America Must Abandon Tribalism to Solve the Gun Debate: Opinion

Last month’s tragic shooting in a Florida high school, which resulted in the death of 17 people, has stirred up a plethora of emotions and opened up old wounds. Following the incident, masses flooded the internet, condemning the act of horror committed and more importantly, calling for stronger gun control restrictions. The Parkland incident marked the eighteenth mass shooting in the country, in 2018 alone.

Students from the Stoneman Douglas High School, who experienced the shooting first-hand have been protesting outside government buildings, all week. They are confident that their voices will be heard and help bring along a change in Florida gun laws. However, the statistics on gun violence suggest otherwise. There have been over 1600 mass shootings in the US in the past five years and despite several attempts to change the gun regulations, this number continues to rise. Thus, making people wonder what it will take to finally turn things around.

Gun regulation has constantly been built up as the only solution to America’s alarming gun crisis. But, there has been no progress made on this front because the shootings are always followed by calls for action–and then political paralysis. In the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary killings in 2012, two senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey joined forces to sponsor a bill that would impose universal background checks on commercial gun buyers. But, the National Rifle Association (NRA) strongly opposed the idea, and with not enough senators on board, the legislation failed to pass. This is how the outrage fizzles out every time, and the fact that no major gun control legislation has been passed by the US Congress since 1994, makes any such developments now look unlikely.

Powerful lobbyists and the NRA are partially to blame for the political paralysis, but the true problem is that America can’t have a reasoned debate on gun control. This is mainly because of the wide divide in beliefs that exists throughout the country- referring to the big city vs small city mentality.  There is widespread skepticism about guns in big cities such as Boston and New York, whereas, if you go to the rural parts of the country, you would experience a whole other culture; one where its common for every household to own more than two firearms or where children are taught how to fire a gun. This is why, strict gun control will never work in America if large portions of the population believe guns are essential for their safety, while the other half  is protesting vehemently to get it banned. And when it comes to the discussion about gun control, people usually side with their tribe, forgetting logic.

Proponents of gun control often cite Australia as a model example for successful gun control. After the 1996 massacre in Tasmania, Australia radically changed its gun laws and has avoided a mass killing since. However, this probably won’t work in the US. When the Port Arthur massacre occurred, Australia was so shocked that all six states decided to enforce an all out ban on automatic rifles within two weeks of the incident. It would be unimaginable for 50 US states to agree to something or act quickly enough to make a difference. Also, there are millions more guns in the US than there ever were in Australia. After 20 years of strict regulation, Australia managed to halve the number of gun owning households. Unfortunately, this figure won’t be nearly enough for America to solve its gun problem.

The gun control issue is as important today as it has ever been, and the perennial question of whether gun control will work needs to be addressed as soon as possible. America needs to find its own answer to that question. And this effort will require fundamental changes in thinking and regulations because gun culture is inbuilt into its constitution.

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