Why guns are American ‘culture’ and shootings an epidemic
“There’s something in the American psyche, it’s almost this kind of right or privilege, this sense of entitlement, to resolve our conflicts with violence. There’s an arrogance to that concept if you think about it. My question is, why do we believe that way and other cultures don’t,” said political documentary filmmaker Michael Moore in an interview about his stinging and thought-provoking film, “Bowling For Columbine”.
Bowling for Columbine was released in 2002, three years after the then single-biggest school shooting incident in the US that set Moore exploring the factors that led to the 1999 massacre. Two 12-grade students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who attended bowling classes at Columbine High School in Colorado, killed 12 students and a teacher before shooting themselves dead.
Democrat Bill Clinton was the US president back then. Twenty-three years and several school shootings later, another Democrat, President Joe Biden, spoke to the press on Tuesday on the same gun culture after an 18-year-old killed 21 people including 19 children at the Robb Elementary School in Texas.
Biden said, “These kinds of mass shootings rarely happen anywhere else in the world. Why?”
A right to guns
The Second Amendment to the US Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms. And, around 30 per cent of the American population avails this right.
A survey by Pew Research Center found that four in 10 Americans had at least one gun in their household in 2021. Three in 10 Americans said they owned a gun themselves.
Prevalence of guns in the American households is surprising given that in the same Pew survey, 94 per cent people identified guns as a “problem”, with 56 per cent calling it a “big problem”. And, 53 per cent – seven per cent decline from 2017 to 2021 – opined that Americans want a stricter gun control laws.
The culture of guns
In his film, which is considered one of the greatest documentaries of all time, Moore blames the American culture of violence for shooting incidents. He found that this culture of violence has pervaded the American psyche due to free gun policies within the country and destructive missiles fired elsewhere in the world. Many find a connection between the rise in mass shootings in the US and military action by the American forces in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other places.
According to Switzerland-based research project, the Small Arms Survey, the US has 120.5 firearms (guns) per 100 residents (2018) – the highest ratio in the world. The survey says that the number of guns in private hands has increased in the past decade, from 88 per 100 in 2011, in the US.
Another study, published by the Annals of Internal Medicine in February this year, found that 7.5 million US adults – almost 3% of the population – became first-time gun owners between January 2019 and April 2021, exposing 11 million more people including 5 million children to firearms.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study in 2021 linking higher rates of gun injuries among children and inflicted by them to a rise in gun ownership during the Covid-19 pandemic period.
The problem with guns
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 53 people are killed in gun-related incidents every year in the country. Some estimates, however, put this number at 90. About 1.5 million firearm deaths have taken place in the US between 1968 and 2017 – higher than the number of soldiers killed in every US conflict since the American War for Independence in 1775, reported BBC.
In 2020, for which complete death data is available, 45,222 people lost their lives to guns in the US, according to the CDC data. This number includes murders and suicides, and is the highest for a year, recording a 25 per cent rise over the past five years and a 43 per cent increase from 2010.
The horror of mass shootings
Mass shootings, called “active shooter incidents” in the US, are tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI documents, available in public domain, show that more than 1,000 people died in the US between 2000 and 2020 during which 345 “active shooter incidents” were recorded. The deadliest of the attacks was the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that left 58 dead and more than 500 injured.
Among mass shootings in schools, the 2012-incident in Connecticut was the deadliest with 27 people losing their lives. Among on-campus mass murders, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute shooting of 2007 was the deadliest with 32 deaths in a single incident. But the biggest of all was a series of explosions in 1927 at the Bath School in Michigan, where 45 people died.
Why don’t they do something about it?
With guns deeply ingrained in the American psyche, it is a much contested debate in the country’s politics. Generally speaking, the Democrats are in favour of gun control laws while the Republicans want to keep the guns free of any control. Of the 50 states of the US, only 10 have some kind of restrictions on buying and owning guns by private individuals.
Of late, Donald Trump has been a top advocate of free gun culture in the US. It was one of his election pitches in 2016, when he won the presidential poll. A Gallup survey that year suggested that 76 per cent Americans agreed with Donald Trump. He lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden, who like Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, favours gun control laws.
“When, in God’s name, are we going to stand up to the gun lobby,” Biden said after the latest shooting incident. “It’s time to turn this pain into action for every parent, for every citizen of this country.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is considered the most powerful gun lobby in the US and is known to use its might and finances to influence the Congress members on gun policy. In every election, the NRA – which filed a bankruptcy petition in January this year – campaigns for the candidates who promises to uphold the Second Amendment.
Selling guns is a profitable business in the US. A Forbes report put the American gun business at $28 billion for 2018. The volume of gun-sale grew to a record over 23 million in 2020 before witnessing a decline of about 12.5 per cent in 2021.
This could explain why the US has recorded 212 mass shootings and the 27 school shooting so far this year, according to the Everytown gun control group. The Texas school shooting also raises a question about the mental health of students in the US with reports saying that the shooter Salvador Rolando Ramos, who was killed in police action, faced severe bullying at school and was depressed.