Why the US won’t repeal its gun laws

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Flickr/Steve Rhodes

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”

The Second Amendement

On October 1st 2015 the worldwide community once again despaired at the lack of gun control in America, when news broke of the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, which left 9 people dead and another 9 injured. Each time I read about these shocking events I always have the same thought: “How is there not more gun control in the US?”

The horrific shooting at Sandy Hook in 2012 actually shocked me into studying American politics, in a bid to understand why American “fundamental rights” included access to guns. These shootings are all tragedies, however American politics is so complex that any discussion often leads to a dead end – thanks to the Second Amendment, the Republican Party, and the NRA.

The Second Amendment is frequently quoted when gun control is discussed in the US. Its purpose is to restrict legislative bodies from prohibiting firearm possession, and has formed the basis of recent Supreme Court decisions in both 2008, and 2010 (both times strengthening the amendment). Unlike in the UK, the constitution is much harder to change in the US. It forms the supreme law of the land, ultimately providing power to all branches of government.

The Second Amendment in particular is special as it falls under the “Bill of Rights” – it is one of the first ten rights which make up the “Massachusetts Compromise”. Put simply, the Massachusetts Compromise were a set of 12 recommendations which must have been discussed in order for the final 4 states to sign the constitution. As part of a compromise which led to the Union, the Bill of Rights are viewed by many as essential Civil Rights, and this is quite often why the right to bear arms is so passionately defended.

The Republican block

A party well known for its passionate defence of the Second Amendment is the Republican Party.  Republican policies are often based on the idea that a smaller government, with less regulation, is the most efficient way to run a country – this stance does not waver. The Civil Rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights should not be interfered with by the government and this is central to understanding the Republican stance on gun control.

It isn’t about liking guns, rather, it is about “upholding certain rights that the nation was built upon”.  Not only this, but the areas where the Republicans are most popular, the Midwest, the Bible Belt, and the Deep South, are areas where hunting and recreational shooting are popular – a tradition honoured by the party.

The philosophy of the Republican party is strong and very clear on many issues, but particularly gun control -and this philosophy has dictated the attitudes of Congress since 2010.  Despite a Democratic President in the White House, the Republicans wield significant power in US politics because they are the majority party in the legislature. This means they can exercise near complete control over the laws that are passed, or blocked. The majority of the legislature holds firm the belief that gun control is something federal government should not be interfering with.

Cash for guns

Regardless of Republican philosophy, there was a lot of shock when nothing changed following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. A lot of this is because for many Representatives and Senators their stance on gun control is more than philosophy, it is also their funding.

Statistics show that 60% of all House and Senate members have received funding from the National Rifle Association (NRA) in their career. The list of beneficiaries include influential members such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the chairman of the House Rules Committee Pete Sessions. Sessions in fact is the third highest recipient of money from the NRA – having received at least $64,000 in his career.

NRA influence doesn’t end at political funding, the organisation also grades politicians based on their voting records on gun issues, on a scale from A+ to F.  Unsurprisingly, the Republicans average at an A in the House and A–  in the Senate, with the Democrats averaging a D in both houses.

I wholeheartedly cannot agree with the view point of the NRA, who argue they are passionately defending the Second Amendment – but that is mainly due to the culture I’ve grown up in. I can’t imagine living in a society where most people walking past me on the street could be carrying a gun. However, I understand the mess that America is in when it comes to gun control.

I remember being horrified when I heard the news about what happened at Sandy Hook, and even more horrified to learn that nothing had changed as a consequence. But I’ve learnt it’s not simple.

There are many reasons why the US isn’t repealing its gun laws right now. A lot of it lies in the way these laws are enshrined, and the power of the party that passionately defends them. However worryingly this isn’t the only reason. Instead of attacking gun culture itself attention must be focused on the NRA, and the influence it has in Congress. Public opinion is slowly shifting on the issue and its time that Congress, as their elected representatives, follow suit.

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