Obama takes gun control into his own hands. Will it change anything? Not likely


Obama takes gun control into his own hands. Will it change anything? Not likely

The decision

  • President Barack Obama has decided to strengthen gun control laws
  • He has drawn up a 10-point plan, primarily aimed at improving background checks

The reason

  • In 2015, over 12,000 people died in shootings in the US alone
  • This is more than four times the number of people killed in Islamic terror attacks

More in the story

  • Why do Americans continue to resist any kind of gun control?
  • Why Obama's move won't change much

With tears streaming down his face on 5 November, US President Barack Obama condemned the rising gun violence in the US and vowed to curb the bloodshed, with or without the support of the Congress.

"In this room right here, there are a lot of stories. There's a lot of heartache," Obama said in the White House East Room, surrounded by relatives of those killed in mass shootings around the country.

"There's a lot of resilience, there's a lot of strength, but there's also a lot of pain."

Also read - One mass shooting every day: why the US must wake up & implement gun control

He then proceeded to lay out a plan - one which will undoubtedly face a bunch of hurdles that will dull its effects - that will see more stringent measures designed to prevent gun violence, including expanded background checks for gun sales.

"Our right to peaceful assembly, that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette," Obama went on.

"Our unalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from highschoolers in Columbine, and from first graders in Newtown."

And that's when the most powerful man in the world teared up.

Anyone with an ounce of empathy would. Isn't the fact that first graders are being gunned down because of the law of the land just twisted and demonic?

And despite this very legal exercising of executive power, questions will remain: how many guns can Obama's new rules actually take off the streets? What kind of effects will he actually have on reducing violence?

With guns blazing

we can end gun violence US getty images

Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP

The numbers emerging from gun violence deaths don't just speak for themselves, they scream.

In all, 12,700 people were shot dead in the US in 2015.

For some perspective, sample this fact: guns have killed four times as many people in ONE country as jihadi terrorism has in the whole wide world.

The death toll in 2015, when it came to Islamic terror attack, stood at 2,800 (perhaps a fraction as not every incident made it to the tally).

Guns kill more than 30,000 Americans every year - most of them accidents or suicides

It truly was the Year of Wrath for the US. The year was marked by mass shootings, in places like Charleston, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Roseburg, Oregon; Colorado Springs, Colorado; San Bernardino, California and many more.

Children, movie-goers, elderly and youth alike were shot down in a blaze of bullets.

In all, there were more than 372 mass shootings, as the map below well illustrates:

Democratic Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy also used statistics and data about the shootings from shootingtracker.com, which defines mass shootings as any incident where at least four people are injured, to make a point.

In fact, since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, there have been an estimated 1,042 mass shootings in the US.

But wait, the numbers above are only those of people shot dead by someone else.

The real number is this: guns kill more than 30,000 Americans every year, as research from gunpolicy.org shows. That's about as many deaths as caused by accidents on the road.

And that's all thanks to accessibility. The gruesome bit is that most of it is suicides and the rest accidents. And enough studies have shown that most suicides in the US would not have happened if firearms weren't easily accessible.

Wait, there's more:

  • The US has nearly four times more gun violence than any other country in the world.

  • Americans make up less than 5% of the global population, but own 42% of the world's privately-held firearms.

  • Suicides actually make up of 63% of all gun-related deaths.

Also read - #SanBernadino shooting: US needs to establish gun control, and it needs to do it now

All this data makes it all the more flabbergasting to note that instead of looking inward, most Americans are more up in arms about the threat of ISIS and other Islamic terror organisations.

As this recent report, called 'The Truth About Kids and Guns' from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, showed, perhaps even more scandalous is the fact that in 2011, there were 2,703 child and teen firearm deaths.

That is seven children and teens killed by gunfire each and every day in America. Now that's the real scandal.

Sticking to their guns

Through a website released in 2014, the Brady Campaign showed just how bought off politicians in the US are by the lunatic lobby known as the National Rifle Association (NRA), as well as their companions: the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and Gun Owners of America (GOA).

Basically, we are talking about 90% of the Republican Party, and more than just a handful of Democrats.

The NRA, an ancient behemoth founded in 1871, remains the dominant force in much of the country with its 5 million members, spending more than $32.5 million last year on campaigns and lobbying.

What the US fears more than guns: Ebola-infected members of ISIS entering the US as human WMDs

The NRA is very good at one thing in particular: stoking fear. When the Ebola crisis was in full swing, it happily released a 'Pandemic Survival Kit'. Time and time again, they invoke Islamic State terror attacks as another reason to own a gun. Here's pretty much the worst-case scenario they present: Ebola-infected members of ISIS entering the US as human WMDs.

And it's this manipulation of fear that is killing Americans. That's because they aren't allowed to pay attention to the real killers in America.

Thus, NRA's reaction to Obama's announcement wasn't surprising by any measure:

Batting for disarmament

On the opposite end of the spectrum is an organisation called Everytown for Gun Safety. The group received $36 million in contributions last year - the biggest chunk coming from former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg.

The group, created in 2014 after the 2012 slaughter of 26 children and adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, says its supporters have now grown to 3 million, including survivors of shootings, mayors, police officers, celebrities, and rank-and-file supporters.

It already has chapters in all 50 states, with registered lobbyists in 31 of them. It has now eclipsed a number of older gun control groups in both publicity and influence.

In its latest push, the group is recently recruited some players from the National Basketball Association to speak out against gun violence.

In fact, many gun control groups have turned to states for changes, with 18 states now imposing some form of background check.

California just accomplished a "gun violence restraining order", to get more guns out of the hands of those deemed dangerous by a court.

Preventing all who have committed domestic violence and all those on terror watch lists from buying weapons are also some of the other worthy reforms that have been brought about in some states.

The wild, wild West

Before we delve into the arguments for gun control, one must know that there is absolutely no doubt about how much Americans love their guns. From films to pop culture, guns are culturally ingrained in every way.

In the 19th century, Samuel Colt brought the modernity of mass production to gun-making.

The 20th century brought the dark romance of the gangster armed with Thompson sub-machine guns and private eyes with their snub-nosed .38s. World War II veterans brought home enemy guns as trophies of their victory.

And it goes on and on from there.

Guns get handed down through generations, symbols of patriarchy.

There are many deep cultural and psychological explanations for America's gun madness, including the obvious issues of power, money and politics.

Americans make up 5% of the global population, but own 42% of the world's privately-held firearms

They're symbols of protection of the home, the romance of industry, equality, cool daring, street savvy and family tradition.

It may sound harsh to say that Americans love guns more than they care about massacres. But it's true; people get killed and they don't seem to worry about it.

A little arms survey that was conducted last year showed that for every hundred Americans, there are about 88.9 firearms. This number is higher than the guns that are found in West Bank/Gaza, Pakistan, Mexico and Yemen combined.

Also read - The year of wrath: when violence bloomed and the world suffered

The arguments

Here are the most commonly-used pro-gun arguments:

1. "Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

2. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

In reality, no mass shootings in the past 30 years have been stopped by an armed civilian. In 1982, an armed civilian successfully killed a shooter.

3. "But, mental health!"

Solution: round up everyone with a mental health issue and put them under lock and key. Whoops, that's 1 in 5 Americans! To top that, only 23% of shooters have been found to have been diagnosed with a disorder.

4. "Second Amendment, baby."

5. "Gun control equals despotism."

Thanks to Edward Snowden, most Americans do not trust the government. Most would rather take the risk of living in a free but potentially dangerous society than a safe and oppressive one.

6. "Self defence."

7. "Hunting."

Here's a VICE documentary on just how much people love guns:

The backfire

It's a familiar pattern: a mass shooting takes place, and gun sales in America spike. Measures to curtail sales of guns are announced and gun sales spike again.

And the profit goes everywhere. For example, this month, shares in gunmaker Smith & Wesson rose to their highest value since 1999. Smith & Wesson's trading update said that for the three months ending 31 January, it expected sales to be about $175 million-$180 million. The earlier likely figure was between $150 million and $155 million.

That's a 38.5% increase in projections. All because of proposed gun control measures.

smith and Wesson gun sales Jan 2016

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System said that checks were up by about 38% last month, compared to December 2014.

According to the FBI, 2015 saw more Americans buying guns than ever before, with background checks surging 10% to 23.1 million. It was the largest number since the bureau began keeping statistics in 1998.

On the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday, the day the holiday shopping season begins) in 2015, the FBI said it processed 185,345 gun background checks, the most recorded in a single day.

The FBI also said that Black Fridays from 2012 to 2014 also were among the bureau's "top 10" days of most background checks. Since 1998, some 220 million firearms have been purchased.

FBI background checks 2015 gun sales

The smoking gun

Here's what Obama's 10-point plan entails:

1. Keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks.

2. Increase mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system.

3. Make communities safer from gun violence.

4. Make the background check system more efficient and effective.

5. Ensure smart and effective enforcement of gun laws.

6. Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing states from reporting relevant information to the background check system.

7. Ensure states are providing records to the background check system and work cooperatively with jurisdictions to improve reporting.

8. Require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust or corporation.

9. Ensure dealers notify law enforcement about the theft or loss of their guns.

10. Issue a memo directing every US Attorney's Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.

Now all that sounds like administrative jargon. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has already swung into action, making clear that it doesn't matter where you conduct your business - from a store, at gun shows, or over the internet: if you're in the business of selling firearms, you must get a licence and conduct background checks.

Most would rather live in a free but potentially dangerous society than a safe and oppressive one

It has released a set of guidelines on its website that must be followed.

The FBI is also overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient.

But there are other points that need to be discussed, yet never come up: what about the hundreds of thousands of guns that are stolen in the US every year, which pile up in the black market? What about shared-access guns, where a family has firearms stored in a mutually accessible place? (The shooter in Newtown, Connecticut, used his mother's guns.)

The old one-two

obama cries gun violence 5 January getty images

Photo: AFP PHOTO/Jim Watson

Pretty much all Republican Presidential candidates broke into hysterics over the announcement, calling the actions an "abuse" of executive power. Each and every one made promises of repealing this "mess" if elected.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz characterised Obama's executive actions as an attack on the Second Amendment. On Twitter he called it "unconstitutional", and included a snazzy photoshopped image of Obama wearing a crown. It also linked to a Cruz campaign website (self promotion always comes first), featuring Obama dressed in military-style garb, next to the headline, "Obama wants your guns".

You can check out just how enthusiastic Cruz is about weapons right here:

"This President wants to act as if he's a king, as if he's a dictator," thundered noted abuser-of-executive-powers Chris Christie (Governor of New Jersey), before calling Obama a "petulant child".

"I will veto," Donald Trump roared. "I will unsign that so fast. So fast."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee used Obama's executive action as an opportunity to advocate for an abortion ban.

In a classic case of timing, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush released a video in response to Obama's executive actions, where he didn't mention the actions specifically, but rather "any" effort by the President (the video was obviously made in anticipation).

But despite their reactions seeming comically overwrought, they do reflect two major trends in Republican thought: a knee-jerk opposition to taking any measures to stop America's epidemic of gun violence; and claims that legal presidential actions represent some kind of threat to American constitutional order.

But what this episode truly illustrates is that gun control is an issue - like upper-class tax cuts, Obamacare and countless others - where Republican policy can be boiled down to a radical one-note ideological slogan (much like the BJP when it comes to cows, Pakistan and the Ram Mandir).

To add a dash of humour to this mess is this lovely op-ed endorsing gun control legislation written by former President Ronald Reagan in 1991.

That Obama's proposed actions do less on gun control than Reagan wanted really should be seen by Reagan-worshipping Republicans as tyranny.

Now here's my question to the American public at large: If you're willing to stand against laws about race, gender and sexuality, why the hell can't you make a stand against something that could kill you?

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Aleesha Matharu

Aleesha Matharu @almatharu