The latest gun massacre in the United States of America, this time in Aurora, Colorado has again sparked debate, within America and across the world about the sense or nonsense of the 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Twelve people were shot dead at a movie screening of The Dark Knight Rises and 58 further were injured by the gunman who burst into the cinema, let off teargas and began indiscriminately shooting at movie-goers.
The scenes of pandemonium that followed, including leaked mobile phone footage and the last tweets of some in the crowd will stick with people for a long time and must translate into at least some change in the gun laws.
Every year there are roughly 10,000 gun related murders in the United States of America out of a total number of murders close to 13,000 per annum. This is a truly horrifying statistic.
From the outset it is extremely important t0 acknowledge that no one “solution” to this incredibly difficult and fraught issue in US politics. Even a complete ban will not result in a massive reduction in gun-related deaths. People will do all they can to try and get their hands on firearms if they really want them and they will always exist in society.
There are two major problems that exist when thinking of gun crime. The first is that the right to bear arms applies to just about any weapon out there, in just about every state in the country. This access to an almost unlimited range of weapons includes some capabilities that just about any military would be proud of being able to use.
The second major problem is that the ability to acquire weapons in most states in the USA is just way too easy and there are few checks and balances and the process to legally acquire a weapon is just too lax. There is just too little examination of people wanting to obtain a firearm, something that, while still a right, must be highly regulated.
While it is true that it is the person behind the weapon that does the damage, the damage done also has much to do with the types of guns that an American citizen has access to. Since when do everyday Americans need assault rifles and machine guns, even on properties used for farming? And tear gas? Please. Who on earth needs that? Nobody as yet over the years has been able to cogently explain and justify the need for the right to bear arms to translate into access to automatic and in most cases even semi-automatic firearms.
Gun laws, though regulated by the state, separate from the national constitutional right to bear arms need to be made more stringent, perhaps nationally consistent, though this may be constitutionally and politically impossible as any gun reform has proved to be so far.
So here’s a commonsense plan which would maintain the 2nd amendment rights of Americans, still keeping their right to possess such a deadly weapon while at the same time being realistic about the consequences of the more extreme weaponry around.
First, all states must at least ban access to all automatic weapons or guns that have the ability to operate automatically.
Second, access to semi-automatic weapons should at least be limited, though there should ideally be a strong presumption against people having or needing semi-automatic weapons.
A gun buy-back scheme, similar to the one instituted by the Howard Government after the Port Arthur massacre might be a way for honest citizens to hand over the automatic weapons that they frankly don’t need. Such a scheme would result in at least some of the weapons in circulation being taken out of the public and therefore away from the access of criminals.
As far as gun licensing and regulation goes, there should be a move to a stronger, more nationally consistent license and registration framework which takes into account the individual circumstances of applicants and makes purchasing a firearm a lot harder than buying a fast food meal.
But we must be realistic about things when it comes to gun control in the USA. First, it will never happen. The NRA as a lobby group just holds too much sway. Also, the inability of politicians to budge on such a wide interpretation of the 2nd amendment has hamstrung the prospects of any significant crackdown.
At the same time too, we must also be realistic then even the greatest crackdown on weapons will not remove the devastating consequences of gun crime, various examples of this exist worldwide, but it can be restricted.
The fact that even such a modest proposal like this one would never get up is a real shame.