The fresh spate of violence in Newtown, Connecticut raises the issue of gun control once again. Up to 27 people, the majority of which were children, have been gunned down in Sandy Hook Elementary school by 20-year old Adam Lanza, and that despite the increased security measures recently implemented in the school. It was reported that a .223 Bushmaster rifle in addition to two handguns (a Glock and a Sig Sauer) were found on the gunman’s person.
It is still unclear whether President Obama will prioritize the issue of gun control high in his agenda. His spokesperson Jay Carney has taken the predictable stance of avoiding discussion on the topic of gun control, indirectly calling it inappropriate. In the past 5 years there have been several high profile gun control cases including the Aurora theatre shooting and the Oakville Sikh Temple shooting, both in 2012. In each case, discussing gun control was deemed inappropriate by the Obama government.
The lack of willingness to address this topic head-on in Congress can be explained by the internal struggle within the U.S. regarding gun control. Also, support for tighter gun control laws has decreased from 78% in 2007 to 44% in 2010 according to Gallup polls. In seeming contradiction, ORC polls show that specific gun control policies such as banning weapons and increasing background checks for felons and the mentally unstable, banning high capacity clips, limiting the number of guns per individual and making gun registration mandatory are policies actually favoured by the American public.
The overarching debate often focuses on the relationship between high gun ownership figures in comparison with low rates of violence. The most common example used to support loose gun control laws is the case of Switzerland who has one of the highest number of guns per capita, yet a relatively low rate of violence in comparison with other European countries. It is primarily a result of its defense system which employs a type of national militia that is comprised of all male citizens.
In the U.S., in the D.C. vs. Heller case (2008) regarding a ruling on a ban on possession of handguns, the minority’s argument in favour of the ruling regarding such a militia-concept stated, “As used in the Second Amendment, the words “the people” do not enlarge the right to keep and bear arms to encompass use or ownership of weapons outside the context of service in a well-regulated militia.” Nevertheless, this ruling was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in favour of the majority, which agreed on the rephrasing of the Second Amendment, “Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
Returning to the Swiss comparison, owners of guns in Switzerland are part of a national conscription to the Army and are therefore trained to use arms but more often than not – do not retain the ammunition. The concept of a protecting militia is ingrained in the Swiss national security strategy whereas in the United States, baring arms is seen as a form of self-defense and constitutional right.
The National Rifle Association is the most powerful gun lobby in the United States that spearheads this “constitutional right”and has mass influence on single issue voters through gun magazines, shops and gun clubs. It spreads a message of an “us versus them” attitude in regards to gun legislation, employing a certain “siege mentality”. Using the Second Amendment as their bible, they unite gun-owners to defend the “American right” to bear arms and the right to privacy.Their strength lies in their inter-connectivity and link to the wealthy gun manufacturing industry in the U.S. Despite its humble 4 million supporters, the National Rifle Association is an audible force in Congress. As a result, in 2004, the legislation proposals to renew a ban on assault rifles and to criminalize weapon trafficking failed to pass in the US Senate .
It is cruelly ironic that a mere 48 hours ago, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stated in an interview that “now” was the right time for lawmakers to start considering the gun-control issue in relation to the Aurora theater shootings which took 12 lives and injured many more. Five months on from the Aurora shootings, America has yet another attack to mourn – the Sandy Hook shootings as well as the failure and indirect usage of the Constitution against these children.
– Hiba Ganta
(featured photo: Aldaron, Creative Commons, Wikipedia)