On October 1, President Barack Obama gave an angry speech at the White House Press briefing room, in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in the United States. On that day, nine people were killed at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The usually composed President Obama barely hid his rage and frustration for being unable to do anything to prevent these horrific crimes from occurring again and again. The president said that mass shootings in the U.S. “have become routine” and that “people have become numb.” But he made an important point. Saying that thoughts and prayers to the victims are not enough, he urged American citizens to take control of the decision making process by voting for the next president whose views reflect theirs.
Gun control is one of the oldest and most contentious debates in the history of US politics. And now that it is election season, it is one of the "hot topics" between Republican and Democrat politicians vying for the highest office in the country. All the Republican candidates are staunch gun advocates and against stricter gun control laws. They quote the Second Amendment in the US Constitution, which guarantees the right of American citizens "to keep and bear arms." This often stated constitutional right of Americans to defend themselves with firearms is as old as the country's history and almost as sacred as the Bible - inalienable and indisputable. Many Republican politicians and the powerful National Rifles Association (NRA) instead argue that the focus should be on "mental illness," since many of the perpetrators of mass shootings were suffering from some sort of mental disorder. The more liberal Democrats feel that this is avoiding the real issue that gun violence is a serious problem in the US, and that it is because of the easy access to firearms.
The Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton submitted a proposal on gun control less than a week after the recent Oregon massacre. Describing gun violence as an "epidemic that knows no boundaries," the former Secretary of State presented a gun control plan that is a combination of legislative and executive actions including stricter regulations on gun sales and comprehensive background checks. Clinton calls the NRA members "extremists," and vows to do everything in her power to impose effective gun laws. Her rival for the Democratic Party nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, is less forceful when it comes to gun control. Although Senator Sanders is known for his very liberal, leftist views, particularly on economic inequality, this is one issue where the Senator is not nearly as passionate or vocal as Clinton or other Democratic leaders. As a matter of fact, he has supported some pro-gun laws in the past.
While the heated gun debates continue, one thing is certain - something has to be done to change the mindset of gun advocates. Australia is a good example of a developed country that curbed gun violence by changing laws. In 1996, a gunman opened fire on a seaside resort in the Australian island of Tasmania, killing 35 people and wounding many more. Twelve days after the incident, the then newly elected conservative Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, made a quick and smart decision. His administration announced a bipartisan deal with state and local governments to enact effective gun control measures. The result - there has been no mass shootings in Australia in the last 19 years since the major tragedy. This is proof that stricter gun laws work. Enforcing tough laws may not be able to magically eliminate gun violence from the US or elsewhere for that matter. However, practical measures will certainly reduce the number of mass shootings by making it difficult for mentally disturbed and socially alienated people to purchase weapons.
Although critics in Australia and across the world are quick to chastise the US for not enacting gun reform laws, it is not a straightforward matter. Unlike the Australian Prime Minister John Howard, President Obama does not have the same kind of power to easily make policy changes in the US. President Obama has to deal with structural hurdles every step of the way - from the Republican-led Congress, to politicians who get financial help from gun lobby groups, to even some liberal politicians who don't want to lose the support of their own voters, the impediments are many. And more importantly, the Australian Prime Minister also did not have to deal with the "Second Amendment" that often effectively stops any backlash or political discussion on gun control. That is why Obama directly appealed to voters to take responsibility for the change they want to see. This need of civilians to own guns for self defense may seem bizarre to people in both developing and developed nations outside the US, but the reality is, this is ingrained in the psyche of many American people. There is no way politicians can take away this fundamental right guaranteed by the Second Amendment whether they like it or not.
New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristoff summed up the dilemma perfectly in his article: "We are not going to eliminate guns in America, so we need to learn to coexist with them." He suggests taking a public health approach to dealing with this issue. Kristoff feels the same model used to reduce deaths from car accidents, swimming pools and smoking can be applied to gun deaths to prevent tragedies. Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns than in all US wars going back to the American Revolution. Kristoff also points out that in the US more preschoolers are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are in the line of duty (27 in 2013). The numbers speak for themselves. The need for US to combat gun violence is now or never.
Source : Lavina Ambreen Ahmed (a freelance journalist living in the US)