Are the Sandy Hook elementary shootings the tipping point for tighter restrictions on gun ownership in America?
2012 has been one of Americas worst years for mass shootings. Less than a month ago the most horrific saw 26 adults and children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown murdered, closely followed by the shooting of two volunteer fire-fighters in Webster, New York. From cinemas, schools, malls and temples the frightening rampage of unstable individuals with quick and relatively easy access to guns has once again taken Americans and their government to rethink and reassess its societal attitudes towards guns. On the one hand, you have organisations such as the NRA defiantly noting that “it’s not guns that kill people it’s people” and others who believe that there is no place or any need for guns in a modern American society citing the 2nd Amendment as inapplicable to today’s circumstances.
It is estimated that there are 310 million firearms in the United States (Congressional Research Service), and as Reuters notes, there are around 90 guns per 100 people making the US the most armed society in the world. These figures are purely a rough estimate since there is no central firearms register in existence in the US. Having all these guns has meant that, according to the last census carried out by the FBI in 2011, 68 % of all murders in the US have been caused by firearms. Again, these figures are only rough estimates meaning that the overall picture may be far worse.
This is why proponents of keeping guns in American society say that simply the scale of making people relinquish their guns would be an enormous task, that the actual number of guns is unknown and without a register for firearm ownership, removing their presence from society completely would be an impossible task.
Yet, many people cite the shootings that occurred at Dunblane and in Tasmania in 1996, and the consequences it had on gun laws and gun statistics in the UK afterwards (while gun crime peaked after the ban in the UK, since 2002 it has dramatically dropped off), as an example of how laws can be changed in the US.
However, time and time again Americas’ gun culture has been re-examined and debated with nothing really done in the way of amending these laws. The trouble being individual state laws and also the protection of the 2nd Amendment.
In Florida for example, where the stand your ground laws were brought into ill repute earlier this year regarding the death of an unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin. Where in states like Texas and Arizona you are legally allowed to carry weapons concealed in your car. The relative ease with which you can get hold of a gun, according to which state you are in, makes the possibility of committing a murder much more simpler, quicker, and with more devastating effect. Another important level of this debate is whether civilians should possess assault type weapon, the argument being that there is no point of having them in any arsenal with regards to hunting or protection.
Until some form of consistent and all encompassing dialogue is sought between all states any law which inhibits gun use in one state will be rendered useless if you can purchase them with ease in another. I don’t think the answer the NRA provides is the most common sense approach. Adding armed guards in schools won’t tackle the root of the problem but just adds even more guns to the mix. Perhaps the Mayor of Los Angeles has the right idea with a day of amnesty where people can surrender their guns to the police.
Ultimately, there is no sure way of completely stopping massacres like this from happening, even in countries such as Norway and the UK who have stricter gun controls. Limiting the damage dramatically can be managed by firstly trying to get to grips with the attitude accorded to them, while taking sensible steps to re-examine laws that surround private possession. In the end, people should be asking themselves why they need so many guns in an apparently civilised society.