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 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 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 households 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. And, legislation has an important role to play that allows for the ease of access in relation to guns.
Politicians feed into the hate-mongering which places the blame on aspects which generally does not include legislation but rather the individual and group attributes or one-off incidents. While licensed gun dealers can prevent those with mental health problems and those with a record of committing serious crime from buying weapons, there are limited restrictions on sale at gun shows by private sellers, which is termed as the ‘gun show loophole’. The loophole in fact, goes beyond the simple physical confines of a gun show and includes unlicensed individuals who are exempt from having to conduct background checks that licensed dealers have to undertake under federal law. Therefore, it is a ‘private sale loophole’. However, it must be noted that different states have differing legislation to regulate these markets. Nonetheless, what becomes clear with the tide of public mass shootings is the failure on the part of the US government, at the federal and state-level, to place checks on the ownership of guns and a lack of stricter laws ensuring gun control. Guns are so easily available and accessible in the country which is evident from the large number of gun owners in the United States. This is enabled by the existence of certain lobby groups that yield much influence in the country.
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 stop the terrorists when they brandish their weapons. The daftness of this comment is such that it bypasses the fact 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, continues to to overlook the many instances when the Second Amendment has come at the expense of the basic right to life of the victims of gun violence and the trauma of survivors and the families that are affected by these incidents. 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.