Comment: When will America learn?

On Sunday, just two days after watching his oldest daughter graduate, a forlorn President Obama took the long walk to the White House Press Briefing Room to respond to the murder of 50 people in Orlando. This is a walk he has taken 18 times since getting into office.

As hundreds of people were enjoying the end of a Latin-themed night at a gay nightclub one of the largest nightclubs in Orlando, Omar Mateen drove 2 hours to the club. Instead of joining the party he pulled out an assault rifle and handgun and proceeded to kill 50 innocent revellers and injure 53 more.

This was the worst mass shooting in recent US history; however, it was by no means an unusual occurrence. So far this year there have been 176 mass shootings (shootings in which four or more people are shot) in just 164 days. What makes this even more of a ‘typical’ US mass shooting is the gun that was used: an AR-15 – “the mass murder’s best friend“. Able to fire over 100 rounds a minute, this same type of gun was used to slaughter 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, kill 12 at the theatre shooting in Colorado and massacre 16 in San Bernardino.

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The AR-15 used by James Holmes in the July 20, 2012 Colorado theater shooting in Aurora.

There are no valid arguments that can be put forward to justify the ownership of semi-automatic assault rifles by civilians. A gun that can fire 100 rounds a minute is neither essential nor necessary to protect your family and home. In fact one study, looking at “198 cases of unwanted entry into occupied single-family dwellings in Atlanta (not limited to night when the residents were sleeping), found that the invader was twice as likely to obtain the victim’s gun than to have the victim use a firearm in self-defense.” Furthermore between 2007-2011 out of roughly 24 million nonfatal violent crimes across the US the victim only defended themselves with a gun in 0.8% of these incident. This just goes to prove that the argument that people should be able to protect themselves and their families using their guns is in fact completely unfounded.

This leaves only the last refuge of the gun loving Americans: “Because It’s Our Right!” As one pro gun article wrote: “In the end, it comes down to this. ‘The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ Plain and simple, it’s right there to see in the 2nd Amendment of our constitution. Preventing me or you from owning and using [an assault rifle] is an infringement of this right. That’s clear as day to me. So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

The question remains, when there is such an evident problem with guns in America, should all of these deaths be put down to “in a free country these things happen” (see the incredible Jon Snow interview below). Furthermore are countries such as the UK, France, Australia and others really less “free” because their citizens don’t own powerful weapons?

In both the UK and Australia guns used to be far more prevalent, however it only took one mass shooting in each to result in real political change. After the Dunblane primary school massacre which killed 17, almost all guns were banned in the UK with hundreds of thousands of guns and tonnes of ammunition handed in to authorities. Whilst there are undoubtedly many things wrong with the UK, in the aftermath of such a horrific atrocity the country came together, realised that prayers and good wishes were not enough, and laws were changed. In America this has yet to happen. As Obama said after the college shooting in Oregon: “our thoughts and prayers are not enough… it does nothing to stop this carnage from being inflicted some place else in America”.

So why have there been so few changes in gun laws in the US, especially when Obama, who obviously wants change, has been in office for over 7 years? There have undoubtedly been attempts to change the laws in the past few years, including a host of executive orders introduced by Obama earlier this year. However many of these do not go very far, mostly due to the huge power of the National Rifle Association, meaning almost no gun laws are passed through Congress. This huge gun lobby has pushed for laxer gun laws since 1975, donating millions to candidates who have established records on voting against restrictions on guns; infamously arguing that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. With senator’s reelections based massively on how much money they spend on their campaign, a threat by the NRA to withdraw donations makes many swiftly bend to their will and so any legislation, no matter how obviously beneficial, will struggle to come into law. A clear example of this was after the Newtown shooting in 2012 when even though 90% of Americans (including a majority of NRA members) wanted universal background checks it did not become law.

There is no denying that logically if you shoot someone before they shoot you then you are more likely to survive. However as shown in countries around the world, if there are less guns in circulation then you do not need to protect yourself from guns in the first place. Time and again research shows a strong correlation between the number of guns in a country and the likelihood of being shot due to gun violence.

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When something goes wrong normally you learn from your mistakes and move on. Unfortunately in America, pressured by the NRA, there has yet to be any meaningful change on gun laws. If Omar Mateen, a man who was investigated twice by the FBI in relation to terror links, whose wife left him after just 3 months due to domestic violence, can buy a semi automatic gun and piles of ammunition just days before committing mass murder changes need to be made.

Near the start of this article I labelled this a ‘typical’ mass shooting in America. This horrific loss of life has now become so normal, in one of the most advanced countries in the world, that it is possible to generalise when it comes to the murder of 49 innocent people enjoying their night out. With laws like those in America this was predictable, as will be the next shooting. In past day it has taken me to write this article 25 people have been killed by guns. How soon will it be before President Obama makes the same long walk to the White House Press room?

Check out the video below for more statistics on how the US sizes up to the rest of the world when it comes to gun deaths: