June 27, 2022
“Right now, we are at a point where our nation will never be redeemed from this violence until our love of our children is greater than our love of guns and power and money,” Sen. Cory Booker
Tulsa, Uvalde, Buffalo, El Paso, Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook—the list goes on and on. For decades, gun violence has been an epidemic in the United States, and government officials have repeatedly failed to adequately address this issue. But this time, it must be different, right? On June 2nd, just nine days after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, President Biden made an appeal to Congress, urging lawmakers to pass gun control legislation in an ongoing effort to curb rampant gun violence. Six days later, with the support of the Biden administration, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and others worked to get comprehensive legislation approved by the Judiciary Committee. Democrats then quickly adopted the Protecting Our Kids Act (H.R. 7910)—an eight-bill package that seeks to suppress gun violence in the United States.
The House package includes prohibition on sale or transfer of semiautomatic firearms to individuals who are under 21 years of age; establishes new federal criminal offenses for gun trafficking; sets up a framework to regulate ghost guns and a framework to regulate the storage of firearms on residential premises; regulates bump stocks; and prohibits the sale, manufacturer, and possession of large ammunition feeding devices. The bill also requires the Department of Justice to report on the demographic data of persons who are determined to be ineligible to purchase a firearm. Containing mildly strict gun control provisions, there was no chance the package would pass the Senate.
Rather than passing the Protecting Our Kids Act, in the Senate, a bipartisan group of senators led by Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have created a gun violence bill that can pass through the Senate. On June 23rd, what is now known as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed the Senate in a 65-to-33 vote. The Act has since passed the House, and President Biden signed it into law on June 25th, breaking a decades-long pattern of inaction. Despite this minor victory, it should be noted that the Senate version is significantly less comprehensive than the House’s Protecting Our Kids Act. With mass shootings now an undisputed epidemic and the conservative Supreme Court striking down yet another gun control measure just one month after the Robb Elementary school shooting, we must be doing more.
Rampant Gun Violence in the United States
The United States has devastatingly high rates of gun violence. Approximately 57 people are killed with a gun every day in the United States, and homicides accounted for about 53% of all deaths in 2020. Thus far in 2022, 294 gun-related domestic violence fatalities have been recorded, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control reports that an average of 70 women per month are killed by a firearm used by an intimate partner. Some 250 mass shootings have taken place this year as of June 2nd, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Mass shootings, defined as involving at least four persons including the shooter, have killed at least 256 persons and injured 1,010 since the end of May. There are about 69 million more guns than citizens in the United States, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated these effects with gun sales soaring over the course of the pandemic.
Regulation of firearms has never been strict in the United States. Though a ban on the manufacture of semi-automatic weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines was passed in 1994, conservatives in Congress opposed the law’s renewal ten years later. Since then, efforts to pass legislation for concealed carry and public display of firearms have proliferated, while efforts to plug gun show loopholes have stalled. Conservative politicians who consistently oppose tighter regulation of firearms are kept faithful by millions of dollars of campaign donations from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Because guns have been used as tools of gender-based violence, racist violence, and transphobic violence, women, children, and other minority groups especially bear the weight of the traumatic effects of such horrors. In 2021, over 1,500 children under the age of 18 were killed in incidents of gun violence, and gun deaths of children rose 50% between 2019 to 2020. The Children’s Defense Fund reported that year that a youth is killed with a gun every 2 hours and 36 minutes, and since 1963, approximately “193,000 children and teens have been killed with guns on American soil —more than four times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in the Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined.”
Additionally, women are threatened and killed with guns by intimate partners who have exploited the boyfriend loophole to obtain firearms every month. Approximately 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence—a statistic that has only risen over the span of the pandemic— and the presence of a firearm in such a situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. About 68% of mass shootings carried out between 2014 and 2019 were by people with a history of domestic violence, and 60% of mass shootings were related to domestic violence. Everyone is affected by gun violence, and women of color, LGBTQIA+ folx, and people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by gun violence.
“Never Again,” They Said…Again
After Columbine, people said, “never again.” Then, Sandy Hook happened, and people said, “never again.” Then, Parkland happened, and people said, “never again.” Then, Uvalde happened. We continue to say “never again” again and again, and still, gun violence persists. As a result of our inaction, we have produced at least two school-shooting generations in which the twisted, new “normal” is fearing gun violence in throughout our day-to-day lives, expecting a news notification announcing yet another mass shooting, and anticipating another shooting to take more innocent lives. Children who have grown up in the generation of mass shootings are trained to look for the nearest exit wherever they go, to identify the best places to hide, and to fear who is going to walk through the doors of anywhere they go. For those of us born after Columbine, we have never known what school life without the fear of school shootings looks like. We are witnessing entire generations of people who are traumatized by the shootings they may have witnessed and the loved ones they may have lost, who jump at the sound of a bang, who are afraid of their everyday surroundings. But none of this should be normal.
Gun violence is an epidemic in this country, and we have long passed the point in which the lives of hundreds of thousands of people should be sacrificed for the supposed rights of gun owners. The lives of Americans and the love we have for our people must be greater than this obsession with guns, power, and violence. The United States has some of the highest rates of mass shootings among the world’s developed countries, and women, children, and other minority groups are facing a disproportionate burden of the effects. There is no reason that we should be exceptional when it comes to high rates of gun violence.
Action to Save Lives Stalled and Subdued
However, the measures included in the Senate’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act are not enough as it only addresses enhanced background checks for those under 21 buying assault weapons, partially closes the boyfriend loophole, enacts funding for state-implemented red flag laws, and provides funding for mental health services. The Act will not consider raising the purchasing age to 21, nor will it ban assault weapons, nor will it implement universal background checks, nor will it restrict magazines—some of the most important gun control elements that are proven to actually prevent mass shootings.
In the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting, when questioned by New York Times reporters, only five Republican senators stated they were open or undecided about having conversations around gun control legislation. The other 45 senators—most of whom have an A or higher NRA rating, and all of whom have received thousands if not millions of dollars from the NRA—have either opposed gun legislation or declined to answer. Most opponents have cited bizarre excuses for their absence of support, including invoking the Second Amendment, claiming to defend the rights of and prevent financial burdens for “law-abiding” gun owners, and outright denying that guns are the problem. It appears these conservatives in Congress care more about allowing their constituents to use AR-15 rifles to shoot prairie dogs and feral pigs rather than committing themselves to the service of ensuring the security of American lives.
The future of gun control legislation seems bleak, especially with the conservative-dominated Supreme Court’s recent ruling on New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, in which the Court has expanded the scope of the Second Amendment by prohibiting conceal carry restrictions on top of the detrimental and wrongfully interpreted ruling of D.C. v. Heller which prohibited handguns and required safety storage measures for other firearms in the home.
Let us be clear: rampant gun violence in the United States should not be a partisan issue, though the excessive wealth and power of gun lobbyists have made it so. Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans—Republicans and gun-owners included—believe in making gun regulation legislation stricter.
What About Other Countries?
Turning towards other developed democracies that have enforced tighter gun regulation despite favoring gun ownership, it is clear that fewer guns equate to lower gun violence. Australia, for example, has a deep attachment to guns that is akin to the United States. However, after a mass shooting in 1996, the government took immediate action, imposing buybacks and restricting access to large capacity magazines. Since these measures were put in place, Australia has had virtually no mass shootings, and they have effectively halved the gun-related homicide rate. In Norway, there have been slower movements towards stricter gun control laws including the recent ban on semiautomatic weapons. But even so, the nation’s regulation of firearms has consistently been tighter than that in the United States. And with one of the highest rates of gun ownership in Europe, Norway still has considerably lower rates of gun violence compared to that of the United States. Evidently, rampant gun violence is uniquely American.
We Know What is Needed
As we have seen from the mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa, gun violence is rampant, and it will not stop until we take serious legislative action. It is only through restricting access to guns and strongly regulating firearms that we can begin to prevent future shootings from occurring. But what sort of gun regulation must we enforce to actually make a substantial difference?
In a New York Times analysis of mass shootings since the Columbine shooting in 1999, experts identified four specific measures that would have made significant impacts on at least 35 mass shootings that had taken the lives of 446 people combined. The proposals included: raising the purchasing age from 18 to 21, requiring extensive background checks, banning large-capacity magazines, and requiring safer gun storage.
But we need more than just these four measures. We need to expand red-flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who pose a threat to themselves and to the public; there are funds in the Senate version for states to expand red flag efforts. We need to ban assault weapons including AR-15-style guns because the average person does not need a military-grade weapon—even if it is for self-defense or killing prairie dogs and feral pigs. We need to issue national buybacks and impose higher taxes on guns to lower the number of firearms in circulation; the number of guns in this country should not outnumber its citizens. We need to place expansive bans on ghost guns, and we must act swiftly to require all firearms to be registered. We need to fully close the dating partner loophole, the ex parte loophole, and the stalking loophole, and we need to implement concealed weapons bans. We need to have all of these laws passed at the national level to ensure the uniformity of safety measures in this country. We need to stop interpreting the Second Amendment as the absolute right to bear arms when it only applies to the ability to have and maintain a “well-regulated militia.” We need to stop equating gun ownership to freedom when, in fact, the right to simply live is what freedom truly is. And to live in a country where the threat of widespread gun violence limits our freedom is the issue.
These proposed regulations may be a tough pill to swallow for some, especially those in a culture in which guns and gun ownership are so deeply ingrained. But these proposals actually follow existing regulations in Britain, Australia, Canada, Norway, and other developed democracies—all of which also have distinct gun cultures, yet significantly lower rates of gun violence. The reality is that even if guns are ingrained in American culture, it does not mean that gun violence should also be a characteristic to our culture, too.
It is time that we open our eyes and acknowledge that our country does not have to be this way. Violence is not in our DNA, and gun violence should not be a normal occurrence. The people of this nation have the right to secure livelihoods, move about freely, attend school and attend public events free from the burdens of gun violence.
Counter the Patriarchy and Toxic Masculinity
Still, implementing these common-sense policies will not be enough to eliminate gun violence in this country. In addition to these policies, there must be a cultural shift away from the acceptability and prevalence of patriarchy and toxic masculinity in our society.
It is no coincidence that an overwhelming majority of these mass shootings have been committed by young men. It is also no coincidence that a majority of these men have histories of domestic violence and displays of misogyny and racism. As Jackson Katz has so brilliantly pointed out in a Ms. Magazine article, “In order to have a productive national debate about gun policy, we need to be willing to talk about the ways in which guns are woven deeply into cultural narratives about American masculinity.” Guns have become a symbol of toxic masculinity and domination in the United States, and they are, therefore, used as tools to exhibit power and authority.
Our boys should not be turning to gun violence for validations of manhood, nor should they be turning to gun violence as a coping mechanism for their fear of emasculation. Guns and violence should not and cannot define masculinity.
We need to begin investing in tools that effectively help young men confront and navigate the challenges of life. We need to shift our cultural norms to one that promotes and celebrates femininity and masculinity—and all forms of gender expression, far and in between—equally. We need to establish a society in which everyone is enabled to feel secure within their own identity—and a society in which people who may feel insecure with their identity do not fall back on violence to express their insecurities. In the ongoing battle between our worst demons and our better angels, our better angels must prevail.
Authored by NOW Government Relations Intern, Amanda Chen