Sat, Oct 07, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Why attempts at gun control failed in the US

By Tom McCarthy  /  The Guardian

The gunman who killed 58 people and wounded 527 in Las Vegas on Sunday night qualified as a “super-owner” — one of the estimated 7.7 million Americans who own between eight and 140 guns.

Little is yet known about Stephen Paddock and his motives, but the apparent ease with which he acquired his arsenal — 42 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, according to police — has renewed the urgency of a perennial question: Why can’t the US effect sensible gun control?

Look at Australia, which enacted a ban and mandatory buyback of more than 600,000 long guns following a mass shooting in 1996, effectively ending the problem of mass shootings (already rare) and halving gun deaths.

Why can the US not do that?

From one angle, the answer is complicated. It involves the powerful gun lobby, political partisanship, the hundreds of millions of guns already in US civilian hands, the fact that mass shootings, while horrifying, represent only a sliver of US gun deaths and a national mythology attached to guns.

From another angle, the answer is simple. The US could adopt gun control — if the public felt strongly enough about it.

“If public opinion does not demand change in [US] Congress, it will not change,” then-US president Barack Obama said in June 2014.

A majority of US gun owners — 74 percent — say the right to own a gun is “essential” to their freedom, according to Pew Research, while only 44 percent believe that the ease with which people can legally obtain guns contributes at least a fair amount to gun violence.

The disagreements only expand from there.

In the wake of the most deadly mass shooting in the US, here are the key features of the gun control debate.

HOW OUTRAGE FIZZLES

Opponents of gun control feared new restrictions after the killing of 20 six and seven-year-olds at Sandy Hook elementary school in December 2012.

The national outrage was intense and legislators who previously were not interested in gun control measures suddenly were.

Two senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey, sponsored a bill that would have imposed universal background checks for commercial gun purchases, including at gun shows and over the Internet.

Eighty-four percent of Americans favor such a law.

However, after participating in initial negotiations over the bill, the National Rifle Association (NRA) came out in strong opposition and falsely claimed the bill would lead to a national gun registry.

Four Democrats defected, not enough Republicans came onboard and the legislation went down.

“The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill,” Obama said in a furious Rose Garden speech.

‘SUCCESSES’ AT GUN CONTROL

The last major gun control legislation passed by the US Congress was the 1994 assault weapons ban, which had a 10-year sunset clause and was allowed to expire in 2004.

The ban is widely seen as having failed to make a dent in gun deaths in the US, where more than 30,000 people are killed with guns each year, including more than 20,000 suicides.

Rifles, including assault weapons, are used in only 3.55 percent of gun murders annually, according to FBI statistics.

While the national focus on gun control always intensifies after mass shootings, mass shootings account for only a small proportion of US gun deaths annually. Gun violence instead is concentrated in the nation’s poorest, most racially segregated neighborhoods, with African-Americans, who represent 13 percent of the total population, making up more than half of overall gun murder victims.

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