Open obsession: on U.S. mass shootings

An ingrained gun culture and patchy regulations set off hate crimes in the U.S.

August 07, 2019 12:02 am | Updated November 28, 2021 10:27 am IST

Two American cities, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, more than 2,500 kilometres apart, witnessed lethal shootings resulting in mass fatalities over the past weekend, with at least 31 people dead, many injured, and a nation in shock. The El Paso attack, which bore tell-tale signs of a hate crime, was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since November 2017 and brings to 32 the tally of shootings there in 2019 that had at least three victims. In his reaction to the shootings, U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to denounce the racist intention behind the shooting when he said, “In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” and that these “sinister ideologies must be defeated.” While he was not wrong to highlight the pervasive threat of racist violence — police investigating the El Paso shooting said they found an anti-immigrant document espousing white nationalist and racist views, which they believe was written by the suspect, Patrick Crusius — his focus on violent video games, mental illness and online bigotry leaves a glaring gap in policy: common-sense gun control reforms to curb the proliferation of deadly, military grade weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The battle to pass broad, effective gun control legislation, such as tougher background checks for gun buyers and the banning of certain gun technologies and accessories such as bump stocks that exponentially raise the lethality of weapons, has punctuated the past few decades of America’s unrelenting, 228-year-old love-affair with guns. Despite sustained lobbying to push forward basic gun control laws through the U.S. Congress — former President Obama saw no fewer than 17 of his attempts to bring gun control to the floor of Congress defeated by conservative lawmakers — the constitutional right to bear arms has never been more fiercely defended. Further Mr. Trump’s regular dog whistles to the forces of racist xenophobia appear to have emboldened fringe elements within the gun-loving fraternities to carry out mass attacks against minorities. The National Rifle Association quietly hands around $6 million annually to lawmakers in Washington to retain its pro-gun agenda as a top priority. Pro-gun lobbies consistently mobilise voters around the Second Amendment. The result of combining this ingrained “gun culture” with patchy gun regulations is ever more incidents of mass shootings. The societal and economic challenges that minorities face in the U.S. are already immense; if they become targets of a new vector of racist hatred, buttressed by the unregulated firepower of guns, then America’s “melting pot” dream will unravel fast.

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