THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE: Disturbing Gun Culture in the US

The U.S. has a very unique albeit disturbing gun culture.

The horrible occurrence of last June 12 told us not only a story of violence and prejudice but also of the alarming political indifference when it comes to gun control in the United States. According to leading papers and research, there are more Americans killed by guns than those who actually died in all the US wars.

Graphic by: Giyan Martinez

Graphic by: Giyan Martinez

 

In a research by Small Arms Survey, a Switzerland-based study, the US has an average of 88.8 guns for every 100 residents and comprises 35 percent to 50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns.

It has also been recorded that since 2007, there has already been an estimate of 27 mass shootings in various states. The recent tragic incident at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, tagged as the worst since the 2007 killings at Virgina Tech. The gunman Omar Mateen was able to legally purchase the assault rifle and handgun used in the shoot-out. The issue hasre-opened debates on gun laws and compelled people to re-assess its impacts. To Americans, are lenient gun control policies really working in their favor? To non-Americans, what can we learn from this tragedy?

What should we know about US gun control?

 Gun ownership in the States is constitutionally protected. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “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 Gun Control Act of 1968 barred those under eighteen years of age, with criminal records, the mentally disabled, unlawful aliens, and dishonorably discharged military personnel, among others, from legally availing of guns.

Said law was amended by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which required background checks for all unlicensed purchasers from a federally licensed dealer. Between 1994 and 2004, assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were prohibited by a federal law.

Based on Gallup, 38% of Americans say that gun control laws shall be kept as they are now; 14% said it should be less strict; while 47% say they prefer stricter laws with regard to sale of firearms.

A more striking finding, however, was the finding from Pew research Center that shootings don’t tend to substantially affect views on gun control. The Washington Post noted that “for the first in more than 20 years, Americans showed more support for gun rights than gun control.”

 

Should gun control laws/policies be stricter or more lenient?

 There are equally valid studies to back up pro-, neutral, and anti-strict gun control policies. For one, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that where there are more guns, there are more homicides. An economist named Richard Florida also found in 2011 that states with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths.Other countries such as Finland and Australia have also been known for their strategic gun control plans.

On the other hand, studies supporting neutral/pro-strict gun control policies are criticized in the light of the fact that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Some even claim that poverty has a greater correlation to violent crime than access to firearms and that violence is a cultural problem that needs more of a change in behavior and mindset.

The U.S. President Barrack Obama believes otherwise. He seems to argue that the problem lies with Americans’ having more guns; and thus there is a need to control ownership. In order to solve existing legal loopholes,he issued several executive actions in January 2016 which required firearms dealers at gun shows or online to obtain federal licenses and conduct background checks of prospective buyers.

He also proposed complementary measures such as funding the hiring of hundreds more federal law enforcement agents and allotting $500 million to expand access to mental health care due to the alarming 60% of gun deaths being attributed to suicide.

Because of the increasing number of deaths due to gun violence in the U.S., it is high time not only for the U.S. but to all countries to re-assess their gun control policies. The problem may be legal, economic, or cultural but the solution has to be holistic. Gun ownership may originally be an aid to preserve one’s life from harm but it shall not be allowed to take another’s and even one’s own. (Mariz Patanao)

 

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