Why America loves its guns more than its people
NEW DELHI: A gunman murdered 19 children and two teachers in the deadliest US school shooting in nearly a decade, prompting President Joe Biden to urge Americans to confront the country’s gun lobby and pressure Congress to tighten gun laws.
Mass shootings have frequently led to public protests and calls for stricter background checks on gun sales and other firearm controls common in other countries, but such measures repeatedly fail in the face of strong Republican-led opposition.
The US also has by far the highest number of privately owned guns in the world. In 2017, the number of civilian-owned firearms in the US was 120.5 guns per 100 residents, meaning there were more firearms than people.
The world’s second-ranked country was Yemen, a quasi-failed state torn by civil war, where there were 52.8 guns per 100 residents, according to an 2018 Small Arms Survey.
More recent data also suggests that gun ownership grew significantly over the last several years. One study, published by the Annals of Internal Medicine in February, found that 7.5 million US adults – just under 3% of the population – became first new gun owners between January 2019 and April 2021.
The main challenge for effective policy is that the United States may now have more guns (around 400 million) than people (330 million). The US has 4% of the world’s population but about 40% of the firearms in civilian hands.
For the love of guns
Americans, increasingly in recent years, tend to support the abstract idea of the right to own guns.
The Second Amendment (Amendment II) to the United States Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms. Therefore, a vocal minority – only about 30%-40% of households have guns – turns any attempt at gun control into an assault on “red-blooded American values”.
Many Americans also see other issues such as healthcare and budget deficit as a bigger problem than gun violence.
No other developed country in the world has anywhere near the same rate of gun violence as America. The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times the rate of Sweden, and nearly 16 times that of Germany, according to 2012 United Nations data.
More Americans have died from guns just since 1975, including suicides, murders and accidents (more than 1.5 million), than in all the wars in US history, dating back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.4 million).
In a typical year, more children from infancy through 4 years old are fatally shot in the United States (about 80) than police officers (about 50 or fewer).
Firearms became the leading cause of death for US children and adolescents starting in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, according to a University of Michigan research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month.
Tuesday’s school shooting was the deadliest since a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.
In a televised speech on Tuesday, Biden said: “As a nation, we have to ask when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby, when in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done.”
A Democrat, Biden accused the gun lobby of blocking enactment of tougher firearm safety laws. He ordered flags flown at half-staff daily until sunset on Saturday in observance of the tragedy. “I am sick and tired of it. We have to act,” he said without going into specifics.
(With inputs from agencies)