Since the start of 2018, there have been 91 mass shootings here in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive.Over 5,000 people have been killed in gun-related violence in the last 5 months. The shocking turn of events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the last straw for many, resulting in student-led activism that sparked questions about the future of gun control and pushed the cause to the forefront of everyone’s minds.
“All of a sudden, its opening the eyes and raising the consciousness of the adults in the country about what our kids are actually living with at school,” said Margaret Russo, a member of the activist group Hatfield Embraces Acceptance and Dismantles Stigma.
Since the March For Our Lives events, millions of people worldwide have since protested and rallied for gun restrictions in the US in the hopes that gun violence will no longer play a major part in the future lives of children. In an age where cars are being more regulated than guns in the US, many have proposed Australia’s gun reform of 1996 as a model to implement gun laws and restrictions. However, America’s gun culture runs much deeper in history, politics and society, which makes a radical change in gun law much more complicated.
After a string of mass shootings across the country, the Australian government introduced a new National Firearms Agreement in 1996, which included stricter storage and registration requirements, as well as weapon restriction. Incorporated into this agreement was a buyback scheme, which saw over 640,000 newly illegal firearms surrendered to the government between 1996-2013. Gun-related deaths have fallen below 250 every year since then, including police shootings, suicide and homicide. No mass shootings have occurred in the 22 years since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 – the event that prompted the country’s new gun laws.
Gun culture in the US is not so black-and-white. Dr Michael Hannahan, a Political Science Professor at the University of Massachusetts and Director of the University’s Donahue Institute, points out the different cultures of the US and Australia.
“The US and Australia have a lot of similarities. But the gun thing is different,” said Hannahan. “It’s a cultural difference and it’s a little surprising too, because there are a lot of similarities in the development of the countries’ cultures.”
Unlike Australia, guns in America are a right that has been written into the Constitution, rather than a privilege. The second amendment guarantees the freedom and independency of American citizens. But this particular phrase is shadowed by a lot of grey area. Even the late Chief of Justice Warren Burger, a conservative republican, once said that the Second Amendment has “been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the work fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my life time.” Many people have speculated that this amendment is playing into the capitalist society and is just an excuse for lobby groups like the National Rifle Association to make more money.
Hannahan points out that it is a modern phenomenon that the NRA has transitioned from a gun training organization, favoring hunting, to radical lobbyists – they have essentially divorced from outdoors people. The NRA has claimed that “They’re Coming For Your Guns” in recent years, becoming a full political force, an aspect that emerged in the 1970s.
Hannahan explains that this is not an age-old historical phenomenon, and links it to the history of gun ownership in the US. This, he believes, leads back to two social attitudes:
“One is the notion among a minority of people that we need protection against government take-over… The other is a notion of independence. Even though we’re all involved in this enormous global capitalist society and we buy everything that other people make, very few people are actually self-sufficient. Even if you listen to country music, a lot of it is about self-sufficiency,” said Hannahan.
The NRA plays upon these aspects in their lobbying, tying politicians’ attempts at gun reform to a threat upon the freedom of American citizens.
So what are the options for gun control and reform in America, when this mentality is so deeply ingrained in the minds of many? There is no real answer to that yet, but it is clear that advocacy for some kind of control is being stressed around the world, through rallies, organisations, and even through song.
Ultimately though, the gun culture here is much more pervasive than almost any other country, and we are only just beginning to scratch the surface in the fight against gun violence.
“Its just part of life here – a negative part – but I don’t see it going anywhere,” said Hannahan. “They’re not going to change the amendment, and honestly even if you ban assault weapons they’re still going to be out there.”