Unless you have completely ignored the news at any point since 2002, it is safe to say you are aware that the USA has a gun problem. As of the shootings at Parkland Florida last months, there had been 1,624 deaths and 6,848 injuries from mass shootings in 1,870 days. More Americans have died in civilian shootings since 1968 than the total deaths of Americans in all combined wars. Despite this, rather than gun laws being tightened up to stop deaths from, for example, automatic weapons, gun regulation has actually been loosened since the Republicans gained control of the American legislature in 2010, and now, Donald Trump’s solution is to arm Americans with even more guns, by funding teachers with a Glock rather than say, in date textbooks. Now the immediate response from the average sensible Briton who live in a country with very strict gun laws and see gun deaths which on average takes 0.06 lives to every 100,000 per year, suggests that Americans should just ban guns or at least regulate it as stringently than in the UK. Although this would make a difference to death, this blog will demonstrate that even with the NRA (National Rifle Association) dealt with, why this would simply not be viable in the United States.
Firstly, the biggest issue America would face in attempting to make their gun laws in any way in line with the UK is the shear amount of guns already in circulation. As of 1996, when handguns were banned, Brits had a total of 13,876 guns, with 8,339 guns in 2016. Currently in America, there are over 300 million active firearms. When combined to deaths by shootings, this can, quite rightly, be put down to British gun laws over time limiting exposure to guns. However this ignores that at the time that Britain started introducing gun control in 1936 there was not the mass-market for guns that there is in America today, neither were – other than in the rural classes and aristocracy, the level of gun culture that there is in America today. Quite frankly, if America was to claim back all the guns needed to put that level of regulation all in one go it would cost the government billions, even before tackling the political issues such as negotiating the NRA and its funding power for candidates.
Then there is the issue of what happens in a system like America when gun ownership remains at 25% of the population. It is clear, that through the culture of in particular the Southern States in America, that there would be clearly a continued demand for guns and the use of guns even if the vast majority of guns were illegal. And there lies the biggest difference between Britain to America, the level of demand there is to have a gun. If there is anything which the world has learned from drug prohibition and indeed alcohol prohibition is that if there is demand, there will always be supply. By limiting the legal sale of guns to just Shotguns and Air Rifles in a gun obsessed country, although it may cut down on some deaths, it will equally create a mass black market similar to the drug market currently and the rise in activity of illegal groups will be similar than shown in alcohol prohibition. Furthermore, much of crime in America is fuelled by a higher level of poverty than in the rest of the Western World. Unless America sorts out its own injustices and its excessive inequalities, violent crime will always continue.
On top of this, if such a radical change was ever proposed, the majority of the American population would immediately point to the 2nd amendment, ie the right to bear arms. Unfortunately, because of the belief of this 50 odd percent, it would be impossible to ever bring any type of government in which would ever attempt to limit gun control, at least in the short term, to UK levels of safety.
However, don’t think that I am suggesting that there is nothing people can do about American gun violence. Just because the British system wouldn’t be practical does not mean there are not huge steps which could save thousands of lives a year. The prime example of this is looking at Canada’s policy against the USA’s policy.
As explained in detail in this link, Canadian gun policy first gives clear classifications of the type of guns which are clearly unnecessary (ie assault weapons, automatic weapons), while listing others which are slightly unnecessary as restricted or prohibited. Canadian law also entrenches what you would assume would be the basics of gun control, ie citizens having to get licences for guns and actual stringent mental health checks. There are still 35 million guns in Canada, yet because of the fact that the market is regulated properly means there were just 172 gun related deaths in 2017 compared with 8,813 in America. Although this still isn’t clearly good enough compared to European countries, it would be a start to America. Of course some of the gap between gun deaths in America and Canada also stem for the fact that Canada has a far lower crime rate and far less of a problem with inequality and poverty than America, but by having a system that allows gun ownership but is properly regulated, America can do a lot worse than to adopt Canada’s position. With NRA’s power waning in light of the #boycottNRA campaign, these reforms should be achievable in a Democrat-led congress if they gain majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives later this year.
The US can go further than what has been mentioned still and not create a fear of a black market or an infringement on 2nd amendment rights, for example banning the sale of military style upgrades on guns which were so deadly in the Las Vegas attack last year. It is clear in that situation the founding fathers of America did not intend that right to be abused that citizens could create weaponry which would not look out of place in a special operations team. However, as noted earlier, a system in line with our own would simply not be viable in the United States of America at this current time in history.