On 1st October 2015, the news broke of the 294th mass shooting in the USA this year, this time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, where ten people were killed and twenty others wounded. Following this, President Obama made the ninth speech of his presidency concerning a shooting in the US, displaying what some are calling signs of defeat, but what others view as a demonstration of his anger and determination to tighten gun laws once and for all before the end of his tenure in 2017.
Back in June, political commentator Dan Hodges tweeted: ìIn retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was overî. Since the incident at Sandy Hook in 2012, there have been 994 mass shootings in the US; Hodges suggests that the USA has reached a point where gun-related homicides are becoming less and less shocking to the American people, effectively desensitising them, a point re-enforced by Obamaís description of the ìroutineî Americans have fallen into following mass shootings but this is by no means the only side effect. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre, mass shootings can actually result in some people demanding more rights for gun ownership; in the 2013 survey, conducted one month after the shooting at Sandy Hook, 45% of Americans spoke in favour of gun rights, compared to 29% in 2000. The argument that was put forward following the shooting in Oregon was that if there had been more guns at the scene, then the victims would have been safer, failing to take into account that had there been one fewer gun at the scene, there would have been no danger at all.
Many people in the US have made the argument that guns establish safety and protection, but this is found to be completely false when compared with statistics from other countries. According to UN data, in 2012, the US had more than three firearm homicides per 100,000 people, whilst in the majority of other countries, including the UK, Canada and Australia, it was fewer than one; indeed, Obama stressed this point, highlighting how countries similar to the US have experienced mass shootings and responded by creating laws which ìalmost eliminate themî, so why should America be any different?
In his speech, Obama also made the point that ìthis is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in Americaî; clearly, there are many barriers that must be penetrated before there can be any change. The US constitution itself reiterates, in the oft-quoted Second Amendment, the right of the American people to ìkeep and bear armsî. Moreover, the influence of bodies such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), who have around five million members and represent a great deal of support for pro-Second Amendment politicians, needs to be taken into account. When Obama puts forward stricter gun regulation laws, those Republicans in Congress who oppose the measure make it impossible for the laws to be carried forward, and it is this which has lead many people to conclude that the US has already lost the war against gun control. Until there are more gun-opposing Democrats in positions of power, there is no possible way to enforce gun regulations.
Although, that isnít to say thereís nothing that can be done. The not-for-profit organisation Everytown For Gun Safety produced a report on 5th October detailing five ways in which Obama can encourage gun safety, without the need for intervention from Congress. Crucially, these include more assistance for states in the enforcement of existing background checks; this could help reduce the number of people with a history of abusive and violent behaviour who are allowed access to firearms. Whilst these are simple measures, and it is unlikely that they would stop an attack similar to Oregon or Sandy Hook, the hope is that they would promote general gun safety and effectively lower the levels of gun violence in the US. Although this may not seem a good enough answer to the terrible violence of mass shootings, unfortunately, at this time, it is likely that they are Obamaís only options.