On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, a nightclub frequented by LGBTQ+ members in Orlando, Florida and shot dead 49 people and injured 53 others. He himself was killed in a subsequent gunfight with the police who had arrived on the scene. Omar Mateen had been on FBI’s watchlist since 2013. That didn’t stop him from legally buying the assault rifles which he would use later use to unleash the deadliest mass shooting carried out by a single gunman in the history of United States. Yes, those on terror watch lists are presently allowed to purchase guns.
This incident has been deemed an attack due to Islamist radicalisation, which, if the Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump is to be believed, can only be checked with religious profiling of Americans and banning Muslim immigrants from entering the country. Yes, Omar Mateen was a Muslim who had pledged his allegiance to ISIS. And, so the narrative of hate propagated by Donald Trump and the Republican Party is winning the rhetoric war waged against the Muslim community. Radical Islam is seen at the root of such terrorist incidents. But in truth, most mass shooters do not belong to the Muslim community or any minority community.
USA Today reports that 77% of all mass killings in the US are carried out with a gun. Most of the guns used in these events are legally purchased. A third of the population is believed to own firearms in the US and 1 in every 3 household with children own firearms. The high percentage of ownership of guns in the US makes the country more susceptible to incidents of mass shootings.
Although several factors play a role in such incidents, the easy accessibility of guns is a key contributor. Politicians feed into the hate-mongering which places the blame on aspects which does not include legislation, which makes the process of purchasing weapons like walking into a grocery shop to buy vegetables. While licensed gun dealers can prevent those with mental health problems and those with a record of committing serious crime can be prevented from buying weapons, there are no restrictions on sale at gun shows and for private vendors online.
What becomes clear with the tide of public mass shootings is the failure on the part of the US government to place checks on the ownership of guns and a lack of stricter laws ensuring gun control. There is little to no law that prevents an individual from purchasing firearms. Guns are so easily available in the country that one can walk into a gun exhibition and walk out with an assault rifle within an hour.
The National Rifles Association (NRA) is an influential group and has the support of several policy-makers who would rather defend the interests and positions of the NRA than the safety of its citizens. The NRA is a major contributor to the campaign kitty of parliamentary aspirants. The NRA prevents any legislation which restricts ownership of guns such as the ‘No fly, No buy’ bill which basically states that those individuals on the no-fly list of the FBI should not be allowed to purchase firearms.
So, how does the NRA justify its stand? The NRA projects the right to ownership of weapons as being enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and necessary for the defense of the innocent citizen. As the Vice President of NRA, Wayne Lapierre put it, “The only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This view was echoed by Donald Trump in the week following the Orlando attack in which he stated that to prevent such incidents club-goers must be allowed to “pack heat [carry a gun]” so that they could kill the terrorists when they brandish their weapons. The daftness of this comment is such that the Orlando shooting took place because of one such heat-packing individual and even the NRA thought that a roomful of drunken people with guns was a bad idea.
The NRA, however, conveniently tends to overlook the many instances when this fundamental right has come at the expense of the basic right to life of the victims of gun violence. Guns have not only been involved in instances of mass shooting, but there have been recorded incidents in the U.S. in which firearms have been accidentally discharged by persons, including toddlers. Is this not enough cause for alarm?
The proposals for modification of gun control bills proposed and presented on the floor of the Senate earlier this week were rejected. This includes a bill that would have prevented suspects on terrorism watch lists from buying guns. The 15-hour long speech made by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy did not seem to have much effect on his fellow Republican members, who have continued to follow the lines of Trump and the NRA regarding gun laws. They voted against the bills proposed by the Democrats which would have been a small step towards guaranteeing a modicum of gun control. Similarly, the Democrats too, rejected the bills proposed by the Republicans deeming their proposals as being too weak.
At a time when gun violence in the US is taking the lives of 89 people every day on an average (this figure includes suicide victims), shouldn’t an effort be made to tighten gun control laws? But, in this instance yet again partisan politics has won over human safety and security.