President Joe Biden will struggle to enact stricter gun laws in the US, despite a passionate speech at the White House by Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey following the brutal school shooting in Texas
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The Texas native spoke of the heartbreak of families after 21 people were killed, 19 of them young children, when killer Salvador Ramos walked into a school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24 and opened fire.
Despite frequent gun killings – over 700 people in the US have been killed since the Uvalde massacre last month – presidents have failed to introduce widespread restrictions on guns, and Joe Biden is finding it difficult to introduce legislation due to pushback.
US gun laws mean that weapons including deadly AR-15 assault rifles are often easily accessed in many states and are frequently used in mass killings.
Why hasn’t Joe Biden brought in gun control?
Joe Biden is facing huge opposition to the idea of meaningful gun control even after another school shooting, thanks to pushback in the Capitol and from lobby groups.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the country’s biggest gun lobby group and its budget means it can have significant influence over some members of Congress.
Republican party members tend to be more in favour of keeping the status quo and are mostly against gun control. Congress is split fairly evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Around just 24% of Republicans are believed to advocate for stricter gun laws.
The president has been specific about his aims for gun control and said: “We need to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and if we can’t ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21.”
State set their own restrictions on gun controls and can vary. In Texas, for example, a permitless carry law was introduced in 2021 meaning “no permit is required for open or concealed carry”.
Some states have minor restrictions on concealed carry, and there are also differences for those who do not hide their firearm.
Only seven states and Washington DC currently have a ban on assault weapons.
Why does America have so many guns?
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Gun culture in the US is very different to Europe where there are tight restrictions – there hasn’t been a school shooting in the UK since Dunblane in 1996 – thanks in part to how the US Constitution is interpreted.
Guns are very much entrenched in many US citizens’ idea of freedom in America and the Constitution’s second amendment states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. Defenders of this argument say this allows them to purchase guns easily and with little or no restrictions.
Opponents of this idea suggest the founding fathers who wrote the amendment did not have military assault rifles and handguns in mind when they penned the amendment. Other amendments in the Constitution have also been changed or added since it was written.
McConnaughey said in his White House speech: “Responsible gun owners are fed up by the second amendment being abused and hijacked by some deranged individuals.”
Interpretations of this amendment can lead to some seemingly extreme views on guns when viewed from a European perspective. The gun used by Ramos was a Daniel Defense DDM4 V7, an AR-15-style rifle, and the company took down a post after the Uvalde shooting.
It showed a picture of a child holding a gun and the caption read: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Pushback against stricter gun laws doesn’t just lie in congress and lobby groups. American gun culture is vastly different and instead of reacting to significant mass shootings by campaigning for gun control, sales of guns can actually go up in the weeks and months after a mass killing is reported.
After the Sandy Hook mass killing in 2012, when 27 people were murdered at an elementary school, gun sales spiked.
When mass shootings occur, talk of stronger gun legislation can mean that some gun owners attempt to buy more weapons before any proposed legislation is put in place.
According to polling by Gallup, only 52% of Americans want stricter gun laws and an estimated 81 million people in the US own a firearm.
The production of guns also means there are more firearms than people, with an estimated 390 million in circulation in 2018. This is around 120.5 per head.