In 2015, there were 53,215 fireams-related incidents in the United States, resulting in 13,414 deaths and 26,996 injuries. To put that in perspective, the city of Mankato in Minnesota is America’s 921st largest city (and home of the last Happy Chef restaurant in America) and if every death and injury caused by firearms in 2015 happened there, the population of Mankato would be 1.
No-one needs to be told that America has a problem with guns, especially when 8.4% of all shooting injuries and deaths in 2015 were individuals under the age of 17. However, despite all the bluster of the leading political figures, America’s problem has two very simple sources.
The first reason that America finds itself with what can be only be described as an epidemic is the reluctance for bipartisan political action to curb the prevalence of firearms. Under the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, citizens of the United States are guaranteed the following:
“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.”
To break that down, an American is free to keep and bear firearms in the interest of maintaining a free American nation.While this may seem an odd to specify this in the document outlining the basic rights and freedoms of the denizens of a sovereign nation in the earliest days of being forged, remember that the amendment was ratified in 1791. America had been free of British rule since the Treaty of Paris in 1783. However, there were still fears that Britain would do a U-turn and attempt to retake the young and relative weak United States. Thus, the Constitution included an amendment that meant that the responsibility of protecting the freedom and sovereignty of the United States fell to each and every American.
Now in 2016, 225 years after the amendment’s ratification, views on the second amendment are far more diverse- conservatives see it a right bestowed upon the American people while liberals tend to view the second amendment as a relic of times gone by. The major issue is that there is a bipartisan consensus that America needs guns. Note that President Obama, one of the more vocal advocates of gun control, doesn’t actually oppose the existence of the second amendment (“We’re a nation that believes in the Second Amendment, and I believe in the Second Amendment”- Obama, 2012). This makes it difficult to impose legislation that directly opposes the second amendment due to the general consensus of how intrical it is to the American nation, if you need more proof of this- the New York Times produced a map of the ratings the NRA (National Rifle Association) gives to representatives and senators based on their voting record on firearm-related legislation for the 111th Congress (2010-2012). The other problem facing legislators is that external organisations wield an obscene amount of influence on Capitol Hill. The NRA is a regular donator to both the RNC and Republican Congressional candidates. To oppose the NRA’s core beliefs would be political suicide and so Congress, especially in a Republican controlled Congress such as the one currently sitting, any move towards gun control is stalled while moves are made to try to relax existing controls.
The other issue that stalls American progress on dealing with their gun crisis is the disturbing trend emerging is that the ‘blame’ for gun crime is planted on mental illness. Around one in four American adults suffer from a mental illness and while mentally ill individuals are responsible for a proportion of firearms-related incidents in the United States, (such as the Aurora cinema shooting in 2012, and the Cleveland Elementary shooting in 1979) they are not responsible for every shooting occurs. Every high-profile shooting incident brings the gun control debate back into focus and anti-gun control politicians have found that the best way to shut down the debate is to shift the focus to mental illness. There are two major issues with this- firstly, attributing numerous crimes to the mentally ill is inaccurate as research shows that mentally ill individuals, including the stereotypical ‘violent mental illnesses’ such as schizophrenia, are less likely to commit violent crimes. Secondly, despite politicians saying that shootings are a result of the failing mental health system, nothing is ever really done to address that. The politicians are like parrots, taught to scream a short phrase on cue, bur even though expenditure on mental health services is increasing year by year, it mostly goes on existing services, rather than improving the system itself.
And so, America will continue to suffer under the cruel hand of gun violence because it can’t find a way to break the cycle. The thing is, a bleaker future is on the horizon- John Kasich wants to create more widespread concealed carry freedom because he thinks the current laws are “burdensome”, Donald Trump wants all weapon and magazine bans removed and Ted Cruz wants servicemen and women to be able to conceal carry on naval, air and army bases.
America has a problem but no-one wants to fix it. And, as former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton once said: “Ignoring facts do not make them go away”.