Does America need tighter gun control?

Last week Americans were shocked as 24 year old James Holmes entered a busy cinema premiere and preceded to open fire with an automatic rifle killing 12 people and injuring 58. Unfortunately this type of incident isn’t uncommon, and over the past 10 years there have been 23 mass shootings in America with a combined fatality and injury toll of over 400 people. Arguably this problem is so endemic that sales patterns have developed following each incident which sees gun sales rapidly increase whether from fear of death or changes to gun legislation. The most recent example of this can be witnessed across Colorado where gun shop owners are reporting sales increases of up to 43%. Furthermore there has been a significant increase in applications for concealed weapon permits and training as Americans attempt to protect themselves and their families. However a fierce debate has reignited surrounding the availability and regulation of firearms, with a group of Democrats renewing their efforts to implement new policy changes.

So should these incidents prompt the US government to introduce legislation changes? America has a strong history enriched in the notions of liberty and freedom, the second amendment allows each American the right to bear arms so that they can protect themselves. This has produced a somewhat entrenched gun philosophy supported by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby which is adamant to resist any form of change. Subsequently the question becomes a matter of whether America is able to change, and shift its ingrained yet dangerous gun culture.

According to a report recently commissioned by a group of US Mayors, a significant majority of gun owners and NRA members are in favour of increasing the regulation of firearms. Firearms regulations vary from state to state so currently there is no universal system of background criminal checks and many owners are not required to report missing firearms to the police. These are just some of the reforms that gun owners are reportedly campaigning for, 74% of NRA members want sufficient training as a prerequisite for gun ownership, whilst 82% of gun owners support a criminal record check on anyone wishing to purchase a firearm. Despite it being election year, both Romney and Obama have voiced contrasting opinions over what steps America should take next. Obama, with considerable support from democrats and gun owners, has stated that there should be a ban on all assault rifles with high capacity magazines. Moreover that assault rifles such as the “AK-47 belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets of our cities”. Romney on the other hand has suggested that gun laws will not be reformed by him and instead expresses the importance of changing the “heart of the American people”. Ironically during his time as Massachusetts Governor Romney banned the AR-15 assault rifle as being an unnecessary killing machine and it is now suspected that an AR-15 was recovered from the possession of James Holmes after the Colorado shooting.

Interestingly even Hollywood is beginning to accept some responsibility for the consequences of violence in films, distinguished producer Harvey Weinstein has announced that more effort should be made by the film industry to acknowledge the impact and repercussions of violence in films.

Whatever the outcome, it will take more than assault rifle bans to stop the continuing violence attributed to firearms in the USA. The availability of guns in the US is a continuing problem, combined with the ability to fairly easily obtain illegal firearms and weaponry, again witnessed in Colorado last week. Evidence suggests that high-powered semi-automatic pistols have been the most widely used in shootings, due to their easy concealment coupled with high capacity magazines of 17 rounds upwards. Current estimates place the amount of firearms owned by civilians in the US at 270 million, the equivalent of 88.8 for every 100 people. Moreover, when comparing the percentage of homicides that were caused by firearms in the England and US, 6.6% of all homicides in England and Wales are caused by firearms against 60% in the US.

One could argue that America is in dire need of firearm legislation as it continues to be ranked first for civilian gun ownership. However the evidence seems to suggest that no amount of regulation now could prevent future shootings due to the sheer volume of weapons already in circulation. Whilst Romney flip flops between policies, his message should be acknowledged, because without a change in attitudes America cannot hope to shift its thriving gun culture, and undoubtedly more upsetting shootings will follow. Movements must be made by governments to educate people on the dangers of firearms, coming from a country where handguns are illegal, I have absolutely no desire to arm myself to protect my family. There needs to be sufficient counselling to help those who have killed others whilst protecting themselves and their families. Even police officers and soldiers, professional firearms users face the severe moral and emotional repercussions of killing another human being. There needs to be a drastic shift away from gun owning culture to stop everyday citizens from feeling that they need to carry a concealed pistol. Until then, gun ownership will continue to spiral into dangerous and unknown circumstances.