As details emerged from Texas about the shooting in an elementary school that killed at least 19 children and two teachers, US President Joe Biden called on the lawmakers to push for gun safety measures and enact “common-sense gun laws.”
This was not the first time that Biden had advocated for stricter gun laws from the White House.
In 2012, after a gunman killed 26 people – including 20 kids between six and seven years – at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, then-Vice President Biden had been the Obama administration’s point person in the negotiations to pass a bill that sought to expand background checks for all gun sales.
The Bill failed to earn the 60-vote mark, with Republicans and four Democrats voting against it, in what Barack Obama called “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
Years later, as Biden takes another jab at tightening gun laws in the country, here’s a look at some key points that drive America’s gun laws debate.
The sheer number
Guns have been a part of American culture for decades and is codified into the US Constitution as the Second Amendment, which says “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” as it is necessary for the security of a free country.
Over 81.4 million Americans over the age of 18 own firearms, reported the 2021 National Firearms Survey. This accounts for nearly 32 per cent of its adult population, but the true number may be higher as not all US states require a permit or registration to purchase guns.
In keeping with the global trend, the US has seen an increase in the stockpiling of firearms. For instance, the 2018 Small Arms Survey estimated that the United States has 120.5 civilian firearms per 100 persons, a huge hike from the 88.8 that was estimated in 2007. (In comparison, India recorded a paltry 5.3 guns per civilian.)
In terms of gender breakup, the 2021 National Firearms Survey reported that 57.8 per cent of gun owners are male while 42.2 per cent are female. It added that while 34.3 per cent of white Americans own firearms, 25.4 per cent Black Americans and 28.3 per cent Hispanics identify as gun owners. Meanwhile, only 19.4 per cent of Asians said they own firearms.
The online survey was held by survey firm Centiment in early 2021, and saw the participation of fifty-four thousand US residents aged 18 and over.
Increasing active shooter incidents
In its recent report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation noted that the number of active shooter incidents in the US in 2021 had doubled in the past five years.
As many as 61 active shooter situations were recorded in 2021 as opposed to 40 in 2020, 30 in 2019 and 2018 and 31 in 2017.
The report, released on March 25, 2022, defined an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area,” adding that the shooter’s use of a firearm is implicit.
The year 2021 saw an uneven spike in the number of those killed and injured. This was due to a specific incident of gun violence in 2017, when a 64-year-old gunman fired at a crowd who had gathered at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. It is one of the deadliest mass shootings in the US to date, and killed 56 people and injured 489 others, according to the FBI. The shooter Stephen Paddock was killed in a stand-off with the police.
No end in sight to school shootings
The massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, in which 21 people (including 19 children) died, is the second deadliest school shooting in the US in recent times. Earlier in 2012, a 19-year-old gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. (Click on the red dots in the below map for details)
Some of the other deadly shootings included the Santa Fe High School in 2018 where 10 people were killed, the 2018 Parkland school shooting in which 14 students and three staff members were shot dead, and the 2005 Minnesota school shooting in which a 16-year-old killed his grandfather before going on to shoot five students, a teacher and a security guard.
Over the course of the years, the issue of gun rights remains a deeply partisan issue, with Republicans and Democrats largely voting for and against them respectively.
Over the years, however, the deepening rift in the US political spheres has translated to a reduction in public support for stricter gun laws.
A 2021 Pew Research Center poll found that only a little over half of Americans (53%) favour stricter gun laws. While 81% Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents supported the tightening of laws governing the sale and use of firearms, only 20% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents favoured it.
The poll also found that the difference in opinion extends to measures to control mass shootings as well. While the majority of Democrats (73%) said that tightening legal access to guns would lead to fewer mass shootings, only 20% of Republicans said this, with most (65%) saying this would have no effect.