Gundemic in the US: a man-made disaster
Published: May 30, 2022 12:00 PM
US gun violence Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US gun violence Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

On April 8, 2021, US President Joe Biden publicly condemned gun violence in the country as "an epidemic," calling for the Senate to immediately pass bills to close loopholes in gun purchases. 

One year later, things still have not changed. On April 12, 2022, there was a mass shooting at a crowded Brooklyn subway station which injured more than 20 civilians. One month later, on May 13, 10 gun shootings happened within 12 hours in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The next day, May 14, an 18-year-old gunman in Buffalo livestreamed on Twitter his brutal killings of at least 10 people, most of his victims people of color. The tragedy of gun violence did not stop there, and another gun crime occurred on the early morning of May 15, killing two in Houston, Texas. Again on May 24, another 18-year-old gunman opened fire and killed at least 19 children and 2 adults in an elementary school in Texas, making it the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade.   

Gun culture is deeply rooted in American history. From the plundering of Native American lands to the expelling of British colonizers and Westward Expansion, many famous historical scenes are associated with guns. With only 4 percent of the world's population, the US possesses 46 percent of all privately owned guns in the world, or more than 400 million guns, easily No.1 in terms of per capita ownership of guns.  

According to the Gun Violence Archive website, nearly 45,000 Americans died due to gun shootings in 2021, making it the darkest year in the US' history of gun violence. Since the beginning of 2022, gun violence has killed more than 17,000 Americans. Gun violence even caused damage beyond the US in Haiti and the Bahamas, where 98 percent of illegal guns came from the US. In Mexico, 70 percent of 17,000 murder cases in the first half of 2020 involved gun shooting, and 70 percent of the guns retrieved from the criminals had the same source: the US. According to UN officials, illegal guns from the US have become a major social challenge in Colombia. 

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." As time goes by, the phrase, designed to defend human rights and safety of American people, has been deliberately misinterpreted as "everyone's right to shoot at everyone". As USA Today pointed out, "mass shootings turn America's gun culture into a killing culture."

Regulation has never been enough to prevent rampant gun violence in the US. Workers for the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors and shooting ranges, are categorized into "Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce" by the US Department of Homeland Security like workers in supermarkets and hospitals. As described by David Chipman, Biden's nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the weird reality is that "in much of America, it's easier to buy a gun than a beer."    

One of the obstacles to gun control in the US is the deep divisions between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Guns have already become a highly charged and sensitive politic issue. In the past decade, Democrats in the House proposed dozens of draft bills on gun violence and relevant regulations annually. Blocked by Republicans, very few of the draft bills were able to reach the Senate or sessions of the House for debate.  

US judicial bodies also play a role. The US Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) that the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms and the right is enforceable against the states. A decade later, in September 2021, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white gunman in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who killed two people and wounded a third, was acquitted of all charges. 

Interest groups involved in the lucrative gun industry are vehemently opposed to gun control. There are more than 15,000 gun manufacturers in the US who each year pay more than $7 billion in tax and spend billions of dollars on advertising. The National Rifle Association (NRA), with more than 5 million members, puts billions of dollars into advertising and lobbying annually. Nine US Presidents were NRA members. According to CNN, among the then 535 members of US Congress in 2018, 307 had "received either direct campaign contributions from the NRA and its affiliates or benefited from independent NRA spending like advertising supporting their campaigns." 

The gundemic has become a real threat to American people, however, the US government is adamant about changing as little as possible. 

The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Global Times, China Daily etc. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com