Shot Down: Gun Control in America

On 17th April, President Obama’s push for gun control was dealt a major blow as the Senate defeated a gun-buyer background check bill put together by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA). Recently, President Obama announced a set of proposals that are intended to tighten gun controls and reduce gun violence following the shooting of 20 children and 7 women by Adam Lanza in Newton, Connecticut, in December 2012.

There have been a large number of mass shootings in the US in recent years years, and yet the estimated number of guns held by civilians remains at 310,000,000 and the National Rifle Association (NRA) still exercises significant control over policy-makers. Approximately 9,960 people were murdered with a firearm in the USA in 2010, a rate of 3.2 per 100,000 people. A ban on handguns and other firearms will be difficult to pass, but Obama had considered background checks to be the most likely gun restriction to be approved. Polls had shown that 90% of the public were in favour of the measure after the events in Newtown.

The bill would require criminal background checks for all gun sales and limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. This is a measure to try and reduce the number of large-scale gun attacks. There will also be financing programs to train more police officers, and $4 billion spent in order to help keep 15,000 police officers on the street. Obama’s administration also proposed providing an additional $20 million to help expand the system that tracks violent deaths across the nation and provides $30 million in grants to states in order to help schools develop emergency response plans. There was also a focus on financing the expansion of mental health programs for young people. The Manchin-Toomey background checks amendment allowed exemptions for private sales and gifts between family and friends.

However, despite public support for proposals, many Senate Republicans and pro-gun lobby groups made their opposition for the proposals vocally. President Obama put the blame for the defeat of his proposals squarely on the NRA. He accused them of spreading lies that the legislation would lead to a national gun registry. Pro-gun lawmakers vowed to try and delay any Senate debate on tightening the US’s gun laws, as they are afraid of stricter ownership laws. These untruths meant that common-sense gun reforms were blocked, and Obama called it a “pretty shameful day for Washington,” when important legislation doesn’t pass because 90% of Republicans voted against an idea that had been put forward through scaremongering.

The NRA has given $800,000 to 40 senators who voted against any amendments to gun control laws since 1990, and much of this was given in the run-up to the last election. In the months following Newtown, the NRA saw a surge in donations, registering $2.7 million in cash, and these donations are likely to be given to politicians in the House of Representatives. The NRA has have also been seen to give Ted Cruz cash donations, and he is one of the leaders of Republican opposition to the amendment.

It is inevitable that, where there are high political stakes, there are hardball tactics and strategies employed by those who have an interest in the situation. The NRA also keeps a scorecard of how legislators vote on gun-related issues and use this to direct its campaign contributions to those who will help support their cause. The NRA has linked its campaign against these proposals by claiming it would intrude on Second Amendment Rights.

Joe Biden expressed his shock that the NRA has resorted to using these tactics to block the proposals. He was supported in his outrage by Gabrielle Giffords, a former US representative who was severely wounded in a 2011 shooting in Arizona, who made a statement that the Senate had ‘ignored the will of the American people’. She vowed to campaign to make sure the constituents of those Senators who voted against the legislation would know how they had been ignored by their representatives and put their own political agenda before the safety of communities who have been victims of the tragedies of gun violence.

The collapse of this bill represented a huge disappointment for gun-control advocates, who believed that the political climate on guns was changing. While the Senate blocked or defeated proposals that would ban certain military-style assault rifles and limit the size of ammunition magazine, the biggest setback was the defeat of a measure to expand background checks to the majority of gun sales. This was considered to be the most politically palatable of the proposals, but Obama has pledged to do everything he can to take further action.

However, it is unlikely that the NRA will step back to allow any new proposals to pass, and so it seems it will become a battle between Obama’s desire to stop gun crime, and the NRA’s efforts to block Obama’s proposals. It is still very unclear who will be victorious. But it will certainly not be the victims of gun crime in the near future.

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