Gun Control in America: What Can Be Done?

Gun Control in America: What Can Be Done?

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday is leaving a lot of Americans asking: what can be done? The attack is the 18th school shooting just this year in the United States, an appalling statistic, especially when compared to other countries worldwide.

It is evident that lawmakers aren’t doing enough to push gun control legislation, but why is gun control such a thorny subject in American politics? Let’s examine why gun control is such a problem in the U.S. and how legislation compares to other countries.

Little Regulation

America’s gun problem stems primarily from the ease in which Americans can get their hands on a firearm. For example, Nicholas Cruz, the shooter at Stoneman Douglas High used an AK-15, which is easier to purchase than a handgun in the state of Florida. From state to state, the requirements to purchase a gun vary, but laws are severely lax across the board. Only 13 states require background checks and nearly 40 percent of guns sold in the U.S. are done so without question.

Lacking Legislation

From Columbine and Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook, the gun debate has been a long standing one in American politics. So why haven’t legislators passed laws to limit access to firearms?

One powerful force against gun control laws are pro-gun lobbying organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA has strong ties to members of Congress, especially in the form of funding. Through lobbying and Political Action Committees (PACs), organizations like the NRA raise money which is then used to represent their interests in Congress. These organizations are legal, but the sheer amount of money raised by these groups (over 5 million dollars during the 2016 election cycle) is a great motivator for lawmakers to support their cause.

In addition to this, there isn’t unanimous support for gun control from the American public. The Pew Research Center recently reported that 79% of Republicans polled favored protecting gun ownership while only 20% of Democrats agreed. Gun control is a very polarizing topic, and public outcries for it waver.

U.S. vs. the World

A 2016 study of 171 countries found that the United States has more mass shootings than any other country—31% of mass shootings that occurred between 1966 and 2012 happened in the U.S. Some wonder if stricter gun laws would make a difference, but looking at Australia, the answer is unequivocally yes. In 1996, a gunman killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania, less than two weeks later an expansive gun control law was passed—a mass shooting hasn’t happened in Australia since. Plus, homicides and suicides that involved guns decreased by 59 and 65% respectively by 2006—by 2016, the suicide rate had fallen by 74%.  

Other countries with restrictive gun laws also show that limiting gun availability reduces gun-related deaths. The United Kingdom has laws requiring a rigorous application process to own a firearm that can include a background check and character witness statements but asks why the applicant needs a gun. In Japan, gun laws are so restrictive and guns are so widely regulated that there were only six gun related deaths in 2014.

Will Anything Change?

Is it coincidence that American citizens own more guns than citizens of any other country and the U.S. has the highest rate of gun-related deaths? Probably not. Will America embrace stricter gun laws to prevent mass shootings and reduce the number of gun-related deaths? It’s not likely. It is unclear whether the tide will ever turn in the U.S. and stricter gun laws will become a reality, but it is a serious problem that must be addressed.