxious of rebellion and attacks from the Spanish; there was no standing army to defend the nation, thus the right to bear arms was essential to the maintenance of a ‘well regulated militia’.
Obviously, however, the world has changed dramatically over the past two centuries – but in terms of the right to bear arms, the Constitution has not. The fears held by the founding fathers no longer pertain to the United States in its modern form. The Constitution is undeniably archaic, as stated by Tom Ginsberg, professor of International Law and Political Science at the University of Chicago, ‘national constitutions have lasted an average of only seventeen years’ – the Constitution of the United States, contrastingly, sits as the oldest surviving government charter at 233 years old.
What does the future hold?
Many Americans see their right to carry weapons as a hallmark of their freedom, whilst many others long for more extensive gun control. With the election of Joe Biden, is it possible that the new administration could be a force for change? Biden’s 2020 campaign includes ‘the Biden plan to end our gun violence epidemic’, albeit in a trivial 27th place amongst Biden’s other plans – hardly suggestive of radical intention. Biden’s promises on gun control, however, are extensive. His various aims include: a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a reduction in weapon stockpiling, a more rigorous background checking system and a buyback scheme – something that worked well in Australia following its ban on firearms in 1996, recovering 650,000 privately owned firearms.
In spite of Biden’s promises, it is certainly possible that no real change will materialise within the next four years. The National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most influential special interest lobby groups in the United States, with an annual budget of around $3 million to lobby on gun policy, has consistently blocked progress on the issue in recent years – the mission statement of its Political Victory Fund states that gun control is an ‘infringement on the Second Amendment’. Regardless of how gun laws will look by the end of Biden’s term, one thing is clear: the pro-gun lobby will not give up their weapons without a fight.