U.S. President Barack Obama parted with the steely tradition of his two-term presidency this week, >when he shed tears at the White House over what appears to have become a top-of the-agenda item of his final year in office, gun control reform. Although he broke down at the mention of six-year-olds massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, it was anger that seared through his speech announcing executive actions to take on the stubbornly lax regulation of guns in the U.S. These actions aim to expand background checks for gun ownership, boost funding for federal agencies enforcing gun laws, improve treatment of mental health conditions nationwide, and herald an era of “smart gun” technology to prevent accidental firearm deaths. Few would >blame Mr. Obama for feeling frustration over the quagmire that has greeted every attempt of his to start a conversation on what many worldwide would consider a reasonable restriction on the constitutionally enshrined right to bear arms. He has pitched for tighter, more meaningful gun laws no fewer than 15 times from the Oval Office, and his most ambitious attempt to bring the discussion to the floor of the Senate three years ago was speedily disposed of by hostile lawmakers. This week’s executive action had echoes of that 2013 omnibus gun control bill, yet in the face of uncertain funding prospects in a Republican-controlled Congress, likely resistance from conservative states and near-certainty of legal challenges, it may lack the teeth to seriously impact gun proliferation.
There are two forces behind America’s abysmal progress in halting the regular occurrence of gun rampages in public spaces. The first is what > Mr. Obama described as the “lies” of the pro-gun lobby , whose lifeblood is the influential National Rifle Association, funded largely by gun manufacturers. After every mass killing with guns, NRA spokespersons proclaim in the American media that the only answer to gun deaths is more guns. Their efforts are > bolstered by Republican presidential hopefuls such as Donald Trump . The second, more intractable, impediment facing any would-be reformer is the U.S.’s cultural proclivity for gun ownership. Even though a Quinnipiac poll last month found 89 per cent overall support for expanded background checks, a CNN poll the same month found that only 48 per cent of Americans favoured stricter gun control laws. Like any other cultural revolution, unwinding this national obsession with guns will be a slow process. Ultimately the realisation must dawn that, contrary to the Second Amendment’s promise that the right to bear arms will protect the public from the tyranny of government, in the 21st century it is the tyranny of firearms that truly threatens the American way of life.