A lone gunman fires into a public space, killing innocent victims caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next day the nation mourns the victims. ‘Never again’ people say; never again will families have to wake up to the news that their loved ones have been taken away from them. Sound familiar? It probably is, as this is the reality that America has become accustomed to.
There was the recent Sutherland Springs shooting, where Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, opened fire in the Texas church during Sunday service. This attack left 26 people dead and 20 wounded. The victims ages ranged from as young as 5 to 72. This came just over a month after the Las Vegas shooting, which left 58 people dead and 546 injured. One would think that with these tragedies there would be greater efforts towards gun control, especially as such mass shootings are a phenomenon stretching back through many years of American history. Not so.
Since 1968, there have been over 1.5 million gun-related deaths on US territory. What makes this statistic even more shocking is that fact that since the founding of the United States fewer Americans have died – just under 1.4 million – in war. Much of this is often blamed on the sheer prevalence of guns in America, yet this does not tell the whole story. Germany has one of the highest weapons-per-head rates in the world, yet gun violence there is remarkably low. It has a gun homicide rate of 0.1 per 100,000 people, compared to 3.6 per 100,000 in America.
Civilians being allowed possession of military-grade weapons such as the semi-automatic AR-15, a weapon that was modified into a fully automatic rifle by the Las Vegas shooter, reveals deep-rooted issues with gun policy in America.
So what can America learn from the Germans? Germany is currently the only country that has a mandatory psychiatric evaluation before an individual can receive their first firearms licence. Germany also has a national gun register which was established in 2013. Whilst America has in the past attempted to restrict gun ownership, the last amendment to such gun control legislation was in 1994 when the Gun Control Act of 1968 was altered to make the possession of any firearm by “prohibited persons” a felony offence, such as those convicted of a misdemeanour involving domestic violence. However, since this time, mass shootings have increased in frequency and severity.
Of course, the largest stumbling block in the battle for stricter gun control is the National Rifle Association. The NRA officially spends over $3 million annually on lobbying, with the majority being given to Republican congressional lawmakers. The NRA have campaigned heavily against gun control, using a disputed interpretation of the second amendment in the US Constitution, which gives US citizens the right to bear arms.
President Trump, who has built a platform of voters against stricter gun control, responded to a question at a news conference in Japan regarding the Texas church shooting: “This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event. A very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it.”. The use of mental illness as a cover for what is fundamentally a gun control issue is a tactic as old as the mass shootings themselves. It distracts from the real problem that guns aren’t nearly as regulated in America as they ought to be. Civilians being allowed possession of military-grade weapons such as the semi-automatic AR-15, a weapon that was modified into a fully automatic rifle by the Las Vegas shooter, reveals deep-rooted issues with gun policy in America.
Another detail often glossed over is the double standards in the terming of gun violence, especially mass shootings. Since 1982, white people – almost entirely white men – have committed around 54 percent of mass shootings. This is by all intents domestic terrorism, but all too often the US media is quick to sympathise with white male shooters. Their actions are all but excused by resorting to a focus on mental illness or even involving their family. The Texas church shooting is labelled as simply a ‘shooting’, while the Pulse nightclub shooting is known as the Orlando terror attack. The reason behind this distinction is none other than race. It is only when we acknowledge this, and ensure that both instances are recognised as what they truly are, domestic terrorism, that America can make significant inroads with gun policy. Until then, the double standard makes this issue a problem of the ‘other’ instead of a domestic crisis orchestrated primarily by the country’s white majority.
It is all too easy for America to hide behind the second amendment, and advocate ‘guns don’t kill, people do’ as a defence against stricter gun regulation. But how many people have to be injured or killed for this to be seen as a national crisis? How many Sandy Hooks, Charlestons, Columbines, or Orlandos must occur in order to spark a real response? America should not say ‘never again’ until they prioritise citizen safety over misunderstood notions of freedom.