There are few topics more controversial in the United States than gun control. This highly contentious issue has been the subject of debate for decades, with opinions on either side of the spectrum provoking passionate and often angry responses from the other. The debate was sparked again this week after another mass shooting occurred in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The victims were attending a church service in the town when the gunman entered and opened fire, killing 26 people and then himself. According to police, almost half of the victims are children. This attack comes weeks after the worst mass shooting in American history in Las Vegas, which saw 58 people murdered at a music festival. With both of these mass shootings occurring in recent weeks, the call for a curb or tightening of gun legislation is growing in momentum. It has now reached a stage where more American civilians have died due to the misuse of guns than the number of Americans killed during foreign wars.
The Second Amendment in America’s constitution states the freedom to hold and bear arms as a liberty belonging to every citizen. Owning a gun has in consequence become strongly associated with American culture and identity, symbolising freedom and the ability to enact self-defence. In fact almost half of Americans now live in a household which owns a firearm, according to Al Jazeera. These weapons are highly accessible, and are currently easy to purchase in most states with only minor background checks. In consequence, shootings like those in Sutherland and Las Vegas have become a familiar news story.
In reaction to the most recent attack in Texas, Donald Trump aimed to shift attention away from the debate surrounding guns. Asked at a press conference what policy he would seek to prevent further mass shootings, he said “I think that mental health is the problem here,” and that the individual involved was “deranged.” For President Trump, “this isn’t a guns situation,” as reported by the Guardian. The solution to the gun issue for others is the introduction of more individuals bearing arms. The Texas attorney general Ken Paxton believes that “arming some of the parishioners” or “hiring professional security” is the reasonable response to last Sundays mass shooting. For Paxton, “there’s the opportunity to take out the gunmen before he has an opportunity to kill many people.” This implication from a high ranking state official that at least some lives will be lost regardless due to gun violence seems incredible for a developed nation such as the United States. However, attitudes towards gun control are shifting in America. According to statistics gathered by the Pew Research Centre, 52% of Americans now support stricter gun laws. President Obama was a strong advocate for stricter gun legislation, but saw his attempts to pass relevant laws denied by Congress. Obama proposed the introduction of smart technology on guns, including fingerprint recognition and child-proof triggers. However, a Congress dominated by gun lobby groups has continually rejected any formal attempts to amend gun legislation, or even study the consequences of gun related crime.
In wake of two of the biggest mass shootings in American history, it is clear that drastic action on gun control is needed. While mental health undoubtedly played a part in both of these attacks, the suggestion by President Trump that this is not a gun issue is incredulous. It is unsurprising that Trump would divert controversy surrounding guns in the wake of such issues given the large donations his Presidential campaign received from the National Rifle Association (NRA). However, it seems illogical and disrespectful to the victims of mass shootings not to recognise how a greater control and licensing on firearms could have prevented attacks on such significant scales. In the majority of cases, the shooters carrying out mass attacks have obtained the weapons legally, and are often carrying multiple guns. The Las Vegas shooter for example had 23 legally obtained assault firearms at his disposal, and the gunman in Texas was carrying three. It would therefore be logical for a restriction on both the accessibility of assault type firearms, as well as the quantity that one individual can own.
An assault weapon has no practical purpose in a civilised society. The second amendment was based on weapons that could fire rounds at a rate of one a minute, not the several hundred assault rifles are capable of. Furthermore, the fact that more than one can be purchased and is easily accessible to most American’s furthers the ineffective nature of current gun legislation. At the very least, more rigorous background checks on the profiles of those purchasing guns is needed in America. On top of this, a limit to the amount of firearms and ammunition that one individual can purchase should also be considered. The issue of mass shootings has for far too long plagued American society, and action needs to be taken.