Why America cannot stop the scourge of gun violence?
May, 29, 2022: Every human life is precious and ‘Right to Life’ is a universally acknowledged natural human right. Thus, the recent mass shootings involving killing of 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York and 19 children and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in the United States of America have once again drowned the world community into grief, sorrow, anguish, stress and pain of unfathomable proportions. In both the recent cases of mass shootings, the shooters were 18 year old men. Everyone is rightly appalled by this massacre and is rightly talking about the urgent need for gun reforms.
Mass shootings are not a new phenomenon to American society. Despite hundreds of mass shootings which take place in USA every year, the lawmakers have failed to pass major gun-control legislation.
According to the data by Gun Violence Archive, in year 2021, 692 mass shootings were recorded, in comparison to 610 over the course of 2020. The 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting is still afresh in many people’s minds just as the Sandy Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in which the gunman shot 20 children and 6 educators in year 2012.
It is strange that despite an overwhelming outpouring of public grief, the Connecticut incident didn’t lead to comprehensive gun reforms in America as compared to the manner in which the Port Arthur massacre and the Christchurch mosque shootings did in Australia and New Zealand.
Guns are everywhere in USA as tens of millions of Americans own guns themselves. According to a 2021 survey by Pew Research Center, Four in 10 Americans live in a household with a gun, while 30% say they personally own one. By a rough estimate, the American society contains around 400 million weapons as of today.
The Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which lays down that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed", guarantees a personal right to possess a handgun. Such interpretation, although subject to furious debate, has embedded gun ownership rights in the text of the American Constitution itself. Another aspect is the strong support of Republician leaders to the National Rifle Association as they advocate relaxed gun control norms vis-à-vis a strong opposition by Democrats to rein in the gun culture by putting more restrictions in place.
Let’s explore the possible options or answers to confront the vexatious problem at hand.Meaningful firearm law reforms in America happen to be the first requirement which is crying for urgent attention since many years now. Many supporters of gun rights in America claim that keeping a firearm ensures protection to them from any sort of unwanted harm as it dissuades the attackers from targeting them.
However, it is not necessarily so. Having more firearms in circulation cannot be a lasting solution to tackling the epidemic of mass shootings. In accordance with a research undertaken at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the John Hopkins University, experts have opined that having stricter and tighter regulations in place which encompasses permits to purchase, child access protection laws, controlling the casual access to dangerous firearms and extreme risk protection orders have the propensity to reduce the occurrence of firearm deaths related to homicide, suicide and mass shootings.
Why the Extreme Risk Protective Orders cannot be effectively utilized at the federal and state levels to prevent firearms from ending up in the possession of those who pose a grave risk to themselves and others around them.
Similarly, individuals who have a history of criminal record or domestic violence must be barred for life to possess any firearm. If any weapon has been previously issued to them, these must be taken back from them immediately without any further delay under a legal process.
According to the research at the John Hopkins University, 70 percent of the mass shootings in America have a direct or indirect connection with domestic violence. Even in the recent case of shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the perpetrator of the violent mass shooting epidemic had shot his grandmother before arriving at the school to commit the carnage.
Therefore, identifying those at the highest risk of violence, including those with the history of domestic violence, is a crucial factor in dealing with the menace of mass shootings as such vulnerable individuals must be denied access to any sort of firearms.
Much work needs to be done in terms of not only having stricter arms control measures, but also widening the ambit of the mental health programs and creating/strengthening supportive emotional networks for the vulnerable minds which need urgent medical care and attention. Even poverty and income disparities need to be addressed in terms of the bigger picture as a part of a multipronged strategy to tackle mental, health and emotional problems which somehow contribute to amplifying the extremist tendencies of self-radicalization of mindsets and eventually find a disturbing outlet in terms of mass shootings.
In order to lessen the easy availability and access of firearms to the American youngsters, school students and general populace, apart from ensuring strict gun permit requirements, other steps like biometric fingerprint locks for firearms can also be undertaken at a massive scale.
Apart from having comprehensive firearm licensing policies, other measures also need to be swiftly adopted like enforcing strict limits on possessing large capacity magazines, spaces for safe firearm storage, institutionalizing hospital-based and community-based violence intervention programs, introducing and implementing much-needed police reforms, addressing social and psychological determinants of health, and dismantling structural racism.
Intensive background checks should be conducted before issuing firearm licenses and in fact, weapons with high-capacity magazines must be banned altogether like the AR-15 style rifles. There should also be a limitation of maximum number of weapons which one can purchase as well as enforcing a time gap between these purchases. Regular mental health checks need to be put in place for those having possession of deadly firearms and if at any point of time, they are found to be mentally unfit, these must be taken back from them until they are found to be mentally sound again to keep one.
Also, there should be mandatory age restrictions which need to be strictly implemented to tighten the access to firearms. Many experts have time and again pointed out in the past towards prohibiting the gun purchases by those who are under 21 years of age. Such a measure, if it would have been in place, might have prevented the 18-year-old shooter in Texas from acquiring the deadly weapons and the lives of students and teachers could have been saved. Not only just the age norms, but even more strict regulations need to be put into place such as people who are abusive dating partners, having mental illnesses or found to be convicted of spreading or indulging in hate crimes must be straight-away debarred from applying or possessing any kind of firearms.
Even the social media profiles such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagam, etc. of the people must be thoroughly checked in order to find any hint of prospective violence based mindsets. Similarly, people who are overly indulgent in playing or promoting violent video games which rewards killing and destruction need to be stopped from getting any access to real firearms.
More US kids aged 17 and under have died from gun violence in year 2021 than have died from Covid-19 during the pandemic.Can we afford to simply sit around and wait for the next mass shooting to occur? The answer should be an emphatic NO. We halve already lost so many precious lives. It is time to take stock of the situation and tame the raging bull by its horns.
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