The Land of the Free has always stood loud and proud about democracy and individual rights, with some even going as far as believing the country to be the epitome of freedom. But America, valuing freedom above all, seems to believe in its freedom excessively and to a fault, particularly with gun control and gun ownership laws. The rest of the world is left perplexed as the epidemic of gun deaths continues to petrify America, and people are left infuriated at the adamant refusal to address the root cause. No matter how horrific, nothing ever leads to the prohibition of individual gun possession. The massacres in Connecticut of twenty 1st graders, in Las Vegas of fifty-eight people dead and 869 wounded, in Florida where students and staff were murdered, and now the tragedy at El Paso and Dayton with 31 dead. All these atrocities have led to nothing but thoughts and prayers. There comes the news cycle, the social media craze, and President Donald Trump’s apathetic tweets – and then nothing changes, until another shooting happens. What is it with Americans and their obsession with and inability to let go of their manmade weapons of death? Perhaps gun advocates, particularly the NRA, have answers – they do not want these guns confiscated, by all means, at all costs.
The NRA’s Power
The NRA, or the National Rifle Association of America, is recognized today as a major political force. The NRA is also America’s leading defender of the Second Amendment rights, as well as the world’s premier firearms education organization since its inception. By the 21st century, the NRA has garnered over five million members of hunters, target shooters, policemen, and other gun enthusiasts.
The second half of the 20th century marked the dawn of the NRA’s greatest exploits, including highly effective political lobbying, along with a campaign against any legislation that calls for gun control. According to them, such measures constitute overt infringement of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, a grave threat to individual liberty. This stance has been strongly maintained, even in the face of horrific and frequent mass shootings all over the country. The NRA continuously asserts that these mass shootings would not have even been prevented with gun control measures – had the victims or bystanders carried guns, they would have been able to intervene and defend themselves. Moreover, they postulate that tragedies such as mass shootings are simply sacrifices to be made in exchange for the freedom granted by the Second Amendment. To further demonstrate its power, the NRA fought against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), following a publication of a study in 1993. The study shows that gun ownership increases the risk of homicide at home. To oppose, the NRA lobbied Congress in 1995, where they successfully reallocated the CDC’s budget for research. A law authored by Republican congressman Jay Dickey of Arkansas was adopted, informally known as the Dickey Amendment, which prohibits the CDC from using research funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” Seventeen years later in 2012, in the wake of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, Dickey publicly expressed remorse at his part in suppressing gun violence research and for having served as the NRA’s man in Congress. He eventually initiated calls for a renewed vigor in mass shootings/gun violence research.
The beginning of 2019 meant lobbying for the NRA, spending over $1.6 million. The NRA continuously lobbies members of the House and Senate, in particular against laws that call for stricter background checks for individuals looking to buy guns. In the wake of the recent mass shootings, people are now calling for extreme background checks and gun control. Trump, once again, has called for lawmakers to pass legislation to improve background checks while implementing immigration reform.
The NRA, despite claiming earlier that it opposes the expansion of background checks, has notably spent $30 million to support Trump’s campaign back in 2016. A high-ranking NRA official has also expressed that the organization opposes the universal background check legislative proposal, but is in favor of laws that grant gun store owners the power to assess customers, along with disallowing sale of guns to anyone with a felony arrest or a record of mental illness. The NRA continues to prove to be an important ally for President Trump – especially since a reelection is up for the taking. Despite losing by a number of 3 million in popular vote, Trump prevailed in 2016 due to heavy mobilization by the NRA, mostly in states where the gun lobby has strong grassroots.
The lobbying of the NRA has been a longtime fixture in Washington. Just last year, the NRA spent $5 million in lobbying, which included the midterm congressional elections. The organization has also reported to have spent a huge amount during the 2018 elections, with most contributions going to the Republicans. Trump addresses the NRA and gun advocates about the Second Amendment, and promises that as long as he remains in power, their gun ownership rights will remain intact.
The NRA is one of the vital sources of Trump’s power, which extends beyond what most people realize.
Gun Control and that Delicate Line
The Democrats have moved to the Left in various issues for the past years, and advocacies include the Green New Deal, single-payer healthcare, free college tuition fees, the decriminalizing of crossing borders without papers, and 70% taxes for the wealthy, among others. There’s one issue, though, that the Democrats seem to avoid like the plague – gun control. When gun control comes up in debates, candidates usually raise the same idea that has been circled around for the decades: the much needed universal background checks, the assault weapon ban from 1994-2004, and generally actions taken on keeping guns away from the dangerous. Only a few come forward with solid plans for gun control, who unfortunately, receive little to no support from others on stage.
Making a deep dent in gun violence in America means more than this. Imagine America where Democrats have leading socially progressive and conscientious candidates who are free to say what they typically do on gun control, and a comprehensive bill becomes law comprised of universal background checks, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and a red-flag law that lets law enforcement take away guns from dangerous people. The situation, surely, will be a sweeping political and social victory. After all, the culmination of decades of work by gun control advocates is finally realized. The media would be buzzing, calling it as a gun politics turning point. The NRA, along with its Republican allies, would be enraged. The lobbying power of the NRA would then be reduced significantly.
Despite the victory that it would seem to be, the effort would not be enough. There will still be mass shootings, not quite different from those that happened in Las Vegas, Florida, and Texas. These mass shootings will happen on a regular basis, not including those cases of urban violence, domestic abuse, and suicide, which, unfortunately, are even more common. Well, why can this victory not be a solution? Research has consistently shown that locations with more guns equate to more gun deaths, and America has the most firearms in the world – weak gun laws will always come up short in addressing the issue entirely.
The problem is right before our eyes – and it is dire. America, with a huge arsenal of guns owned by civilians, leads developed nations in gun violence statistics. A 2018 study from JAMA shows that America’s civilian gun death rate is nearly five times of that of Canada, thirty-five times greater of the UK, and a whopping fifty-three times that of Japan. Data shows that there are more than 100 gun deaths per day in the US, on average.
Those typical gun control proposals are an attempt to solve the problem, but always come nowhere near solving it. Gun control policies should be implemented, yes, but if they do not confront the core issue – Americans simply having too many guns – they are doomed to be nibble around the edges, destined to collapse at some point. People get into arguments all around the world. All countries deal with dangerous locals, both to themselves and others, because of mental illness. Countries have extremists and bigots. Mass shootings do not happen frequently, though. In America, obtaining a gun is easy for a person, which contributes to escalation of otherwise nonlethal tensions and conflicts to pointless loss of lives.
If there is a desire to change the current, Democrats, along with allies, should look into the bigger picture. The focus should be shifted to the problem of excessive abundance of guns in America, rather than just gun control in general – from licensing, confiscation, and aggressive bans of specific types of firearms. To get closer to a solution, one has to start somewhere – in this case, a broader conversation on gun control is called for.
With Gun Control - No More Playing It Safe
The truth is, the Democrats have been playing it safe on gun control for decades. The gun problem in America has two faces – one, guns are easily accessible and two, America has more guns than any other country. Other developed nations require individuals to undergo through way more background checks before obtaining guns, with much rigorous hurdles. Buying guns in America does not necessarily call for a background check – the current law is currently existing with glaring loopholes, weakened further by little to no enforcement. The number of civilian-owned firearms also calls for extreme attention, as in 2017, numbers show that there are 120.5 guns per 100 residents – there are more guns than people, according to a Small Arms Survey analysis.
Congress tried to address the first problem back in 1993, when it enacted federal background checks. Assault weapons ban was passed a year later, but unfortunately, it expired in 2004. Since then, elected Democrats have been advocating for an expansion of background checks, and an extension of the assault weapons ban. The problem is, to reiterate ad nauseam, is that the guns are the actual problem. Even with a huge amount of research showing that the number of guns is equal to the number of gun deaths, elected Democrats fear political backlash. More stringent gun control measures mean more losses for the Democrats, case in point being the 1994 midterm elections. There is also the issue called “intensity gap”, wherein defenders of gun rights are more motivated than the proponents of gun control. The question stands: where should the line be drawn between political interest and actually making a change?
Here We March and Stand
It is not all lost. American progressives have been growing stronger, getting increasingly fed up with mass shooting after mass shooting. This resulted to the rise of the March for Our Lives movement last year – if the Democratic elites draw from that anger and signal that someone is finally willing to fight for gun control policies, then the outpouring of public support can be expected.
Looking at history’s pages on gun policy, it is entirely possible to move positions that once seemed radical compared to the norm. Just consider the NRA, and how they changed the conversation about guns in the last few decades. In the 1970s, the organization began to oppose every restriction pitted against firearms, which they guised under the logic that giving in a little could mean a mass confiscation of guns. One clear effect of this propaganda is how the NRA has changed the perspective on the Second Amendment. For most of the formative years of the United States until before its ascent to world military power, the amendment was seen by courts and legal experts as a protection of a collective right to own guns, such as able-bodied men should the need arise to defend their state and country – the militia, for instance. The NRA, then, slyly shifted the interpretation to the ownership of guns as a political right, where people have been convinced as far as to publish law journals defending the case. The Republican elites jumped right in, and in 1982, a report called “The Right to Keep and Bear Arms” was issued. Naturally, a significant shift in public opinion came flowing.
If a shift like that could be done, then a similar political movement, one that stays faithful to the Constitution while prioritizing social welfare, has the power to overturn. Like the NRA’s efforts, though, a new movement will take quite a while to gather steam and take effect. But there’s only the need to change the conversation to get the ball rolling – otherwise, America will have to wait a little longer for a resolution more powerful than “thoughts and prayers.”
Prior to the Texas tragedy, there have been 52 mass shootings in America. To look at numbers, 426 people have already died. Meanwhile, around 36,000 Americans die from guns, which includes cases of suicides, each year. After every incident of mass shooting, gun advocates almost always insist that the problem isn’t gun ownership – but video game violence and mental health, anything but the reality that there are over 390 million guns in America. That’s enough to arm everyone, including every single child, with millions left to spare. The lines between what should be done are blurred, tipping between being safe and being firm. The only lines that ought to be blurred are political lines, which serve as the biggest obstacle that the gun control movement faces. Still, statistics do not lie, so where do we go from there?
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