In the wake of yet another mass shooting in America, this time at the Inland Regional Centre in California, one of the first things to cross most people’s mind is the current state of gun control in the United States.
Despite President Obama’s outspoken statements on the need to reform national gun control laws and limit the sale and manufacture of firearms, he seems to be fighting a losing battle.
Some people might be automatically be thinking “Islamic terrorism”, however, BBC journalist James Cook, who was at the scene in San Bernardino, says that there are no initial indications that yesterday’s events are linked to Islamist violence, pointing out that the situation is still very fluid.
President Barack Obama has responded to the shooting with a statement.
“One thing we do know is that we have a pattern of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere in the world,” he said.
“There are some steps that we could take, not to eliminate all incidents, but to make sure they happen less frequently.”
In the past President Obama has said that Americans had grown “numb” to many gun-related mass murders in the United States, calling for sufficient “thoughts and prayers” and “gun-safety laws”.
In every part of the world, society has problems with crime, drugs, urban deprivation and youth violence. Some places are more peaceful than others. There is one simple thing that countries with less gun violence have in common with each other: they have fewer guns.
Over the years, the US has been repeatedly shocked by violent gun atrocities in which multiple people have been shot dead by lone gunmen. This time, two people wearing body armour entered an office Christmas party and started shooting, killing 12 people and leaving 14 wounded.
The two suspects, gunned down by police yesterday, had an arsenal of weaponry in their home. Bomb equipment, weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were found, police said.
During the press conference, police said they believed the suspects were not using handguns, but “long guns”. The police spokesman refused to specify further, meaning the weapons used could be anything from a hunting rifle to assault-style weapons.
Data published by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) indicates that gun manufacturing in America has increased during President Obama’s tenure.
Over the last 20 years, with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama as US Presidents, the number of guns manufactured in America has tripled. Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has often had to address the US after mass shootings. As the years have passed, his calls for stricter gun control have grown louder and pushback from his opponents has grown stronger.
It is not that President Obama hasn’t tried: to date, he has signed at least 23 executive orders regarding gun control, including a presidential memorandum to make information flow more efficiently between federal agencies such as the FBI and CIA, and the National Instant Criminal Check System (NICS) – the only safety net in place that prohibits any nut job buying a gun.
Although the law requires “licenced” gun dealers to perform background checks, criminals can easily purchase a gun through an unlicenced sale, such as a gun show or an informal transaction between acquaintances, without going through any background check. For instance, the shooters in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre obtained their guns through a private sale. Forty per cent of all gun transfers in the United States take place via this unregulated route, and therefore it is hard to argue that tighter restrictions on gun sales would not deter criminals and prevent trouble makers getting hold of guns, as is the case in America.
A recent CBS News poll shows that 88 per cent of American voters support background checks on gun purchases. Another poll by U.S. polling agency Rasmussen revealed that 59 per cent of voters support a ban on military-style assault weapons, which have large magazines of ammunition and are designed for rapid-fire attacks.
Crowd-Sourced project ShootingTracker.com has built a map to show incidents in which four or more people were injured or killed by gunfire in 2015.
There have been mass shooting incidents in 46 of 50 American states this year. Washington DC, Florida, Illinois and California have had the most incidents. In each state of the 46, there have been at least 22 shooting incidents in which four or more people were shot.
Following a shooting at a Louisiana cinema earlier this year, President Obama admitted that the most frustrating aspect of his 2 terms as president was “the failure to pass common sense gun safety laws”. In an interview with the BBC Obama said that gun control was the issue he had left him feeling “most frustrated and most stymied”.
“If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands,” he said.
“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”
In 1996, a man named Martin Bryant became the worst killer in Australia’s history. After walking into a cafe in Port Arthur, Tasmania, he killed 35 people and wounded 23 others with a semi-automatic rifle.
As a result of his actions, Australia enacted one of the largest gun reforms in recent history – and gun deaths plummeted. The changes remain the gold standard for advocates of gun control today. We can thank John Howard for the gun reforms in Australia. Howard achieved these reforms to create the 1996 National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program by lobbying the state governments and creating unity in Parliament to work towards a common cause, in the best interests of all Australians.
The gun issue in America is a major issue for them. While we still have issues with firearms in Australia, change was achieved by all levels of government working together. Meanwhile, the ongoing gun control battle in America will mean that as a journalist I will undoubtedly be writing of yet another mass shooting tragedy.
Stricter gun regulation is necessary for the United States, not only because it can reduce the chance of another tragedy like the one in California, but also because it reflects the will of most Americans; and as America goes nowhere fast with gun control, more and more people die needlessly every single day. – Dominic Andrew
Top photo of a 2007 gun show in Houston, Texas from M&R Glasgow’s Flickr photostream.