The death of 19 children and 3 adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde town, Texas has once again opened the floodgates of conversation around the gun culture in the United States. There have been dozens of shootings and other attacks in the US schools and colleges over the years, but until the massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, the number of dead tended to be in the single digits.
Americans are fascinated by weapons and the US is awash with guns. According to data, every 100 Americans own 120 guns. And the culture of guns in America traces down to the history of the States.
Gun culture through history
Guns have always been a tool of power for Americans when the whites used them to subdue the native Americans and keep the African Americans as slaves. It has increasingly become a national emblem for several decades following the American revolution from 1775 to 1783.
The National Rifles Association (NRA), is the strongest pro-gun political lobby in the US with an annual budget of $250 billion. The gun ‘control’ advocacy group, since its founding in 1871, has more than 5 million dues-paying members.
The love for guns in American history is also deeply rooted in the infamous image from the 1999 annual conference of the NRA, where Hollywood actor Charlton Heston was seen holding a rifle aloft and standing on the podium. The vocal and aggressive spokesman of NRA had said that he would surrender his gun when it was “pried from my cold, dead hands”.
Besides, former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, late actor Charlton Heston and even former US president George HW Bush have been members of the NRA.
Following the deadly shooting at the Columbine High School in suburban Denver in 1999, Heston had taken a defiant stand against gun-control laws and said his NRA “wasn’t the villain in the High School massacre”.
What does the data say
A 2017 Pew Research states that out of all gun owners in the US, 19 per cent are NRA members. The survey further states that 61 per cent of the gun owners are Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party while 77 per cent of the NRA members owning guns are Republicans or lean Republican.
According to a survey by an independent global research initiative located in Geneva, Switzerland, the US houses half of all non-military guns possessed by private persons worldwide. The Small Arms Survey estimates that the quantity of firearms in the country outnumbers the population — 393 million guns vs 328 million people.
Many Americans believe that owning a gun is a necessity for self-protection.
Contentious US law
The Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which originates from 179, has long been a contentious issue in American legal, political, and social discourse. The law guarantees gun ownership as a basic fundamental right — “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.”
A Facebook post by the World Press Photo states that those who argue for the repeal of the Second Amendment or introduction of stricter gun control say that the Second Amendment was intended for militias; that stronger regulation will reduce gun violence; and that a majority of Americans, including gun owners, support new restrictions. Second Amendment supporters state that it protects an individual’s right to own guns; that guns are needed for self-defence against threats ranging from local criminals to foreign invaders; and that gun ownership deters crime rather than causes more crime.
The US has had more mass shootings than any other country on the planet. According to the independent Gun Violence Archive (GVA), there were 633 mass shootings in 2020 alone.
NRA’s propagation that Americans must have their own guns to protect their rights often corresponds with the self-image of the individuals and the same has been propagated by the western Hollywood and TV shows that have romanticized the gun culture through the stylised cowboy culture.
The political discourse begins again
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was quick to react to this week’s carnage at a Texas elementary school, sending a tweet listing the gun control measures the Democratic-controlled state has taken. He finished with: “Your turn Congress.”
US President Joe Biden has said, “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” while Vice-President Kamala Harris said, “Our hearts keep getting broken” and “enough is enough.”
But gun control measures are likely going nowhere in Congress, and they also have become increasingly scarce in most states. Aside from several Democratic-controlled states, the majority have taken no action on gun control in recent years or have moved aggressively to expand gun rights.
That’s because they are either controlled politically by Republicans who oppose gun restrictions or are politically divided, leading to a stalemate.
Following the recent shooting, Democratic governors and lawmakers across the country issued impassioned pleas for Congress and their own legislatures to pass gun restrictions. Republicans have mostly called for more efforts to address mental health and to shore up protections at schools, such as adding security guards.