America has been home to mass shootings for as long as we remember. A country where every citizen has the right to buy and keep a gun without restriction. Why is this a problem? Let’s find out.
In the U.S., 31 states allow the open carrying of a handgun without any license or permit, although in some cases the gun must be unloaded. 15 states require some form of license or permit to carry a handgun openly. But what exactly does open carry mean? Open carry refers to the practice of ‘openly carrying a firearm in public’. This practice has been far more popular in recent years. The gun rights community has become supportive of the practice. Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation has been cautious in expressing support, while groups like The Modern American Revolution, OpenCarry.org, Georgiacarry.org, and some participants of the Free State Project, open carry has seen a revival in recent years. Groups like the Brady Campaign and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence strongly oppose Open Carry. Concealed carry, on the other hand, refers to the practice of carrying a handgun or other weapon in public in a concealed or hidden manner, either on one’s person or in close proximity.
When did the gun control debate begin? It started shortly after November 23, 1963, when evidence in the assassination of President John F Kennedy increased public awareness to the relative lack of control over the sale and possession of firearms in America. Until 1968, handguns, rifles, shotguns, and ammunition were commonly sold over-the-counter and through mail-order catalogues and magazines to just about any adult anywhere in the nation. The truth is, America’s history of federal and state laws regulating private ownership of firearms goes all the way back to 1791.
With the number of mass shooting occurrences on the rise, everybody is on edge. Let’s talk about a few of the shootings that took place in the past.
On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside a Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight. Dressed in tactical clothing, James Eagan Holmes set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms. Killing 12 people, injuring 70 others; 58 from the gunfire. The attack had the largest number of casualties in one shooting in modern U.S. history at that time. It was also the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School in 1999. Arrested in his car outside the theatre, Holmes later confessed pleading not guilty. His reason? Insanity. Colorado guns spiked after the shooting, with the number of background checks for people seeking to purchase a firearm in the state increasing to 2,887, up 43% from the previous week. Gun sales in Washington, Florida, California, and Georgia also increased. The shooting reignited the political debate on gun control, with one issue being the ‘easy access’ Holmes had to semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, which were banned federally from 1994 to 2004. The results of a survey released on July 30, 2012, by the Pew Research Centre suggested the incident did not change Americans’ views on the issue.
On June 10th, 2016 American singer and YouTuber Christina Grimmie was shot by 27-year-old Kevin James Loibl while she signed autographs following her performance with Before You Exit at The Plaza Live in Orlando. Loibl was tackled by Grimmie’s brother, but the gunman broke free, backed against a wall, and shot himself dead. Grimmie was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Centre in critical condition with three gunshot wounds. According to an autopsy, she was shot once in the head and twice in the chest; her death was declared a homicide. The Orlando Police Department said Loibl travelled by taxicab to Orlando from his home in St. Petersburg, Florida, bringing two handguns, two extra magazines full of ammunition, and a hunting knife. Loibl did not have an arrest record in his home county and did not appear to know Grimmie personally. Police did not offer a motive but said Loibl had shown an ‘unrealistic infatuation’ with the singer and tried to make himself more physically attractive through weight loss and hair and eye surgery. Loibl’s family said they were not aware of his plans to travel to Orlando, nor that he possessed any guns. This incident wasn’t a mass shooting, but I wanted to talk about and highlight how easy it was for someone to get a gun.
On June 12th, 2016 Omar Mateen, a 29-year old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in a terrorist attack and hate crime inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, United States. After a 3-hour standoff, he was shot and killed by the Orlando Police Department (ODP). The club was hosting a ‘Latino Night’, which resulted in most victims being Latino. This incident has been the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, and the deadliest attack in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks in 2001. This incident also happened to be the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in the U.S. at that time.
On the night of October 1st, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, leaving 58 people dead and 851 injured. 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, fired more than 1,100 rounds from his suite on the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. After an hour of shooting his last shot, he was found dead in his room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the United States. It reignited the debate about gun laws in the U.S., with attention focused on bump fire stocks, which Paddock used to allow his semi-automatic rifles to fire at a rate like that of a fully automatic weapon. The shooting prompted support in the U.S. Congress for assault weapons legislation that would ban bump fire stocks. The National Rifle Association (NRA) came out in favour of administrative bump fire stock regulations. Many Congressional Democrats and some Republicans expressed their support of a prohibition of bump fire stocks. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a Senate bill that gained 39 Democratic co-sponsors. Two bipartisan bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives. As of November, no Congressional action has been taken. House leaders said the issue of bump fire stock regulation should be decided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which originally approved gun-stocks. On November 6, Massachusetts became the first state to ban the sale, possession, or use of the device. Nine days after the shooting, eighteen Democratic U.S. Senators introduced a bill, the Keep Americans Safe Act, which, if signed into law, would ban gun magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition.
Stock prices of firearms manufacturers rose the day after the shooting, as has happened after similar incidents. Investors expect gun sales will increase over concerns that such an event could lead to more stringent gun-control legislation and a rush of customers wishing to defend themselves against future attacks. Now that we know what the ‘problem’ is, what can we do to fix this? Maybe do what these countries did.
In April 1996, 35 people were killed by a gunman, Martin Bryant, wielding semi-automatic weapons at a former prison colony and tourist attraction in Tasmania, Australia. This incident later came to be known as The Port Arthur massacre, a turning point for Australia. The event shocked the nation, helping to push Australia to enact some of the most comprehensive firearm laws in the world. How did Australia tackle this situation? What did they do? Within 2 weeks after the Port Arthur massacre, all 6 Australian states agreed to enact the same sweeping gun laws banning semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. Australia has a 28-day waiting period, thorough background checks, and a requirement to present a ‘justifiable reason’ to own a gun. About one million semi-automatic weapons were sold back to the government and destroyed, nearly halving the number of gun-owning households in Australia. Although the laws were designed specifically to reduce mass shootings, the rates of homicide and suicide have also come down since 1996. Despite the reduction in incidence though, gun violence has not disappeared in Australia. But would this work for America? Not according to Joe Hockey, the Australian ambassador to the U.S. Joe also helped craft the National Firearms Act while serving in Parliament.
Japan has what may be the closest any country comes to ‘zero-tolerance’ of gun ownership. As of 2011, legal gun ownership stood at 271,000, according to police records, in a country of 127 million people. There were 6 reported gun deaths in Japan in 2014, according to the National Police Agency. In 2006, just two people were killed in gun attacks when the number rose to 22 in 2007, it prompted a bout of national soul-searching. In his seminal 1993 paper for the Asia Pacific Law Review, whose conclusions still hold true more than 20 years later, David Kopel described Japanese gun control laws as ‘the most stringent in the democratic world’. The 1958 law on the possession of swords and firearms states: ‘No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords.’ Among the few exceptions are shotguns, but here too, the restrictions would cause outrage among American gun owners.
From the moment 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton unloaded his legally held arsenal of handguns on children and staff at Dunblane primary school on 13 March 1996, gun control was on the cards. Nothing like Dunblane had taken place in Britain before. A massacre of 16 five-year-olds and six-year-olds, along with the teacher who tried to protect them. The shock and collective grief of the whole nation resonated from the northernmost point of Scotland to the tip of Cornwall. Britain was not the United States, where by 1996, classroom shootings had occurred in many places including Nashville, San Diego and South Carolina. As grief turned to national anger, the public debate focused on how someone like Hamilton, a former Scout leader who had been ostracised because of his suspicious behaviour with young boys, had been allowed to own such lethal weapons. Public petitions, most notably by the Snowdrop Campaign, founded by friends of the bereaved families, called for a total ban on the private ownership and use of handguns in the UK. Signed by 750,000 people it was symbolic of the weight of public opinion. Nine years before Dunblane, there had been Hungerford, where Michael Ryan went on a rampage through the Berkshire town, killing 16 people in a series of random shootings before turning the gun on himself. He had been carrying a handgun and two semi-automatic rifles, for which he had firearms certificates. The aftermath of Hungerford ended the right to own semi-automatic firearms in Britain; they were banned along with pump action weapons, and registration became mandatory for shotgun owners.
As in the United States, Canada’s national government sets gun restrictions that the provinces, territories, and municipalities can supplement. And like its southern neighbour, Canada’s gun laws have often been driven by gun violence. In 1989, a student armed with a semiautomatic rifle killed fourteen students and injured more than a dozen others at a Montreal engineering school. The incident was widely credited with driving major gun reforms that imposed a 28-day waiting period for purchases, mandatory safety training courses, more detailed background checks, bans on large-capacity magazines, and bans or greater restrictions on military-style firearms and ammunition. Firearms in Canada are divided into three classes: non-restricted weapons, such as ordinary rifles and shotguns; restricted, such as handguns and semiautomatic rifles/shotguns; and prohibited, such as automatic weapons. It is illegal to own a fully automatic weapon unless it was registered before 1978. Changes to the law in 1995 required individuals to obtain a license to buy guns and ammunition, as well as register all firearms. However, in 2012, the requirement to register non-restricted guns was dropped, and related public records were expunged.
The debate on gun control might never come to an end, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have it. Many innocent people have died, kids grew up too fast, people lived in fear. I’m not asking for guns to be banned; I’m just asking for more control. Nobody should be able to walk around with a gun or buy one without a thorough inspection. It may not seem like much, but even if a small group of people use their voices, it’ll help raise awareness. So, use your voice, help raise awareness.
Click the links below to find out about gun control laws and help support an important cause.
Will this ever stop? is part 3 of a 3-part series. Click here to read The Land of Mass Shootings and My Eight-Year-Old.