US gun culture: What will it take to change?

Yet another incidence of mass shooting in the US brings the issue of gun control back in the spotlight.

Barack Obama
President Obama says US public must shift thinking on gun violence [Getty Images/File]

Washington, DC – By most accounts this was the fourteenth time US President Barack Obama has had to address the media after a gun shooting with multiple casualties.

We’ve seen him brought to tears by the killings at Sandy Hook elementary school. Now we’ve seen him react to nine African-Americans being shot dead in their church in South Carolina.

This time the president looked angry and frustrated.The president took the risk of being seen as politicising a tragedy by saying:

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.

“I say that recognising the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”

To boil down his words the president is saying any gun control legislation isn’t going to happen in Washington until the people demand it.

The reason he believes that is after 20 first graders were shot dead in their classrooms he tried to pass legislation that would have required background checks on gun sales made on the internet and at gun shows.

Pro-gun lobby

It failed even though at the time polls showed 91 percent of the country wanted the legislation to become law. It’s important to look at what happened after that vote.

The Republican Party blocked the legislation but still managed to take control of the chamber in the next election.

There is some evidence that the Democrats who voted against it lost some support from their base, and although campaigns were not hinged on this sole issue, in the end they lost to people who happen to be even stronger supporters of the gun rights.

So now you might be asking why the Congress hasn’t acted even when the American people wanted them to? The simple answer is the National Rifle Association.

They are a powerful pro-gun lobby in Washington, DC. They have the ability to recruit and fund competitors for politicians who don’t listen to them. Lawmakers like their jobs and most try to keep them for life.

So that explains why the president is saying the gun laws in this country won’t change until the American people demand it. Right now, Americans seem pretty split on whether gun control is a problem.

In one poll, about half of the people think gun laws need to be kept as is.

Money in politics

It’s easy for pundits to say it’s never going to change, that this is just how Washington will always be.

I don’t necessarily agree. There are a couple of ways this could change. Americans are becoming increasingly angry about the amount of money in politics.

In one Gallup poll, seven out of 10 people asked said elected official reflect mainly the values of the wealthy. More than 80 percent said money and lobbyists have too much influence in politics.

They could choose to take the very difficult path of trying to change that by getting a constitutional amendment passed. That would be exceptionally difficult but if Americans get mad enough or a billionaire decides to fund it, it could happen.

The other thing they could do is actually start voting for lawmakers based on their record on gun control legislation. The last but highly unlikely option is that the US Supreme Court will reverse itself and say that the second amendment only applies to militias, as in the National Guard.

There is history to support my belief that nothing is inevitable in Washington. I think back to the Mothers against drunk driving movement. MADD as it is called changed not just laws but the social norms.

It used to be that it was fine to drive drunk, socially acceptable and almost expected. In 1982, one mother lost her son to a drunk driving accident and started the organisation.

It took time, but you would be hard pressed to find a place where drunk driving wasn’t illegal. You would also be hard pressed to find a person who would publicly say, “Drunk driving is cool.”


There was a time when people in Washington couldn’t imagine the US not supporting the Apartheid government in South Africa. Their lobby was incredibly strong even feared.

The US Congress forced President Reagan to sanction Apartheid when the American people demanded it. That movement started in college campuses and in the African American religious community.

The American people can change their government. They just have to want to. That is the point the president was trying to make.

When my parents were growing up they did drills in school on what to do if a nuclear bomb went off. They hid under their desks. Obviously that would probably have been a futile exercise but still it showed what the country was afraid of at the time.

When I was growing up we did fire and tornado drills. You can’t predict man-made disasters so it’s best to be prepared. Children in the US now do drills based on an active shooter(s) making their way into a school.

They lock the doors and hide. This is what this country has told our children to be prepared for, to be afraid of. The president was basically saying until that is no longer acceptable, don’t expect the gun laws in the United States to change at all.

Source: Al Jazeera