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Inside Story Americas

Will the US ever change its gun laws?

We analyse the failure of US gun control laws in preventing recurring mass shootings.
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2012 12:25

Barack Obama, the US president, has had to make speeches like this three times already during his tenure, consoling communities where mass killings had taken place.

The said mass murders took place in Tucson in Arizona, Fort Hood in Texas and Aurora in Colorado.

"The easy availability of high-powered weapons in particular is an undeniable fact that needs to be considered here. Look at the weapon that Adam Lanza used in Newtown and the enormous damage he was able to do. I don't think we can discount the types of weapons entirely when we talk about what would constitute reasonable regulations."

- Mark Follman, a senior editor at Mother Jones

But it was only after last week's killing of 20 children aged six and seven in Connecticut that Obama said it was time for action.

"Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I've been reflecting on this the last few days and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We're not doing enough, and we'll have to change," he said.

While Obama did not use the word "gun" in his speech to members of the Newtown, Connecticut community, gun control has now become the focus of discussion.

The US has the highest gun ownership per capita in the world – nine guns for every 10 Americans.

On Friday morning, 26 people were killed after a gunman carrying a high-powered military-style rifle and other guns stormed Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

The gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, was armed with four weapons and a semi-automatic rifle with dozens of high-velocity rounds – all of which were obtained legally by his mother. Lanza also killed his mother and took his own life.

"In Washington for years it's been the conventional wisdom that you can't take on the NRA but we've seen [from figures] that it had a very tough November where most of its candidates lost so I think people are going to be re-thinking the traditional reluctance to take on the NRA."

- Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor

An investigation by Mother Jones into US mass shootings over the last 30 years found that in 80 per cent of 62 incidents, the guns were obtained legally; while in 11 incidents they were obtained illegally.

As for the type of guns, the investigation found 66 semi-automatic handguns were used in the shootings, 35 assault weapons, 20 revolvers and 17 shotguns.

Gun control opponents say guns should not be blamed for the actions of a person.

While acknowledging there was no one answer to ending this type of violence, Obama said more had to be done.

Is more stringent gun control the answer to preventing mass shootings in the US?

Joining the discussion with presenter Shihab Rattansi on Inside Story Americas are guests: Adam Winkler, a specialist in US constitutional law and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America; Mark Follman, a senior editor at Mother Jones which has done a special report on mass shootings in the US; and Christian Heyne, a grassroots coordinator for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

The National Rifle Association of America (NRA), the main gun lobby in the US, declined Al Jazeera's invitation to join the discussion.

"We have to be happy that a conversation is taking place. So many times when these shootings take place, for some reason there's this push to take guns off the table, we can't talk about the mechanism in which these mass shootings take place [but] that's not happening this time maybe because of the horrific nature of [this crime]."

Christian Heyne, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence


US GUN LAWS:

  • The right to bear arms is set out in the 2nd amendment to the US constitution
  • Since 1982 there have been at least 62 mass murders with guns in the country
  • In the last 50 years, 15 out of 25 mass shootings took place in the US
  • The US has the highest gun ownership per capita in the world – with nine guns for every 10 people in the country
  • A study has shown that minors are 13 times more likely to be murdered with guns in the US
  • After Australia tightened its gun laws in 1996, murders with guns dropped 40 per cent

Is the National Rifle Association's political clout overstated?

  • Polling conducted for the Center for America Progress suggests that it is. For instance, the NRA spent $13.4m trying to influence Congressional races in the 2012 elections but lost seven out of the eight targeted key races. They were similarly unsuccessful in the Senate races.
  • In the NRA's three target states – Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia – only about a quarter of voters recalled hearing or seeing anything about the election from the NRA.
  • Overall, the Sunlight Foundation, a campaign finance watchdog, found that the NRA's return on investment in their 2012 election campaign spending was less than one per cent, giving it the worst track record of all major political committees and organisations.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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