As US president Joe Biden took to the podium in the White House briefing room and addressed the nation in the aftermath of the Uvalde school shooting in Texas, he urged citizens to ‘stand up to the’ powerful pro-gun lobby.
The US president said that it was time to act.
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In reality, acting on gun laws and bringing legislation that would control the sale and purchase of guns is a polarized political issue – especially in a year when the US is headed to midterms in November.
There are pro-gun activists on both sides of the political spectrum but for the right-wing, conservative and the far-right of the American political establishment gun laws are a basic right enshrined under the of the Second Amendment of the American constitution.
Though the interpretation can be disputed, over the past decade, conservative leaders, mostly from the Republican Party, have made buying and carrying of firearms and guns easier through legislation that allow even ‘permitless carrying’ of firearms. Gun control activists say that more people with concealed firearms in public places can put the safety of cops and communities at risk.
The debate is – anti-gun activists say that introducing background checks and other rules can lead to reduced gun violence and deaths (some stop short of calling for a ban on guns since it may hurt the electoral chances) while pro-gun activists say any such attempt is an attack on the second amendment.
Pro-gun activists bat for more lax gun laws in a bid to burnish far-right credentials, especially before the November elections.
They also do not bat for background checks for criminal history or mental illnesses as they believe it is a ‘time-consuming step for people who want to arm themselves for self-protection’, according to a PewTrusts report.
The Multimillionaire NRA
The strongest of the pro-gun lobby is the National Rifles Association or the NRA. With its own Political Action Committee and $250 million yearly budget it is the US’ largest gun ‘control’ advocacy group. There are other advocacy groups but none spend like the NRA – $3m per year to influence gun policy.
The NRA also has a grading system for politicians – ranking them on the basis of their perceived friendliness to gun rights on a scale of A to F.
Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, late actor Charlton Heston and even former US president George HW Bush have been members of the NRA.
There are other gun lobbies but no one is as powerful as the NRA as it has the ability to change the outcome of polls due to their closeness to Republican politicians and lawmakers.
A 2017 Pew Research Center report says that out of all gun owners in the US, 19% are NRA members. Majority of gun owners (61%) are Republicans or lean to the Republican Party while 77% of NRA members who own guns are Republicans or lean Republican.
“Gun owners who say they belong to the NRA tend to own more guns, on average, than gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA,” the study by Pew says pointing out that some of these NRA members have more than four guns.
More Guns Than People
According to a survey by an independent global research project based in Switzerland, half of all the firearms owned by private citizens in the world, for non-military purposes, are in the United States. The survey – Smalls Arms Survey – found the number of firearms exceed US’ total population – 393 million guns to 328 million people.
However, lawmakers were not persuaded to lower the stance on the issue despite these statistics. In 2021, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and Utah and 16 other states no longer require residents to hold a permit to carry a concealed firearm under ‘constitutional carry’ measures.
For example, the bill introduced by Wisconsin, would prohibit local governments from banning weapons on public transportation.
These measures do not reflect the wishes and sentiments of the US public whose attitudes towards guns are changing in the wake of the rise in violent crime using guns.
Another Pew Research Report in 2021 found out that half of Americans (48%) see gun violence as a very big problem. More than 80% of adult men from the Black community say gun violence is a very big problem for the community – the statistic was higher compared to Hispanic and White men. While gun ownership is common among men who live in rural America and are White but the number of men (across all ethnicity) who own guns in urban spaces are half of that number – 41% in rural areas compared to 20% in suburban areas.
(with inputs from Statista, Pew Research Centre, PewTrusts and the BBC)