Trump stuns USA by embracing gun control
Should the USA tighten controls on gun ownership? Donald Trump has raised smiles and eyebrows by declaring that it should. But he faces opposition from his party — and beyond…
One week ago, Donald Trump’s proposed solution to end mass shootings was more guns: he called for teachers to be armed. Now, as often before, he has changed his tune.
In a meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, the president shocked everyone by embracing a range of gun control measures. He expressed support for tougher background checks on buyers, a crackdown on mentally ill owners, and tighter age limits on purchasing rifles like the one used in the Parkland school shooting last month.
“We’ve got to stop this nonsense,” said Trump, referring to the shooting. He accused pro-gun colleagues of being intimidated by the NRA. Democrats at the meeting were seen smiling; Republicans looked startled. Afterwards, they played down the chances of Congress turning Trump’s proposals into law. Some questioned whether he even meant what he said.
Recent attempts to tighten gun law, however modest, have all failed. Politics continues to be shaped by the powerful gun lobby, which frames any such reform as an attack on individuals’ constitutional right to bear arms. In fact, the Constitution has not always been interpreted in this way, and US history is full of successful gun control initiatives.
In any case, American adults are now mostly free to arm themselves. The result is the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, and of gun homicides in the developed world. That said, the homicide rate has plunged by 49% between 1993 and 2010. Gun ownership too has fallen, but nowhere near as fast.
Pro-gun activists argue that this proves that social factors are to blame for gun deaths, not the weapons themselves. Their opponents counter that more restrictions would bring the homicide rate down even further.
Faced with such a complex picture, Americans are conflicted. Only a small minority opposes specific initiatives like those proposed by Trump. However, there is strong — and growing — support for the principle of gun ownership. Whether the Parkland shooting, with or without Trump’s help, can change this remains to be seen.
Firearms and fury
Let’s hope things change, say some. The “right to bear arms” was established two centuries ago in a different, more chaotic society. Nowadays, guns just cause misery and fear. Lobbyists have convinced Americans that gun ownership is important, but other nations do fine without them. The USA can too.
Hang on, reply others. Gun control laws would give the government a sinister amount of power. It would get to decide who is “mentally ill”, say, then keep tabs on all those people. And for what? It has not been proved that more guns mean more gun killings. We need to focus on tackling the social ills behind gun crime, like poverty.
- Should gun laws change in the USA? If so, how?
- How would the world be different if guns had never been invented?
- Imagine you are the president of the USA. Decide your position on gun rights, and sum it up in a catchy slogan.
- In groups, research gun culture in the USA, and choose one statistic that you think represents it well. Explain your choice in a three-minute presentation to your class. (Don’t forget to mention the source of your statistics.)
Some People Say...
“Guns don’t kill people: people kill people.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- The last change to background checks on gun buyers came in 1993, when a federal system was set up. Legislation that would have closed its loopholes was proposed in 2013, but voted down. More modest improvements to the system are now being considered by the Senate. Assault weapons were banned in 1994, but the ban expired in 2004.
- What do we not know?
- How much chance gun controls have of entering law. Presidents do not directly make laws, and have limited power to change gun policy. The NRA pushes its agenda by funding pro-gun lawmakers — especially Republicans — and attacking anti-gun ones. However, in recent weeks politicians have come under increasing pressure to cut ties with the NRA, and Congress seems to be considering controls more seriously than it has in a long time.
- In the past, Trump has promised the gun lobby to “never ever let you down”.
- Age limits
- Trump said that he would consider pushing for the buying age for long guns to be raised from 18 to 21. This week, two major US retailers announced that they would stop selling guns to under-21s.
- Parkland school shooting
- Seventeen people died in the shooting on February 14th. A 19-year-old former pupil has been charged with murder.
- National Rifle Association. The group historically supported gun control, but in recent decades it has fiercely campaigned for gun rights. It grades members of Congress from A to F according to their enthusiasm for this agenda.
- The Second Amendment defines the right to bear arms in the context of “a well regulated militia”. For over a century, courts ruled that this right did not extend to guns used for recreation or self-defence.
- Social factors
- There are many ideas about why violent crime has fallen, but no consensus. Theories include economic growth, more widespread law enforcement, and the decrease in alcohol consumption.