Barack Obama is under pressure to tighten gun laws. No wonder, when the US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world: 89 guns for every 100 Americans. In 2011 – the latest year for which detailed statistics are available – there were 12,664 murders of which 8,583 were caused by firearms.
The USA – land of the fearful and the besieged. Despite claims that the Constitution allows citizens to carry firearms for self-defence, there are relatively few shootings by average citizens defending themselves. Most fatal and non‐fatal shootings result from abuse or misuse of guns. The USA is a nation at war with itself.
It is not impossible to legislate against guns. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994) sometimes called the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was a law that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms, so called “assault weapons”. The 10-year ban was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton the same day. It only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban’s enactment and it expired on 13 September 2004, as part of the law’s “sunset provision”. In public policy, a sunset provision is a measure that provides that the law shall cease to have effect after a specific date, unless further legislative action is taken to extend the law. Most laws do not have sunset clauses and therefore remain in force indefinitely.
In the decade following the Federal Assault Weapons Act there was a 66% decline in assault weapon use. According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, if the Act had not been passed and the banned weapons had continued to make up the same percentage of crime gun traces as before the Act’s passage, approximately 60,000 additional assault weapons would have been implicated in crime during that 10 year period.
Annually, there are 1.5 million crimes committed in which firearms are used. 68% of murders are gun-related and 55% of suicides are by using guns. More than 69,000 shootings each year are non‐fatal, yet still leave in their wake a trail of pain, suffering, disability and anguish and grief for families and communities.
Few seem to know that African‐Americans and Latinos are being murdered or harmed by gun-use at significantly higher rates than the rest of US society. While African Americans compose roughly 12% of the population, they account for 27% of all gun‐related deaths in the country. Latinos, who represent approximately 15% of the population, have the second highest rate of gun homicide rates and gun assaults.
The burden that gun violence imposes on women is also striking. Guns account for more murders of women by their intimate partners than all other methods of killing combined.
For these and other reasons, President Barack Obama is morally obliged to legislate firmly and permanently against firearms. He should heed the advice of essayist and commentator Adam Gopnik (“The Simple Truth About Gun Control”, The New Yorker):
“So don’t listen to those who, seeing twenty dead six- and seven-year-olds in ten minutes, their bodies riddled with bullets designed to rip apart bone and organ, say that this is impossibly hard, or even particularly complex, problem. It’s a very easy one. Summoning the political will to make it happen may be hard. But there’s no doubt or ambiguity about what needs to be done, nor that, if it is done, it will work. One would have to believe that Americans are somehow uniquely evil or depraved to think that the same forces that work on the rest of the planet won’t work here. It’s always hard to summon up political will for change, no matter how beneficial the change may obviously be. Summoning the political will to make automobiles safe was difficult; so was summoning the political will to limit and then effectively ban cigarettes from public places. At some point, we will become a gun-safe, and then a gun-sane, and finally a gun-free society. It’s closer than you think.”