In the aftermath of the Vegas shooting, two things occurred. First, after the identity of the shooter was revealed, there was a collective gasp of relief from minority groups who already feel singled out as terror suspects in public settings. Secondly, as per the usual pattern following a shooting massacre in the US, the sales of guns shot up. While the blood was still drying on the streets of Vegas, the first thought on the minds of some Americans is that they better act quick before the government takes their guns away.
Gun rights have been integral to US culture since the birth of the nation and with Trump and the Republican party in charge, that isn’t likely to change any time soon. Trump is a burgeoning friend of the gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA). While prayers and thoughts are offered, flags are flown at half-mast and everyone is told not to politicise the issue, the status quo is likely to prevail. The powers that be will parrot the NRA’s laughably predictable talking points until the public loses interest. You see, “the killer was a lone wolf and such random acts of violence cannot be prevented by tougher gun restrictions.” Perhaps 100% prevention is impossible, but why not try to make it just a little more difficult to acquire a truckload of automatic weapons? This is something that continues to puzzle the rest of the world.
The Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, owned a total of 42 guns. Twenty-three guns were found in his hotel room, including 12 rifles outfitted with “bump stocks”, which enable users to fire semiautomatic guns at a rate of fire comparable to fully automatic ones. The sale of new automatic weapons was outlawed in 1986. Yet, somehow, these bump stocks are legal and essentially turn semi-automatic weapons into the machine guns that were banned more than three decades ago.
The American government, particularly the Republican Party, is so beholden to the NRA that it even passed a bill which prevents the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention from researching the relationship between gun violence and public health. In fact, the NRA ranks politicians based on their record of defending the second amendment — read total subservience to the gun lobby. In 2002, Trump supported a “ban on assault weapons”, however after receiving $30 million from the NRA during his election campaign in 2016, he promised to eliminate “gun free zones”. After taking office, Trump repealed an Obama-era rule that made it difficult for people with mental health issues to buy guns.
The NRA claims to represent the interests of hunters and responsible gun owners. However, it operates more like a corporate lobbyist group representing the interests of the firearms industry. Gun sales soared during that time on an irrational fear that the president was coming for their guns. The fear was so rampant that Obama had to address the subject publicly after another shooting in 2016 “… at no point have I ever, ever proposed confiscating guns from responsible gun owners.” Most Americans don’t want to take away people’s rights to hunt or defend themselves. All they want is to prevent someone from amassing an arsenal and then going on a killing frenzy.
Any progress on the gun control debate, much like the climate change debate, is met with gridlock thanks to Republican politicians and big corporate lobby groups. This lack of inaction continues to baffle the rest of the developed world. Perhaps, instead of throwing billions at border walls, Muslim bans, and fuelling wars in developing countries, the money could be dedicated to research on gun violence and mental health. This way, some mass murders could be prevented in the future. However, as long as all politicians remain dependent on large donors for funds, don’t expect any real change.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2017.