On the night of October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a large crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, killing 58 people and injuring 489. The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the United States. In a press conference following the event, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointed out that “Now is the time to unite as a country,” tactfully avoiding the issue of gun control policy reform. However, gun control debate has flared up again recently despite the White House’s dismissals, with attention focused on bump firing, a technique Paddock used to allow his semi-automatic rifles to fire at a rate similar to that of a fully-automatic weapon.
With each mass shooting, Congress reignites a longstanding debate on gun control. But it’s largely one that fizzles out in time, resulting in little to no legislative changes. On January 16, 2013, in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and other mass shootings, President Barack Obama announced a plan for reducing gun violence in four parts: closing background check loopholes; banning assault weapons and large capacity magazines; making schools safer; and increasing access to mental health services. The plan included proposals for new laws to be passed by Congress, and a series of executive actions not requiring Congressional approval. No new federal gun control legislation was passed as a result of these proposals. President Obama later stated in a 2015 interview with the BBC that gun control:
“is an area where, if you ask me where has been the one area where I feel that I've been most frustrated and most stymied, it is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense, gun-safety laws. Even in the face of repeated mass killings. And you know, if you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands. And for us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders added to her comments at the press conference: “If you look to Chicago where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country.” I share in Barack Obama’s frustration, and do not doubt that many of TCS’s readers feel the same way. It seems that Sanders is arguing that strict gun laws don’t necessarily mean safety from guns, which is a stance likely to enforce a reaction of outrage in any rational being. In 2013 John Oliver interviewed Philip Van Cleave of the pro-Second Amendment group the Virginia Citizens Defense League, in which he portrays the hypocrisies of American gun law and demonstrating the Australian example of gun control. In the last two decades of the century, following several high-profile killing sprees and a media campaign, the Australian government coordinated more restrictive firearms legislation with all state governments. Gun laws were largely aligned in 1996 by the National Firearms Agreement. A person who possesses or uses a firearm must have a firearm licence. Licence holders must be at least 18 years of age, have a "genuine reason" for holding a firearm licence and must not be a "prohibited person". All firearms in Australia must be registered by serial number to the owner, who also holds a firearms license. The result was clear: reduced gun violence and zero mass murders since 1996.
However, an abundance of Americans are determined to defend the “freedom” uplifted by the Second Amendment, giving citizens the right to bear arms. It must be so easy to forget that this legislation was written in 1791, when guns could hold one bullet, as opposed to the machines we see being used today, capable of doing such devastating damage as witnessed in Las Vegas just over a week ago. It is time for the American population to question if they are willing to pay the price for the ‘freedom’ owning a firearm allows them.
For perhaps the best satirical take on the USA’s gun laws, see the relevant segment of Jim Jefferies’s 2014 stand-up special ‘BARE’ here.