Last week Stephen Paddock carried out the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history when he opened fire on a Las Vegas music festival, killing 58 people and injuring another 489. His motive remains unknown. Unfortunately, the focus of the debate surrounding the event has been derailed by calls to improve mental health awareness and educate the public on how to spot ‘red flags’ in a perpetrator’s behaviour. A stance which, although important, fails to acknowledge the elephant in the room; the American psyche has been conditioned to see weapons as indispensable. In a country where there are more firearms than people and gun violence has killed more of its citizens in the last 50 years than all of its wars combined, is it time to give up the notion that Americans will ever be free from a fetishized firearm culture that creates such a fatal cycle of death and destruction?
After incidents like this it is usually the NRA – the U.S. non-profit organisation that vehemently defends the right to bear arms – who are left holding the smoking gun. Their strategy of shutting down their social media and refusing to speak to the press after every mass shooting shows clear guilt over their part in such catastrophic events, yet they continue to hijack the second amendment to advance their agenda of corporate greed. As NRA’s lobbying force is far too lucrative for the Republicans to lose, the right often pedal the pathetic argument of ‘guns don’t kill people, people do’ in order to frighten the population into clutching onto their holsters for their lives. Furthermore, the ideology of weaponry being the best tool to defend against the big, bad government is discounted by statistics that show that it is more dangerous to live in a house with guns than without. It is less the raw power of gun ownership that attracts Americans to the second amendment, but more the existential fear of attack.
What is needed is a change in attitude. Although cited as the champion of the free world, how cultured is a country whose society glorifies violence to the point where it is almost unpatriotic not to bear arms? All across America it is common for schools to run ‘active shooter drills’ in order to prepare their students for a possible attack but few centre the discussion on what causes shootings to happen in the first place, namely the ease of buying a gun in a matter of minutes in certain states.
Gun violence is as part and parcel of being an American citizen as having an undying love for the constitution. Even so, when James Madison drafted the Second Amendment in 1789, the firing rate of a musket was three or four balls per minute; it would have been useless in a massacre. Despite being a key component of the American identity, it is often forgotten that the constitution is subject to change – to amendments even – and it seems high time for another revision.
It only took one fateful morning at Dunblane Primary School to change Britain forever, as responsible governments tend to fix the problem rather than fix the blame. Nevertheless, many lost all hope for gun control when Washington was able to stand by and do little after the massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. To those who argue that the events in Las Vegas are too fresh for a discussion of gun laws I would say that it is not too soon, but rather too late.
(Image courtesy of Common Dreams)