OPN US gun control
The US leads the developed world in gun-related deaths Image Credit: Gulf News

It is a fatal epidemic. In the first eight months of the year alone, there have been 470 mass shootings — Gun Violence Archive describes it as when four or more people are shot, not including the perpetrator — across the United States with more than 25,000 Americans dead this year alone from gun violence.

It gets worse. 22 children aged 17 and under are shot daily, victims are predominantly fatalities from shooting but also include death by suicide.

Is the American dream over? It is not an unfair question as the once gold standard for living, a place where vision became reality and where opportunities beckoned even the disadvantaged can no longer guarantee the right to life. Utopia then can wait.

Last June, President Joe Biden signed the most significant gun control bill in the country in thirty years and a new proposal regulates background checks that would require thousands of unlicensed sellers to register. Predictably, it is being stonewalled by the pro-gun lobby that has enough heft to make sure, however tragic the outcome, the status quo remains.

This thumbing down of the most basic of rights in the so-called leader of the free world is unfathomable to even small countries that have a fraction of America’s GDP but a much bigger record on safety.

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Staring down the barrel

For decades their young set sail into the unknown for a better future, families left the comfortable to give their children a pie of the promised land. Questioning that call is no longer wrong nor is it illogical to wonder if the Ivy leagues can promise a safe university campus where your child will not stare down the barrel of a senseless gun.

The gun culture the Americans insist is part of their constitutional right is so hard wired that children being shot day after day doesn’t move its meter. In New Mexico, which is the latest flashpoint, the governor is under fire after she invoked a public health emergency order in the Albuquerque area banning citizens from carrying firearms for a month after a child died in a shooting.

It is a move that is not just being challenged in court by pro-gun lobbyists but has also angered the Republicans who are demanding the governor’s impeachment.

They say she has breached Second Amendment which gives Americans the right to bear arms, this when a 2023 survey says that nearly 1 in 5 adults in the US has seen tragedy up close, with at least a family member killed by a gun, suicide and homicide included.

The 11-year-old killed outside a baseball stadium in a suspected road rage shooting is not the only recent violent death in New Mexico. Last month a 14-year-old boy used his father’s gun to kill a boy a year younger while in May a teenager killed three as he roamed around firing indiscriminately.

In Kansas City at 10pm one night a teenager out to pick up his brothers mistakenly rang the wrong doorbell. Most people would open the door, exchange a word, and move on. Not in America. The 84-year-old house owner allegedly shot Ralph Yarl, 16, from point blank range once in the head and once in the arm. Fortunately, the boy survived.

“This is the only country in the world where men who are having breaks with reality exorcise their demons through mass slaughter,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told media.

“We’re not the only place in the world with mental illness. We’re not the only place in the world where people are paranoid. But only in America are we so casual about access to weapons of mass destruction and only in America do we fetishise violence so much that we end up with all the mass shootings.”

An existential crisis

Kansas shooting though has another angle, one that has for long questioned the American ethos of tolerance. Ralph was a black American, shot by a white supremacist who was allowed to walk out after the initial questioning leading to protests in the city.

The systemic racism in the country which first took the knee also raises the question, is the dream for everyone? The death of George Floyd in 2020 when a police officer kneeled fatally on the neck of an African American was not a blip and when hate crimes get gun access, the result is not unknown. Like the 21-year-old white gunman who shot and killed three black people in Florida.

Racism though is rarely linked to school shootings and a 2019 Secret Service report flagged how many of the mass shootings at schools could have been prevented. While the US came down hard after 9/11 attacks to secure itself, it forgot to look inward. 4.6 million American children live in homes with at least one gun, when they go to school, they take part in drills to be ready if a loose cannon from one of their homes has a bad day. Danger is closer home.

If there was a will there is a way, the country only needs to look at how Japan or the tiny nation of Luxembourg have among the most stringent gun laws. In the ‘The Epic of America’ writer James Truslow Adams outlined an ideal American society, ‘dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man.’

As it stands, the crisis is existential where casual violence begets violence, whether it is shootings in schools or unprecedented scenes of Trump supporters storming Capitol building.

In America you send a child to school without the guarantee of coming back alive. It is a country that empowers the wrong in the battle with the right. No dreams can be built on a licence to kill.