Of Americans' deadly love affair with guns | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 06, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:41 PM, October 06, 2017

Of Americans' deadly love affair with guns

Gun violence in the US has reached a horrifying level so much so that you will see records of it virtually every day if you visit the website of Gun Violence Archive (GVA)—a non-profit organisation that collects data on gun-related violence in the US. Data compiled by the GVA reveals a shocking human toll: there is a mass shooting—defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter—every nine out of 10 days on average.

The deadliest ever took place just a couple of days ago when a gunman, Stephen Craig Paddock, opened fire on a crowd at a concert from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, leaving at least 59 people dead and countless more injured. In another major incident in June last year, 53 people were killed by a shooter, apparently inspired by Islamic State, at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

It is projected that at the current rate, 339,000 people will die by guns by the early 2020s, which is roughly equivalent to the current population of Florida's Tampa. Ironically, despite a worrying spike in shooting deaths, gun control is neither acceptable nor desirable to the arms-loving Americans.

Barack Obama during his presidency tried to hammer home the point again and again that other developed countries such as the UK, Australia and Canada do not have gun violence issues that the US does. “We're the only country in the world where this happens, and it happens once a week,” a visibly frustrated Obama said after a 2015 school shooting in Oregon.

Understanding other countries' gun policy

In the UK, a person needs to get a certificate and proves he or she has a “good” reason to own a rifle or shotgun while a convict is not allowed to touch a gun for five years. Also, any firearm that has a barrel less than 30cm in length is banned outright. 

In Canada, one applying for a mandatory licence must take a training course, notify next-of-kin, have several references, and pass a rigorous background check apart from being on a 60-day waiting period. The results? A major drop in suicides and homicides. There are only 0.07 and 0.5 gun homicides per every 100,000 people in the UK and Canada respectively, whereas nearly four out of the same number of people are killed in the US, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. 

Australia is a rare example where there's a significant shift towards additional gun control measures. Following a 1996 shooting spree that left 35 Australians dead at the Port Arthur tourist spot in Tasmania, the Conservative-led government overhauled its gun laws and instituted a gun-buyback programme, where some 650,000 weapons were voluntarily handed in for USD 360m.

Japan presents yet another model that has all but eradicated gun crimes. If a Japanese citizen wishes to buy a gun, he or she must undergo an exhaustive application process involving several exams including passing a shooting-range test with a mark of at least 95 percent. Moreover, touching guns without or prior to obtaining licence may even result in 10 years in prison.

The country's law enforcement agencies rarely make use of firearms, putting much greater emphasis on judo, and the masses do not view gun ownership as a civil liberty either. In other words, there is no clamour in the Japanese society for gun regulations to be relaxed, a lot of which stems from its post-war sentiment of pacifism.

America's terrible gun thirst

For the Americans, who are apparently so obsessed with guns, the aforementioned measures may seem utterly bizarre as over six in every 10 Americans think having a gun at their home makes it a safer place, including 81 percent of Republicans. 

The US has some unique legal provisions for gun rights. The Second Amendment to its constitution itself protects the people's right to carry arms while the federal law says almost anyone can buy a gun, provided they are of age, the gun is not an assault rifle or machine gun, and they are not a felon, fugitive or non-citizen. 

Incidentally, as the debate over gun control gets heated, the sale of firearms shoots up. It is because people think they will not be able to buy guns in the near future which is why they end up going on a buying spree. 

There is also a fallacy of a one-sided argument centring the debate. There has never been even a token opposition to such juggernaut gun rights lobbyists as National Rifle Association (NRA) and Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), which influence Congress members on arms policy in exchange for a significant amount of money from weapon industries in the form of donations, contributions, and fundraising assistance. That's not all. NRA reportedly uses its influence to gut research organisations' capacity to conduct research on the impact of firearms on human casualty, deliberately making it harder to conduct any scientific research.

Obama hoped to usher in an era of change whose presidency nonetheless ended not with a bang, but with a whimper as his repeated calls for gun control fell on deaf ears. Now, as the Donald Trump era has already dawned, anti-arms activists with their passionate pleas for arms control will be like a lone voice in the wilderness. President Trump during his electioneering had vowed to bin his predecessor's executive actions to streamline the gun purchase background check system and abolish gun-free zones at schools and on military bases. 

Right after Trump's victory in the polls, the SAF, supporters of which rallied to the nth degree to elect a pro-gun president, posted images on social media stating: “Make the Second Amendment great again.” In fact, making the Second Amendment great will be of no avail in making America great again. The sooner the Americans as a nation realise this, the better; or else they will continue to die such horrible deaths in their own land.

Tanbir Uddin Arman is a journalist based in Bangladesh. Email: tanbirarman30@gmail.com

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