Why the United States is divided over gun control

File photo: Guns, guns: United States divided over need for gun control despite incidents of mass killings

By Nehru Odeh

The United States of America is currently fighting for its soul. Two mass shootings in two weeks in Boulder, Colorado and Atlanta Georgia have put the country notorious for its mass shootings on edge. While the shooting in Colorado, carried out by a 21 year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Al Issa, claimed 10 lives, including that of a police officer, the one in Georgia took eight lives.

Though the suspects have been arrested and are currently facing prosecution, it seems the United States has murdered sleep and things have taken a turn for the surreal. Things are no longer the same and American s have once again woken up to the grim reality that stares them in the face. And the bewildered country, which prides itself on being the greatest in the globe, is once again divided along party lines as calls for gun control intensify.

Still, this is paradoxical, as nowhere in the world is gun control more controversial than in the United States. Gun possession is constitutionally protected but murders (including mass murders) committed with guns are extremely common. The United States has by far the highest homicide-by-firearm rate among developed countries.

Proponents of increased gun control in the United States argue that limiting access to guns will save lives and reduce crime; opponents insist that it would actually do the opposite by preventing law-abiding citizens from defending themselves against armed criminals.

Reacting to the Colorado mass shootings, the President of the United States on Tuesday called for stricter gun control, asking Congress to immediately pass a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save the lives in the future, and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act.”

“This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue. It will save lives. American lives. And we have to act,” Biden said, adding that as a senator, he helped execute a ban on assault weapons in 1994, which expired a decade later. “It brought down these mass killings. We should do it again,” he said.

Biden then urged the Senate to approve two pieces of legislation that had earlier been passed by the House of Representatives. The bills are aimed at expanding and strengthening background checks on gun buyers.

However, Biden’s latest move  is an uphill task because the country is already divided along party lines  over whether there should be gun control in the United States or not. While the Democrats favour tighter gun control, which makes it illegal for unlicensed individual to possess or carry gun, the republicans believes it is the right of Americans to do so, as it is enshrined in the constitution of the United States of America.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that while they were “open to the discussion”, Republicans in the chamber were not in favour of approving the two pieces of legislation.

“One thing we do know for sure is that these shooters are invariably mentally incapacitated,” he said. “This is a vexing problem that is extremely hard to identify in advance.”

The US Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with the vice-president holding the casting vote. However, because of Senate rules (known as the “filibuster”), in practice 60 votes are needed to get legislation through.

Which means that the Democrats need at least 10 Republicans to override a Senate veto and pass any gun control measures into law. No Senate Republicans have thus far come out in favor of the House bills. There is not even unanimous support among Senate Democrats — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he does not support the House bills.

Still, the cat and mouse game over gun control in the United States has taken a new dimension, as the Republicans are singing a new song. While they had always hinged their opposition to gun control on upholding the rights of Americans to possess gun as enshrined in the constitution, they have taken their case a notch higher. They are no longer citing the inalienable rights of Americans as enshrined in the constitution as the reason they are opposing gun control. They are now saying they oppose gun control measures on the basis of protecting Black, Latino, and Asian communities.

GOP senators, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday said gun control is part of a long and racist history of restricting the rights of minority groups, while still putting forward traditional arguments that gun laws infringe on Second Amendment rights and punish law-abiding gun owners.

“Very often, inevitably in American history but even prior to American history, we’ve seen it’s rarely the empowered, very rarely the wealthy or those with political connections to the government, who have their rights interfered with,” said Republican Sen. Mike Lee.

Chris Cheng, a witness invited by Senate Republicans and a sports shooter who won the season four championship of the History Channel show Top Shot,  also echoed Lee’s submission, relating gun control to a historic pattern of infringing on minority rights that included the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. “We need to defend ourselves,” he said.

Since the Republicans have now shifted rhetoric, claiming their opposition to gun control is based on their concern for the protection of minority rights – an issue that had always been the exclusive preserve of the Democrats – whether Biden will achieve his move to impose stricter gun control in the United States remain to be seen.