If you ask a regular person in Britain, Japan or pretty much most of the western world, whether they own a gun, they would probably look at you in a bewildered way. That is not likely to happen in the United States, because guns are really part of American culture.
In stark contrast to Britain, guns in the US are only regulated to a minimal extent. Semiautomatic assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armour-piercing bullets and military-style rifles are all allowed under federal law. Depending on the state some or all of these weapons are even allowed to be carried openly when going to the supermarket or even the airport.
This sounds insane to people living here in the UK.
Why? – well, because, as you would expect, it has devastating societal impacts!
Gun deaths have cost the US over 1.4 million (!) lives since 1968, more than every war they have fought ever since (and they have fought many), according to research done by Politifact. Breaking it down, there have been 33,880 gun deaths in the US per year from 2011-2015, with 39 people being killed daily. Over one mass shooting per day (475) and 64 school shootings have been recorded in 2015, where a mass shooting is an incident where 4 or more people are killed or injured. The US, the country with the most guns per capita, has a gun related homicide rate about 25 times as high as other high-income western countries.
Besides, the fact that potentially everyone is armed, also has significant psychological impact. It leads to constant fear, especially in intense confrontational situations. This may be part of the reason for US law enforcement, who encounters tense situations regularly and fear for their lives, to be more likely to pull the trigger and overreact.
Whilst all this happens, many conservatives argue for MORE people to be armed! Their argument goes: if everyone is armed, more good, than bad people will be armed and therefore the good will overcome the bad. It boils down to the concept that this technology, has no intrinsic property.
But is this correct?
Well, the hypothesis is frankly easy to test: Arm an entire population and look at the result. Ironically this has been done and the jury is in. Americans swim in a sea of around 300 million guns and by no stretch of the imagination are they safer than people in other western countries. If the aforementioned statistics were not enough, multiple Harvard meta-analysis studies have found that across states and counties, the shire existence of more guns empirically leads to, more gun accidents, more homicides, more violent death of children, more female violent death, more police shootings (especially of people of colour) and more police officer being killed. Clearly, this technology does not amplify good and bad equally, but has intrinsic property by being primarily a killing tool and therefore leads to negative societal outcomes when barely regulated.
So, the obvious question that must follow is: Why is this barely regulated?
Well, two main factors that contribute to this are
- American culture and the feelings guns evoke in (American) society
- and corrupt inherent societal structures.
Since the birth of the nation, guns have been deeply embedded into American culture. Early settlers already used guns to hunt and defend themselves in the infant American society. The ‘right to keep and bear arms’, so fundamental it’s in the US constitution, was inherited by the militias, who successfully rebelled against the British and gained America’s independence and liberty using weapons. Their muskets became an early symbol of freedom, a value dear to American society, and therefore, guns until this day hold patriotic significance.
The importance of guns in American culture only gained momentum in the civil war, where arms manufacturing exploded and cheaper weapons made them more accessible. We therefore arrived in a day and age where guns have become more and more widespread and gun ownership normalised.
With so many guns around, the technology interestingly reinforces its own existence, because it has a psychological effect on people. A majority of gun owners buy guns out of fear and for protection and many to even feel vulnerable and unsafe not having one. This fear being a powerful emotion, many Americans will ironically turn to weapons to provide themselves with the feeling of being in control, safe and secure. In areas of socioeconomic decline, especially men who feel they cannot provide and protect their family, use the masculinity of guns to address their social insecurity. Although having a gun in the household empirically makes you less safe, it’s quite frankly not all about statistical facts.
It’s about how guns make people feel.
Regulating guns to a major extent therefore faces significant opposition, as guns are not just objects, but bring forth powerful emotions of fear and safety, and symbolize and evoke sentiments of liberty, independence and patriotism in many Americans.
Nevertheless, even when Americans support some gun regulation, it is rarely, if ever, realized.
The reason for this starts with gun manufacturers having money on the line.
The laxer the regulations, the more gun sales and the higher the revenues. After every ‘large’ mass shooting, societal fear drives people further toward guns to feel security and thus gun sales spike. So do share prices. Therefore, keeping the status quo is incredibly profitable for these corporations.
This is where the National Riffle Association (NRA), which started as a grassroots organisation, comes into play. Nowadays, less than half of the NRA’s million dollar revenues comes from membership and program fees, whilst a majority is bankrolled by the gun industry. The Violence Policy Centre details how large corporate contributions to the NRA’s ‘Ring of Fire’ corporate sponsorship program have amounted to between $19.8 to $52.6 million from 2005-2011 alone. Selling advertisement to gun manufacturers also amounted to another $20 million dollars, about 11% of their revenue. On top, gun manufactures often donate a percentage of their sales directly to the NRA.
Therefore, the NRA becomes beholden to their main sponsors and spend this money in representing gun manufacturers’ interests by exerting significant political influence.
This is done indirectly, by spending on mobilising its politically active membership and triggering members fear by suggesting Obama or Clinton want to take away their safety inspiring guns is also used to make its membership call into congress.
More importantly however, the NRA donates consistently directly to Washington House and Senate politicians. In the 2016 election cycle alone these donations amounted to about $850,000. But it goes far beyond that. In 2016 the NRA also spent another $3.6 million in lobbying, whilst it’s Super Political Action Committee (PAC), which is allowed to spend as much money as it pleases in influencing elections and attacking gun reforms, spent another $52 million in political advertisement in TV, radio and on the internet.
Especially politicians running for congress in less covered races depend upon those campaign contributions, as the candidate with the most monetary support has a huge megaphone and wins 91% of the time. Politicians become beholden to their ‘sponsors’ such as the NRA, knowing their vote could cause either large contributions or lavishly funded attack ads against them.
The influence the NRA and gun lobby exerts was best demonstrated after the tragic Sandy Hook shooting. Although 90% of the public and even a majority of NRA members, supported an universal background check, not even a loophole filled background check bill, passed NRA backed Republicans in the house. No gun reform was enacted federally ever since: the status quo was preserved.
When the overwriting of people’s will by unlimited private and corporate money in politics, combines with a society, which is naturally hesitant to support gun reform, sensible regulation of the technology becomes seemingly impossible.
What can be done now, you might ask?
Start at the root problems:
- inform and supply facts: make people understand that guns do not make them safer and that this is more important than visceral emotions the technology brings forth.
- get money out of politics, because it often all comes back to a simple thing the Wu-Tang Clan said in 1993: Cash Rules Everything Around Me.
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