Earlier this month, on 1 October 2017, a lone gunman named Stephen Paddock opened fire on a group of oblivious concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. The worst mass shooting in recent US history, killing 59 people and injuring 546 more, it should have shocked the world, but did it? According to the Gun Violence Archive, 12,269 people have been killed in the US in 2017 so far (information correct at time of writing), and included in this statistic are 282 mass shootings. News headlines about mass gun killings in the US come as a horror to many international spectators, but rarely a shock.
These events leave us with one major question: why is it always the US? The USA has some of the most lax gun laws in the world, and attempts to restrict these are always met with fierce opposition. This love affair with firearms seems to be an innately American phenomenon. When Martin Bryant shot and killed 35 Australian citizens in Port Arthur, it took the government just twelve days to announce sweeping gun reform legislation.
In the US itself, Kinder Egg chocolates are banned, due to the possibility of a child choking on the plastic toy container on the inside, despite the fact that there are no records of this actually occurring. This begs the question why a government, supposedly so concerned about accidental deaths, would allow a lethal weapon to remain legal and accessible.
To many Americans, the Bill of Rights is of incredible importance, and the Second Amendment (1791) protects the rights for US citizens to keep and bear arms. The main purpose of the amendment was twofold, facilitating the citizen’s right to self defence, and allowing them to rise against a tyrannical government. The problem lies herein. Due to the fact that the amendment is written in the constitution, it is close to impossible for any governmental administration to take this right away legitimately. As this amendment is so fiercely entrenched in the American psyche, any action to make it more difficult to purchase firearms is considered a threat to the fundamental rights of the citizen that resides in the so-called ‘land of the free.’
Aside from this, guns are a fundamental part of American culture. Accurate figures are hard to come by, but the Congressional Research Service reported that in 2009, the US population as a whole owned around 310 million guns, at a time when the total population was around 307 million. According to the NCIS, in 2009 only 14 million firearm background checks were performed, only 4.5% of total firearm sales. This seems like a shockingly low percentage, but could also be considered largely irrelevant; after all, Stephen Paddock himself passed FBI background checks before going on to open fire on hundreds of people. It is not an uncommon image to see American parents taking their young children down to the firing range, teaching them from an early age to join this rampant gun culture. Many gun-owning citizens have argued that outlawing firearms will only deter law-abiding citizens, meaning that such families cannot protect themselves against the likes of Stephen Paddock. However, it is doubtful how much use any gun would have been against the masses of rifles found in Paddock’s hotel room.
The fear that many Americans have over losing their right to own firearms became even more apparent in the days following the October attack. The Guardian newspaper reported that sales of the Bump Fire device used by Stephen Paddock to alter a semi-automatic gun in order for it to mimic an automatic, rocketed as soon as reports came in of the shooting. Major manufacturer Bump Fire Systems reported their website as being down for two days due to high levels of traffic, and Cabelas, Walmart and Cheaper Than Dirt all sold out.
There is no comprehensible situation in which a Bump Fire device would be necessary aside from in active warfare or mass shootings. Many Republicans, traditionally against any restriction to possession of firearms or firearm accessories, have declared that there is no use for Bump Fire, and have stated it is something they will look into. Spectators, both American and international, can only hope that this is the first step in a gradual process of gun control in a nation that sees an average of 27 people killed by firearms every day.