Just before the Senate and House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill last week to address gun violence in the US, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court brought out one of its historic but infamous rulings on gun rights. By overturning the New York handgun law, the Supreme Court gave the Americans’ right to carry firearms publicly for self-defence. As President Joe Biden describes, the decision of the Supreme Court contradicts common sense.
In a country that spends more than $800 billion on military annually to defend the free world, its citizens are expected to carry arms for self-defence.
The US Supreme Court, which treats the Second Amendment of the US Constitution as sacrosanct, says, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This Amendment was made in 1791 to ensure the US military’s effectiveness. The meaning of security has changed dramatically in the last 231 years, but the US Supreme Court, instead of moving with the time, has decided to go back to history.
The gun-owning rates in Switzerland, Finland, and Sweden are quite high but don’t result in higher gun homicide rates like in the US due to stringent gun laws.
The ruling of the Supreme Court is more surprising because it has just come a month after a teenager killed ten people in a racist attack in a black neighbourhood in Buffalo, New York. A few days after that horrific mass shooting, another teenager also killed 21 people, including 19 children, in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Both these gunmen were only 18 years old and had carried legally bought assault rifles. Though these two incidents helped the politicians in the Congress to compromise and pass a significant federal gun safety legislation in decades, they were not enough to push most Supreme Court judges above their partisan ideology and interest.
America has become a country of guns. While the US population is only 4.4 per cent of the global population, the country’s civilians possess more than 42 per cent of the world’s guns. For every 100 American residents, there are more than 120 guns, the highest ratio worldwide. Yemen is the next country on this list of civilian gun-owning, which has been suffering from a civil war for the last eight years, but with only 52 guns per 100 residents.
Every year, more than 45,000 people die in the US due to gun-related injuries. In the US, while 79 per cent of murders get carried out with guns, in the UK, only 4 per cent. The UK is famous for having one of the most rigid gun laws in the world.
In 2020, while 43 per cent of all gun-related deaths in the US were homicides, the majority (54 per cent) were suicides. The number of gun suicides in the US is rising rapidly, almost 25 per cent in a decade. The gun death rate is much higher in the US compared to other developed countries. In the US, while more than ten people die every year per 100,000 persons, in Canada, only two people. However, the rate of gun deaths among different US states varies considerably.
The Red States, with fewer gun-control laws, like Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri, and Alabama, witness the highest gun-related deaths, while the Blue States, like New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Hawaii, are with lowest.
While a high number of daily gun deaths in the US due to homicide and suicide usually remain unnoticed, the public attention is relatively high when a mass shooting occurs. Unfortunately, mass shootings are also becoming quite common in recent years. In 2021, the US had witnessed 692 mass shootings, compared to 417 in 2019 and 610 in 2020. This year, the same trend continues; nearly 250 mass shootings have already killed around 280 people.
The US is the only country other than Mexico and Guatemala that gives its people the inherent right to own guns. It is not only owning the gun, but the US is probably the country with the least control over who may purchase firearms and what types of guns one may own. The gun-owning rates in Switzerland, Finland, and Sweden are quite high but don’t result in higher gun homicide rates like in the US due to stringent gun laws.
The UK brought strict gun laws after a mass shooting in 1987, and Australia did the same in 1996. In 2019, New Zealand introduced sweeping reforms to gun laws immediately after the mass shooting in Christchurch. But, that sort of political will is missing in the US. The new gun safety legislation has brought tougher background checks for buyers younger than 21. It has closed the so-called boyfriend loophole; it has, however, failed to ban any semi-automatic and assault rifles.
While the conservative-dominated Supreme Court blindly protects gun-carrying rights, the lack of political cohesion fails to bring strict laws on gun sales and purchases, leading to exceptional gun culture in the US. More deadly guns have led to more gun violence in American society.
Can a superpower suffering from internal violence be expected to strive for peace outside its borders?