US police kill 12-year-old boy over replica gun

A child with a toy pistol is the latest victim of the US gun violence epidemic, which claims 30 lives each day. Some demand gun law reform, but can they defeat the powerful firearms lobby?

It is unclear whether 12-year-old Tamir Rice wanted to scare people or whether he was just playing as he walked the streets with a fake gun, but it cost him his life this weekend. The police told him to drop the convincing replica pistol, but he didn’t listen. In the heat of the moment, they shot him dead.

Tamir joins the 11,178 people who have died gun-related deaths in the US just this year, a figure which many commentators say is proof that the country is in the grip of a gun epidemic.

Guns have a central place in American culture. After the US gained independence, its leaders enshrined the ‘right to bear arms’ as one of its core principles in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, so that citizens would always have the means to oppose a tyrannical government.

This makes many Americans fiercely proud to own guns, but recent years have shown the dangers of readily-available weaponry. A mass shooting at a cinema screening a ‘Batman’ film left 12 dead in 2012. Protests followed the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in the same year.

Yet the most appalling incident of recent times came days before Christmas in 2012, when a disturbed man shot and killed 26 children and staff in Newtown, Connecticut. Shocked politicians then tried to reform gun control laws so that the mentally-ill or criminals could not obtain weapons.

But the powerful gun lobby, the NRA, halted this by making sure reforms did not pass through America’s law making body, Congress, when proposed legislation was defeated in the Senate. The NRA uses its huge wealth to support pro-gun politicians and it has the backing of a small but vocal minority of ardent gun enthusiasts who pressure leaders into accepting its views.

Critics say if America wasn’t so plagued with real guns, police would not have shot Tamir. Few hold out hope that the gun epidemic will be ended any time soon.

Gunning for change

Many gun advocates refuse to blame guns for the US’s problems and instead point the finger at violent films and social media. They argue that more armed ‘good guys’ are necessary to shoot the ‘bad guys’. Polls showed 80% of Americans support stricter gun controls, but many think that if the country couldn’t tighten the rules after the Newtown massacre, it will never change its ways.

Yet others say tighter gun control reform is urgently needed and the NRA is so aggressive in opposing it because it is fighting a losing battle. Surveys show that the number of US households owning guns has fallen by a third since 1977. States with tighter gun laws have far fewer gun-related deaths. It may take time, and sadly more violence, but US attitudes towards guns are moving in the right direction.

You Decide

  1. Are massacres and shootings a sad but unchangeable part of American life? Is there hope for change?
  2. ‘If everyone had guns, America would be safer.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. As of November 23, the 2014 US gun-related death count had reached 11,178. There are usually 30 gun-related deaths a day. Work out how many gun-related deaths there will have been by Christmas Day.
  2. Imagine you are one of the leaders who introduced the ‘right to bear arms’ in 1791, when weaponry was much less sophisticated. Imagine you have time travelled to the present day and write about what you might now feel about the ‘right to bear arms’.

Some People Say...

“Only an idiot would believe giving ordinary people guns is a good idea.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does the UK have a gun problem?
No. Almost all firearms have been banned since 1997. Their sale is strictly controlled and the UK has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world. Despite this, some sources estimate there are around 4m guns in the UK, both legal and illegal.
Who are America’s main gun supporters?
White Americans living in rural areas are far more likely to oppose stricter gun controls. They are also far less likely to experience their negative effects or face hostile armed shooters. One study found that white people are five times more likely to commit suicide with a gun than to be attacked with one, whereas the reverse is true for Afro-Americans. This helps to explain why 78% of blacks support stronger gun controls, as opposed to 48% of whites.

Word Watch

Replica
Most replicas come with an orange ‘safety-indicator’, but in this case it had been removed. The two police officers have been suspended.
Second Amendment
The Second Amendment was one of ten amendments to the US Constitution designed to safeguard individual liberty. Others include the right to a free press, freedom of religion and free speech.
Trayvon Martin
George Zimmerman fatally shot the black teenager, which the police initially considered legal under Florida’s self-defence laws. After public controversy he was put on trial charged with murder and found not guilty. Many believe engrained racism within the system allowed him to escape punishment.
NRA
The NRA claims to have five million members and supports the US’s more conservative Republican Party. Critics claim much of their funding comes from the gun industry.
Films
Right-wing critic Rush Limbaugh blamed a mass shooting last year on the ‘Hunger Games’ films, rather than ownership of guns.
States
Each state has a degree of control over its gun laws. Generally speaking the more gun ownership there is in a state, the higher the gun homicide rate.

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