This post will aim to debunk the hype around President Obama’s much discussed gun controls and how ultimately they do not cut deep enough to help protect US society safe from itself. I will then suggest that even if these policies had been enough to remove the scourge of guns from American streets that the seething behemoth that is the NRA will drag this initiative to its knees before seeing it passed, thus ending another one of Obama’s hollow promises.
I will begin this post by reminding readers of the executive orders that Obama passed and the more sweeping legislature that is dependent on passing through the US Congress in future, the details of which can be found here . It is my central argument that rather than being a change for the better these proposed changes to US law represent needlessly divisive initiatives that aim at being historic rather than being acceptable in a bi-partisan atmosphere. To clarify, in and of themselves I believe the proposals are arguably a step in the right direction, however I do not believe for a moment that anywhere near enough has been done to address the route causes of violence and gun related deaths that is so systemic in the US. Consequently any message from Obama that he is serious about cutting gun crime has to be considered an essentially hollow promise from another paper tiger.
I start my argument briefly by attempting to appease the baying hounds of pro-gun support by saying from my own perspective that I do understand the right of each citizen to bear arms is enshrined in US law. The manner in which it is written into the law is in the form of the Second Amendment, which states that “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. This amendment was passed into law in the 18th century and I agree wholeheartedly that at the time of its ratification there was undoubtedly a need for a well regulated militia to protect the state. Further more this particular amendment is often cited as a necessary right of the American people as a protection against tyranny. While understanding that both of these reasons for the Second Amendments existence were once completely valid I would argue that the passage of time has meant that they are now superfluous and as a result cannot bring myself to be of the opinion that the right to carry guns is sacrosanct. I cannot conceive of any of the founding fathers of US democracy arguing that a well armed populace is still a necessity to the effective running of the state given the existence of many branches of the current state which are responsible for the security of the people . Further to this, the argument that gun ownership is an effective defence against tyranny seems to fall down when we see how often the civil liberties of American people have been violated, such as when a decision was made that the murder of american citizens without a fair trial was allowed and that this information could be kept secret . When we compare the ratio of times that the US government or one of its agencies has acted tyrannically with the number of times that armed uprisings have overturned the tyrants who have so infringed on the peoples rights we see the ratio is firmly in favour of the former rather than the latter. It is in light of these facts that I came to fall on the side of those in favour of gun control, however unlike many of my counterparts within this camp I do not believe the attempts by Obama to be anywhere near enough to counter the problems that guns cause in the US and it is from this viewpoint that I wrote this post. While the reader has every right to disagree with my opinion the facts that the US has one of the highest rates of gun related violence in the world speaks for itself and consequently so does the need to address this level of violence speak for itself.
I will now start by studying the key proposals that the Obama is hoping Congress will pass which he revealed earlier this month. Before I do so however, I would like to stop for one moment to discuss the manner in which Caesar unveiled his proposals to the people. Now I am no fool, I accept that as a business politics comes with a lot of baggage and I would agree with many that part of that baggage is showmanship. What we saw here however goes far beyond the realm of showmanship. This is an outright attempt at emotional blackmail which already begins to make the playing field for these laws a more partisan arena, imagine how quickly all support for abortion would disappear if a particularly radical pro-lifer had demonstrated for the House of Congress the horrors of a botched abortion. Such a cheap trick is below the belt of many of the rest of the world’s worst politicians and this is a great indication of how the proclamations that followed the unveiling of the figurative holy virgins, were a case of show over substance. Either way I digress. First up of the recommendations Vice President Biden offered Obama to curb gun violence is ” Extend FBI background checks to all gun sales” as according to current data around 40% of sales currently go through with minimal to no background check taking place. This on the surface seems like a highly sensible proposal, but even this is fraught with more pitfalls than such a simple proposal should really allow. As Feilding Cage at the Guardian points out “Many states require background checks … but a person could become ineligible between the time the state issues the permit or license and the sale of the firearm … some states do not have a formal process of revoking licenses or permits once a person becomes ineligible. Also, transactions between private sellers have fewer regulations and make it possible in some states for a sale to occur without the buyer having to undergo a background check”. In this first proposal that I have picked to look at we can already see the potential for supreme court lawyers to pick the idea apart and more worryingly the ease with which someone determined to game the system could manipulate these loopholes to gain access to firearms.
The next key proposal is the revision of “the 1994 federal ban on military-style assault rifles which lapsed in 2004, while at the same time strengthening the prohibition to make sure canny gun manufacturers cannot circumvent it as they did last time round.” Again on the surface an excellent idea as it is often the case that in the high profile cases which can drive the gun control agenda in the US that the weapons that are used are those better suited to the battlefields of the world rather than on the street of a world superpower. However like the first proposal when we look into the real life situation we will see that actually that the wonderfully titled “assault weapons” are as a general rule not the weapon of choice in many of the US’ daily shootings. No, the illustrious mantle of weapon of choice falls to the humble handgun, a weapon many would argue that is equally capable of “assault”. While you may chant and cheer at the suggested banning of military style machine guns as a great step forward, Any gun control proposals that do not address the dangers the common handgun poses to the average American are fundamentally missing the target, pun viciously intended. When we look at a recent article by Ed Pilkington at the Guardian he tells us that nowhere in Obama’s 2400 word address did he mention the word handgun, which in itself should surprise the reader given that of the on average 33 gun related deaths that take place in the US daily the majority will involve a handgun.
The next two key recommendations are closely intertwined so I will look at these together as I believe they too like those I have already looked at are fundamentally flawed and are indicative of just how empty Obama’s promises to make US streets safer really are. the two measures which will ultimately depend on congressional support are to “Reinstate the federal limit on the number of rounds that can be held in high-capacity magazines, with 10 rounds as the maximum” and further more to “Introduce the new crime of possessing or transferring armour-piercing bullets to anyone other than military personnel or police”. Where to start here ? Well to begin with, reread the first proposal about banning high-capacity magazines. That’s right, it says “Reinstate” rather than create, which means that this already has been part of US law and, for a multitude of possible reasons, has fallen out of favour and lapsed, which surely gives a strong indication of how successful this proposal is likely to be when it comes up in front of congress. The second point, also addressing an ammunition issue is the banning of armour piercing bullet ownership by civilians, once more on the surface an excellent idea which might even see it passed by congress as its difficult to imagine many backing the legality of a type of ammunition specifically designed to kill human beings. While I think that of the key points this is the most likely to be made law I also believe wholeheartedly that this will be easily circumvented by criminals who have connections across that most porous of national borders where drug gangs execute elected officials with guns, guns no less, that were bought in the USA.
After looking at these key recommendations it should be painfully evident to my reader just how I feel about these recommendations and the likely lack of meaningful impact they will have. I have also given much thought as to what I believe would have made for far more substantial attempts at addressing the issue of gun violence in the US, and I’m sure to the eyes of Americans it is relieving to see that none of them ban guns, all are in fact societal changes that the US government could enable that I am adamant would reduce significantly the level of gun violence.
First amongst them would be the decriminalization of drugs and the immediate cessation of the war on drugs in Latin America. I am no advocate for the use of drugs and neither am I someone who blindly believes that their legality would solve every national economies woes but I am a student of a history in a round about way and I know a little about the levels of violence that went hand in hand with alcohol during the times of prohibition. Compared to the current day levels of crime that are related in some manner to the production and sale of alcohol people looking at the figures for the 1920s would be forgiven for thinking that the US was in meltdown at this point in its history. That prohibition was a drastic failure of a policy is of course a well documented history, and modern day politicians would do well to learn the lessons of the relationship between how vigorously prohibition is enforced and the rewards reaped by the criminals involved which for the reader is wonderfully summed up by Art Carden here. In my opinion the legality of drugs would allow for a significant impetus to leave the drug market which would then exponentially reduce the numbers of violent criminal elements involved in the drugs trade which in theory would further more reduce the level of violent conflicts between members of the drugs trade at every level, from petty street dealer to international drug lord.
The next idea of mine that I believe would significantly reduce gun violence is serious and meaningful attempts to reduce poverty and break the poverty trap. In my mind whenever I picture a shoot-out in the US, my mind defaults to an image not of the Wild West but to that of a gritty inner city. I know that this does not accurately represent the realities of gun violence in the US which is frankly far more widespread, but to deny that the inner city areas of many of the USA’s great metropolis’s aren’t marred by high levels of crime and specifically gun crime is to deny that on times the sky is blue. By offering people that live in such conditions ways out that break the desperate mindset of poverty rather than perpetuate it, such as the efforts of Cure Violence who have done sterling work in Chicago, violent crime in these areas can be drastically reduced. And with a drop in the overall levels of violent crime it follows that there would be an overall drop in the levels of gun violence.
Last but not least of my own suggestions for more valid methods of gun control than those offered by Obama is that serious attention needs to be given to the issue of mental health in the USA. On the surface those who have read Obama’s full list of edicts as linked here will no doubt wonder why I am addressing this particular issue when one of the proposals was for increased mental health funding for the victims of school shoot-outs similar to the Sandy Hook killings. However what I am agitating for is a far more widespread attention to mental health throughout US society and greater finances afforded to it. While researching this post I stumbled across the fact, as written up by Ana Marie Cox at the Guardian here, that actually those who are suffering from a mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of gun violence rather than be a perpetrator of it. This is, if there is one thing to be thankful for not a result of rampant discrimination against those who suffer from mental health, but actually because over half of the recorded deaths as a result of guns in the US are suicides and not, as I was expecting to read, homicide. That such a high level of gun suicide exists in one of the world’s leading nations is surely an aberration of what we picture as a thriving nation in peace time. Such high levels of gun assisted suicide exist also in a time during which US states have collectively cut $4 billion from mental healthcare and with overall economic growth still looking poor it is not unrealistic to expect further cuts to healthcare leaving it more and more likely that with the passage of time, more and more fish will slip the net, reaping havoc as they do.
All of Obama’s proposals to my mind are ultimately nothing more than the hollow overtures of a paper tiger towards creating greater safety for US citizens that would systematically treat select symptoms of this blight rather than the aiming to cure the underlying malady. And on top of the words of this paper tiger there’s another colossus abetting this illness that that US suffers from, it’s called the NRA. I won’t waste my time writing in too great a level of detail about them or the readers time that would be spent reading about them. For a snap shot of their willingness to compromise with Obama and reach an agreement that might see the streets of America safer see these two headlines from The Guardian “NRA promises ‘fight of the century’ over Obama’s bold gun control plan” and “NRA’s LaPierre accuses Obama of trying to steal gun owners’ weapons“. What we have here is a group that loves to portray itself as acting purely in the interests of the american people when the reality is that like the Israeli lobby I mentioned in my previous post, it is a corporate special interest lobbying group that has the testes of American democracy in one hand and a mallet in the other. Even if I did believe that Obama sincerely thought his gun controls were enough to protect Americans he is still endangering every last citizen of the USA by lying prostrate for these corporate dragons who long ago hijacked the American democratic process.