In the wake of the devastating Newtown massacre, President Barack Obama has been under increasing pressure to finally tackle the inconceivable lack of gun control laws in the United States.
Last week marked the first serious debate on the matter in the Senate for almost 20 years, but the hope for change was short-lived as the series of proposed bills were shot down as quickly as they had been introduced. If his attempts continue to fail, Obama may well be subjected to criticism stating that he is “soft” on gun control. But this would be a mischaracterisation.
Whilst background check legislation for all potential gun owners seems relatively tame in the grand scheme of things, it is important to realise the delicacy of the situation. Had Obama and his counterparts – ironically – gone in all guns blazing, they would not only have alienated a large number of senators and suffered an embarrassing loss, they would also have struggled to muster up support for gun control measures in the future.
At the mention of any level of gun regulation, there is damning criticism courtesy of the far-right, highlighting the much deeper and more insidious problem with America’s gun culture: the Republican Party’s uncomfortably close ties with the NRA.
The existence of the National Rifle Association is predicated on the notion that the Second Amendment grants all US citizens the right to a gun, which is ultimately a fallacy. Even if you ignore the fact that the “right to bear arms” was borne out of a war for independence, the amendment was solely meant to apply to a “well-regulated militia” and by no means protects the individual rights of gun owners.
Notwithstanding the association’s questionable interpretation of the Bill of Rights, it is the NRA’s political power that poses the real danger. During his speech following the Senate vote, a visibly furious president accused the NRA of “wilfully” lying about the proposed bills and heavily implied that Republicans had been intimidated into voting against the proposals. Coupled with the damning statistic that 90% of the United States wanted background checks for gun owners, it is clear that when a democracy fails so dramatically to represent its people, there is something desperately wrong with the system.
Barack Obama has maintained that “this effort is not over” and he has three more years in office to either find Republicans willing to break ranks with the NRA or hope that the midterms provide an opportunity for the Democrats to significantly increase their Congressional representation. For until Congress’s obstinate partisanship (bred by the NRA’s scaremongering) is resolved, there is very little Obama can achieve in terms of gun regulation.