On 24th of May 2022, a gunman stormed into an elementary school in the city of Uvalde in Texas and killed 21 people, including 19 children and two teachers. This was a second major mass shooting the other one took place in Buffalo, New York on 14th just 10 days before this horrific massacre. We all know that mass shootings aren’t unknown to the US but when kids as young as 9 are killed it sparks a debate on gun violence and what could be done to avoid such incidents. All of this bloodshed can be attributed to guns, which is how many Americans view the problem. Let’s try to understand the gun situation in the US in a better way.
According to the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), any citizen or legal resident must be at least 18 years old to buy rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. The other firearms including handguns can only be sold to people above 21 years of age. At first glance, it may appear absurd that weapons capable of causing the loss of human life are more readily available than handguns. This should have been the opposite, as assault rifles are more lethal and have been used in the majority of mass shootings in the United States.
Gun violence in the US is a big problem and to curb it the 1968 Gun Control Act was amended by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (BHVPA) of 1994 as it restricted many people, especially those who had felony charges from buying a firearm. As mass shootings have escalated, resulting in more casualties each year, this has not proven to be as effective as the government had planned. The United States has numerous restrictions and procedures in place to make it more difficult for persons who are at a higher risk of carrying out mass shootings, but it has had little effect. The FBI conducts background checks on everyone who seeks to own a handgun using NICS (National instant criminal background check system). NICS has been in place for a long time but has proven ineffective in stopping mass shootings. One such incident was the Charleston Church shooting where a White supremacist gunman killed 9 people. Dylan Roof was already facing criminal charges, and the fact that he was able to obtain a gun and his name was not on the NICS list demonstrates what’s wrong with the system.
We don’t have to look too far when it comes to the solution to this problem. A small tiny nation in Europe, Switzerland, is a perfect example of how a citizen can be allowed to bear arms without any worries of a mass shooting or gun violence. Swiss gun culture is very different from the American one and it has yielded results. Switzerland has a population of 8.6 million people and has around 200,000 of them own firearms. This number is significantly less when compared to the US but it’s still one of the highest in the world. Swiss men above the age of 18 who are “fit to enlist” must serve in the military. When they leave the service, they are permitted to keep their weapons. The last mass shooting in Switzerland occurred in 2007 when a gunman entered the Zug parliament and killed 13 people. And this was the time when the Swiss government came into action and took some radical steps to avoid such incidents in future. The government made laws like ammunitions are carried separately from the weapon, universal background checks, and very strict open carry laws, it’s also illegal to keep guns loaded when not in use. Many such laws have ensured that, while the United States had over 200 mass shootings this year alone, Switzerland had not had one since 2001.
Switzerland is not the only country that has enacted stricter gun laws; many countries have done so. After 35 people were killed in Australia’s deadliest mass shooting in 1996, the government swung into action and established the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), which restricted private ownership of assault rifles and automatic guns. The Australian government encouraged people to turn in their firearms through a “buy-back scheme,” and it worked. The Australian government spent USD 300 million and received approximately 650,000 firearms. There has never been a major loss of life due to guns since the Australian government took this step.
Australia and Switzerland are two examples that the US can look up to on how gun control works in preventing mass shootings. Data collection can be a handy tool in combating gun violence by establishing a database that can identify a potential threat and notify law enforcement accordingly. The first step toward stopping gun violence is by limiting the number of people who can obtain a weapon. Then subsequently holding the gun industry accountable and ensuring that there is oversight over the sales of weapons, a one-dimensional approach won’t work and we need a multifaceted strategy and not just a reactionary approach.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.