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Explained: Why do many in the US resist stricter gun laws?

Texas school shooting: Despite a high rate of gun violence, here's why politicians and voters in the United States continue resisting changes to their gun laws.

A demonstrator helps hold a large "Come and Take It" banner at a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol, on Jan. 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP)

A shooting at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two adults Tuesday was the 27th school shooting in the US this year. It has also been 10 years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in which 20 children had died. But despite a high rate of gun violence, the country’s politicians and voters continue resisting changes to their gun laws.

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Political divide

Since Sandy Hook, 13 states — all controlled by Democrats, have enacted or expanded background checks for new gun purchases, a New York Times report points out. On the flip side, 14 states controlled by Republicans, have passed laws allowing their citizens to carry guns with no permit process at all. The political divisions on gun laws remain sharp.

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As of 2021, as per a survey by the Pew Research Center, Republicans remain staunchly opposed to new gun regulations, arguing that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct and should not be infringed by virtually any legislation.

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The First Amendment is freedom of speech.

Idea of freedom

According to the Pew Research Center report, one of the key and defining characteristics of gun owners is that they associate the right to own guns with their personal sense of freedom. Around 74% of gun owners say this is essential. The other main reason cited by gun owners is for personal protection. In previous surveys too, American gun owners have often stated that owning a gun is integral to their personal identity.

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The powerful NRA

Some of the strongest opposition to gun control comes from the powerful and influential National Rifle Association (NRA). After Sandy Hook, the association’s CEO Wayne LaPierre said that gun bans wouldn’t protect Americans, but gun-free school zones in fact attract killers. This ties in with the guns-for-protection idea, in which increasing gun sales, rather than restricting them, is seen as beneficial in countering mass shooters. He said that the NRA would help create a National School Shield Emergency Response Program to help. Interestingly, 77% of NRA members who own guns are Republicans or lean Republican (Pew Research Center).

No background checks

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In December 2021, Republican Chuck Grassley blocked a request to proceed on gun legislation that would prohibit firearms from being transferred among individuals unless a licensed dealer or manufacturer carried out a background check. Grassley condemned it as “hostile towards lawful gun owners and lawful firearm transactions”. He also said that the background checks will not prevent crime and “will turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals”.

The US had 390 million guns in circulation in 2018 as per the Small Arms Survey. Also, three out of every ten US adults own a gun (Pew Research Center).

Mental illness

Critics of gun control laws have often framed mass shootings as a symptom and not the disease, citing mental health illnesses as the root cause that needs to be treated. Following two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio in less than 24 hours in 2019, former US President Donald Trump had said, “This is also a mental illness problem. These are people that are very, very seriously mentally ill.”

However, there is research, such as that by forensic psychiatrist Dr Michael Stone at Columbia University, which suggests that many mass shooters are not mentally ill/ According to Dr Stone, 65% of mass shooters are not mentally ill.

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The racism argument

In March 2021, Republican Senators framed gun control laws as part of the country’s history of racism during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence. Their argument, tapping into the history of firearms ownership and the restrictions placed by Whites on African Americans, was that gun control acts impinge on the rights of minority communities.

First published on: 25-05-2022 at 09:42:44 pm
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