Overview:

As the U.S. reels from another mass shooting, the political paralysis will continue to take hold as money holds more sway power than morality.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hungerford, England, 1987. 16 people were killed by a lone gunman. The Conservative government introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, making registration mandatory for owning shotguns and banning semi-automatic and pump-action weapons. There was a huge firearm amnesty.

Dunblane, Scotland, 1996. 16 children died in another rare UK shooting. The Conservative government passed a ban on all handguns in mainland Britain. There was another huge firearm amnesty. You can now go to prison for up to 10 years for illegal gun ownership. In the year ending 31st March 2020, in a country of some 65-70 million, there were 30 firearm homicides—4% of all homicides in the UK.

Port Arthur, Australia, 1996. Martin Bryant killed 35 people with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. The ruling conservative government introduced a sweeping package of gun-control reforms (licensing, registration, gun buybacks, etc.) against a backdrop of strong gun lobbying. PM John Howard started tackling gun reform the night of the tragedy. There have been no mass shootings in the 26 years since, and there were 13 others before. Research has found that the buyback scheme alone cut the rate of firearm suicides by 74% in the first 10 years, saving 200 lives a year.

Christchurch, New Zealand, 2019. 51 men, women, and children were gunned down in a hate crime at a mosque that became known as NZ’s “darkest of days.” The attacker had six legally-purchased firearms with him, including 2 AR-15s. PM Jacinda Ardern immediately enacted sweeping gun-law reforms with startling speed (including banning an array of high-powered weapons, magazines, and gun parts, enacting buyback schemes and tighter registration, etc.).

And then, in the United States.

Buffalo, NY, May, 2022, 10 died. San Jose, CA, May, 2021, 10 died. Boulder, CO March 2021, 10 died. Dayton, OH, August 2019, 10 died. El Paso, TX, August, 2019, 23 died. Virginia Beach, VA, May, 2019, 13 died. Thousand Oaks, CA, November, 2018, 13 died. Parkland, FL, February, 2018, 17 died. Sutherland Springs, TX, November, 2017, 27 died. Las Vegas, NV, October, 2017, 61 died (411 were injured). Orlando, FL, June, 2016, 50 died.

And, Blacksburg, 33 died; Sandy Hook, 28 died; Maryland, 17 died.

Mass shooting events in the U.S. in 2021 killed 411 people, in 2020, 615, 2019, 434.

And the government? They did nothing.

On the rare occasion that the U.S. does tighten gun legislation, it often gets reversed, slackened, or diluted across the states. Indeed, in June 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a “permitless carry bill” allowing residents to carry handguns without a license or training. In April, Georgia became the 25th state to eliminate the need for a permit to conceal or openly carry a firearm, meaning any citizen in the state has the right to carry a firearm without a license or a permit.

And this past week, at Robb Elementary School, in Uvalde, 22 died, 19 of them young children, 2 of them teachers, and the shooter.

Here we are again. What will the government do?

I’m guessing… nothing.

Read: Pro-gun lobby: If guns aren’t 100% of the issue, then they’re 0% of the issue

The Republicans shout from the rooftops about how pro-life they are, but this, apparently, does not apply to 8- and 9-year-olds.

Where the UK had 30 firearm homicides in 2020, in the US, there were 19,384 firearm homicides. But it’s just mental health, right? Americans just have 646 times worse mental health than British people, right?

In other news, in the first half of 2019, the NRA spent $1.6 million lobbying Congress against passing gun violence prevention legislation. Of course, this is unconnected to the paralysis of lawmakers in this area.

Democrat Chris Murphy implored lawmakers to make a difference in terms of gun legislation, but this debate is perpetual and such brilliant speeches are sadly ineffectually commonplace

Brady has compiled a list of 50 senators who refuse to support common-sense gun reform, like expanding Brady Background Checks or banning assault weapons. Here are the top 10:

SenatorNRA DonationsGun Deaths in State
(per year)
Mitt Romney (UT)$13,647,676365Tweet Them
Richard Burr (NC)$6,987,3801,311Tweet Them
Roy Blunt (MO)$4,555,7221,074Tweet Them
Thom Tillis (NC)$4,421,3331,311Tweet Them
Cory Gardner (CO)$3,939,199715Tweet Them
Marco Rubio (FL)$3,303,3552,568Tweet Them
Joni Ernst (IA)$3,124,773264Tweet Them
Rob Portman (OH)$3,063,3271,402Tweet Them
Todd C. Young (IN)$2,897,582907Tweet Them
Bill Cassidy (LA)$2,867,074946Tweet Them

As Katie Couric observed yesterday, after the terrible Uvalde massacre news:

At number 18 is Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader from Kentucky, one of the highest-profile Republicans in the chamber, and who has directed much of the GOP’s congressional strategy over the last several years. According to the Brady Campaign’s list, McConnell has accepted $1,267,139 from the NRA.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that both senators from Texas, where this appalling elementary school shooting happened, are also on the list. Ted Cruz comes in at #26 with $176,274 in NRA donations, followed by John Cornyn at #35 with $78,945. And as the Brady Campaign points out, those numbers are particularly stark when compared to the number of gun-related deaths in the state per year: 3,139.

Katie Couric Media, “These Are the U.S. Senators Who Have Taken the Most Money from the NRA

The U.S. stands out in all regards concerning gun violence, in all areas of the statistics. There are too many statistics to do justice to the topic, but here are a few more:

  • Where gun-related killings represent 4% of UK homicides, they represent 79% of US homicides.
  • Nearly 53 people are killed each day by a firearm in the US, according to the 2020 CDC data.
  • In 2020, 43% of the deaths – amounting to 19,384 people – were homicides. There were 24,292 gun-death suicides.
  • The US had 3.96 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019, nearly 100 times higher than in the UK, which had 0.04 deaths per 100,000.
  • Gun violence is rare around the world in stable countries, and even in many low-income countries. For example, Tajikistan and Gambia saw 0.18 deaths and 0.22 deaths per 100,000 people. Prosperous Asian countries have the lowest rates: Singapore (0.01), Japan (0.02), and South Korea (0.02). Where it is higher than the U.S. (Latin America, Phillippines), drug smuggling and gang activity is rife. South Africa and Iraq also rate higher than the U.S.

The question is, does the U.S. want to be associated with wartorn Iraq, or Colombia, in terms of gun violence, or does it want to be among countries like Japan, the UK, or Switzerland?

Those Senators and Congressmen and -women who veto gun control legislation conveniently absolve guns and huge gun ownership as being causally irrelevant to the gun death pandemic that has long gripped the US. Instead, they look, for example, to mental health as the culprit:

Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted this in response to the horrors at Uvalde:

Not only was she laying the responsibility for gun deaths at the feet of growing secularity and a lack of morality due to, it seems, atheism, but she also claims that this is a mental health issue.

It is worth noting that the shooter at Uvalde (as far as we presently know) had no history of mental illness and no past police record. This problem really was one to be solved by not allowing an 18-year-old access to these sorts of weapons.

Of course, Greene’s claim is arguably a false dichotomy: It is not either mental health or guns. It is certainly both. Moreover, and this is a huge point, what have lawmakers like Greene been doing to allow the nation better access to better social welfare and mental health services? It seems that Greene would much rather spend all day spreading conspiracy theories than actually constructing and enacting meaningful policy that would improve the situation.

In other news, in the first half of 2019, the NRA spent $1.6 million lobbying Congress against passing gun violence prevention legislation. Of course, this is unconnected to the paralysis of lawmakers in this area.

Doing nothing changes nothing. Thoughts and prayers have literally no effect.

But Republican lawmakers consistently pay lip service to concern with their thoughts and prayers but do nothing to tighten gun control (obviously) and nothing to improve mental health provisions.

By all means, blame something else, but if you do, actually do something about it.

Why doesn’t Marjorie Taylor Greene put her NRA money where her mouth is? Or, in this case, her further-to-the-right Gun Owners of America money. Those funds could easily help address the mental health crisis she thinks is largely responsible.

But will the U.S. change legislation to support decent welfare and mental health provision? If you are amazed by the amount of money thrown around by the gun industry for lobbying, you’ll be shocked by the healthcare industry’s lobbying finances.

Quid pro quo.

That’s what lobbying is. Organizations and industries don’t give huge wads of cash away just because they like the cut of some politician’s jib. They give money away because they want something in return. They want at worse inertia, at best, legislation, as we have seen from Gregg Abbott.

They want a return on investment.

Things won’t change in the U.S. The rest of the world looks on, shaking heads at the political inertia, but utterly unsurprised since the entire political system is constructed around lobbying—what can only be described as legalized corruption. If you want to tackle these horrific gun-related statistics, you need to tackle the horrific amount of power and influence there is in lobbying.

Democrat Chris Murphy implored lawmakers to make a difference in terms of gun legislation, but this debate is perpetual and such brilliant speeches are sadly ineffectually commonplace:

As Brian Taylor Cohen noted in his analysis in this video, there are more guns in America than Americans, with the US owning 10 times as many guns as any other country on Earth. Americans own 42% of the world’s guns. But also more mass shootings than any other country. Of course, those statistics are utterly unconnected.

But O’Rourke is absolutely right to take that opportunity to remonstrate because this is a political affair. The Uvalde Mayor needs to recognize that this isn’t political opportunism, this is…politics!

Democrat Beto O’Rourke was roundly attacked by Republicans for interrupting Texas Governor Gregg Abbott’s press conference after the Uvalde shooting, with Republicans accusing him of politicizing the tragedy.

The Uvalde Mayor was forthright in his response to O’Rourke, illustrating the intensity of defense of gun ownership and gun rights, though fascinatingly, as many people who cheered the Democrat for doing this, there seem to be far more eviscerating him.

The political division is as sharp as it ever has been, and with each passing massacre, gun defenders entrench even further in their cognitive dissonance, ignoring what the data is telling them:

The NRA mantra is that you are safer with a gun. To access this information go to the NRA website and type in “safer with guns” and you will find pages and pages of individual testimony on this subject. There are countless studies that prove, however, we are not safer with guns. For research in this matter, consult the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Heath. States with higher gun ownership rates have higher gun murder rates—as much as 114% higher than states with lower gun ownership rates. For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home. Suicide rates in homes with guns are also much higher. Suicide is 3.7 times higher for men and 7.9 times higher for women in states with the highest gun ownership. According to a study by NIH, 82% of teens who suicide with a gun use a gun in the home. Despite what the NRA says, you are not safer with a gun in the home.

Does carrying a gun make you safer? Scientific American reports: people who had access to firearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not. Are we safer in states that allow concealed weapons? Boston University of Public Health research notes that states with the most lenient concealed weapons permits have the highest firearm homicides. The study concluded “shall-issue” (the most lenient) permits for concealed guns carry permits are putting public safety at risk. The American Journal of Public Health reports research that comes to the same conclusion.

Elisabeth Pearson Waugaman, “Guns and Cognitive Dissonance in America,” Psychology Today

But O’Rourke is absolutely right to take that opportunity to remonstrate because this is a political affair. The Uvalde Mayor needs to recognize that this isn’t political opportunism, this is…politics!

“The only reason,” Brian Tyler Cohen opines in his analysis above, “that these shootings keep occurring on a monthly, weekly, daily basis is because gun manufacturers and the gun lobby tie guns directly to Republicanism. What’s next? Should we not politicize tax policy? Should we not politicize healthcare? Notice how the people telling you not to politicize shootings immediately after they occur are the same people who spend every day before that politicizing guns and having their NRA endorsements and eliminating background checks and doing away with permits to carry weapons. So, I’m sorry, but when it comes to not politicizing gun violence, those people can fuck all the way off.”

Absolutely. Absolutely!

And this is worthy of dwelling on. Cohen rightly points out the genius of lobbying organizations like the NRA, who have succeeded in tying gun ownership to identity—political identity. If you are Republican, you are odds-on favored to be anti-gun control and pro-2A (an advocate of the Second Amendment, giving a US citizen the right to bear arms). What this means is that half of the country is Republican and so half of the country is pro-gun. And given half of the politicians are openly lobbied and donated to by the NRA and other such groups, inertia is the only possible outcome.

The only conceivable way of avoiding this endless legislative stasis is for Democrats to win both Houses convincingly in order to pass the required legislation, but the chances of this are slim to none given the polling and political landscape heading toward the 2022 midterms.

Given the 50-50 Senate split and the impending midterm doom, this political paralysis concerning gun control looks like it is enduringly baked into the system. Ari Melber’s analysis is a very worthwhile watch, detailing the hollow and empty mantras politicians trot out (with an evocative montage of previous speeches by Presidents faced with exactly the same news story). The truth is that most shootings don’t even register in national news cycles.

And, in it, progressive activist Michael Hirschorn lays out the challenges the Democrats have and the need to be far more targetted and savvy than they otherwise are. If they don’t do this, things just won’t change. Republicans will still vote against gun control, so if this is an important policy for you, then the only realistic option is to vote Democrats in.

But, for now, the world watches on. And we ask questions. We ask why this only seems to happen in America. Sky News asked this exact question of Senator Ted Cruz. He ran away:

Now is not the time to run away.

It’s a time to mourn, yes, but this terrible tragedy acts as a rallying cry—a dreadfully painful rallying cry—and a call to action. If other nations can address such problems and take action, then the U.S. surely can.

But it’s tough to compete with money. And that’s really what this is all about.

*****

[For a more philosophical treatment of gun control and rights, see my previous articles “On Gun Control and the Second Amendment“, “The Second Amendment and Rights“, “KNOWING Your Rights, Locke and Other Rights Problems“, “Debunking Gun Advocate Approaches“, “Knowing Your Rights, Locke and Other Rights Problems – Take 2!” and “Human Rights Don’t Exist until We Construct and Codify Them“]

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...