A forgotten Crises: Pro-gun arguments and the evidence against them

By Emily Withers

Following the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, the world is yet again talking about gun control. 17 people lost their lives to a single shooter on Wednesday 14th February 2018, at Douglas High School, which is not as shocking of a sentence as it should be. Debates in the following weeks have, understandably, been emotionally driven, and can sometimes be lost beneath tears and shouting. This blog post will highlight some of the key arguments against gun control and how they are often disproved by simply looking at the evidence.

Claim 1: Mental illness is the main reason for mass shootings, not gun ownership

This argument is a popular one for conservative lobbyists and NRA members alike. In particular, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch likes to deflect serious questions about controls and new laws by suggesting that mental illness is the only reason why people commit mass shootings. In fact, using this argument merely dismisses the need for further debate. A study in 2015 found that in the decade ending in 2010, less than 5% of all mass shooting events in America were committed by someone with a diagnosed mental illness, despite 1 in 5 Americans living with one. While it is important that mental health services are improved in America, this is not what is being suggested, with conservative commentators instead using lexis which indirectly labels all mentally ill people as ‘crazy’. If indeed this was a mental health problem, which evidence suggests it is not, then should the President be calling the Parkland shooter a “Sicko”? We should instead be debating for more detailed background checks and mental health assessments for prospective gun owners. This argument, then, is not a genuine one. The facts speak for themselves; most mass shootings are not committed by mentally ill individuals, and when they are, the debate is never about how to control their access to weapons.

Claim 2: If guns were banned, only criminals would own them, and more deaths would occur

This claim runs on the assumption that civilian ownership can be helpful in the event of a mass shooting. In the thirty years leading up to 2009, not a single mass shooting was stopped or prevented by intervention from an armed civilian. In one instance, a civilian pursued, shot and killed a shooter, but this was only after the shooting had ceased. Now that we know this assumption is based on no factual evidence, why can’t the US ban guns? Conservative arguments often suggest that if gun ownership became illegal, only law-abiding citizens would hand their guns into the government during a gun amnesty. This would leave only criminals with guns, leading to an increase in mass-shooting events and no way to defend yourself in an attack. To approach this argument, we must look at case studies where other countries have imposed similar systems.

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In the UK in 1996, 16 primary school children and their teacher were killed when a single man used his legally owned handguns to shoot at five and six-year-old children in Dunblane, Scotland. Immediately, there was a debate on new legislation and, ultimately, a ban on guns implemented in 1997. Since then, there has not been a single school shooting, and only one mass shooting event, in 2010. Every year since 1997, there have been fewer than 10 gun deaths in Scotland, where the Dunblane shooting took place, indicating that fears about an increase in use after a ban are unfounded in this case.

Australia’s situation is more similar to the US in terms of attitudes towards gun ownership. For many, having a gun was an essential part of life in the bush, but this did not stop changes in legislation after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996. 35 people were killed and 23 injured by a lone individual. At the time, there were no restrictions on guns other than handguns, but just two weeks after the shooting, debates were already taking place. The same year, Australia passed a law restricting the ownership of all guns and enforcing the use of firearms licenses. There was also a national buyback policy for anyone who had guns which did not comply with new legislation, which gave civilians motivation to comply. Since the new legislation in 1996, there has not been a single mass shooting event in Australia.

Claim 3: New gun controls would impose on the Second Amendment rights of the American people

Looking at this statement, we must look at the Amendment itself. The phrase in question is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and was implemented in 1791. At this time, the guns used were not semi-automatic weapons with the ability to kill a large group of people at once. Would it really be an infringement of constitutional rights if guns were limited to safer, less destructive, single-fire weapons? This would still be interpreted as ‘bearing arms’, and so would arguably still be fulfilling the Second Amendment rights that lobbyists are so attached to. In addition, we must consider whether the Second Amendment is something that modern Americans should be proud of. It was added to the US constitution over 70 years before slavery was made illegal, at a time where women were treated as their husbands’ property and had no right to vote or express a political opinion. As we can all agree that the American beliefs on race and gender were wrong at this time, why can we not agree the same about the right to carry a gun? Indeed, it may be true that the Second Amendment is being misunderstood altogether. There were several regulations on gun control in the decades following the Bill of Rights. Gun owners had to go to ‘mandatory musters’ where guns would be inspected, and there were regular door-to-door surveys wherein guns were logged. The idea of the Second Amendment was to promote the safety of the American people, not simply allow everyone to own whichever gun they like. The Amendment itself asks for a ‘well-regulated Militia’, which at the time included civilian gun ownership. Supporters of the NRA should now understand that in order for the US government to serve the constitutional rights of its citizens, there must be strong, clear legislation on the types of guns which are allowed to be owned, and by who. Unfortunately for gun fanatics, complying with the Second Amendment does not allow for ordinary citizens to own and use assault rifles; there is no reason that this is appropriate or safe.

Claim 4: Arming more people will prevent mass shootings

With a surge in support after President Trump suggested arming teachers would prevent school shootings, this claim is resurfacing with more determination than ever before. As it was first debated and rejected in the 1920s, we can look to some of the suggestions about gun control from this decade to tackle this issue. There was much pressure on the government at the time, from gun enthusiasts and some media sources, to increase the number of people who could carry concealed weapons, and to take a back seat when it came to strict regulations. This idea was swiftly rejected by lawmakers and the majority of the public, and ‘may issue’ carry laws were implemented instead. These laws made it harder to carry a concealed weapon, as the state may issue you a permit to carry a concealed weapon, even after fulfilling basic requirements. These laws, first seen in the 19th-Century, were so widely accepted that even gun advocates found them reasonable. Up to the 1980s, the NRA themselves did not support the right of every American citizen to carry a concealed weapon, promoting the idea that only those individuals for whom it was necessary to carry a concealed weapon should be granted state approval to do so. So where did the general consensus take such a dramatic U-turn? Lobbyists gained power and money from the mid-1980s in the USA, and so have been able to influence the media and the government. By pumping 30.3 million dollars into Trump, the NRA gained political influence.  So, Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers should not be surprising. But would it work?

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A bill set into motion in Florida on 3rd March 2018 suggests arming highly trained individuals within schools, who would then act as a protector in the case of an attack. Supporters may argue the famous ‘good guy with a gun’ logic can be applied here, and that teachers would use their guns solely for the protection of their students. But what happens when a teacher snaps? We must consider the implications of arming teachers, an overworked group who are often loaded with stress and paperwork. Just two weeks after the Parkland shooting, Jesse Davidson, a teacher from Dalton Hugh School barricaded himself in a classroom and unloaded a shot. Fortunately, Davidson was alone in the room and there were no injuries, but we must ponder just how much worse this situation could have been. Student safety will not be increased by guaranteeing a weapon in the classroom. It certainly will not prevent school shootings. Indeed, in the case of the Parkland shooting, an armed security officer was present at the school but did not enter and address the shooter. This was an individual who had over 30 years’ experience as a sheriff’s deputy, but in the moment could not bring himself to enter a live shooting scenario. This situation helps to place emphasis on the role of human emotions and natural responses in life-threatening scenarios. So why would arming teachers, whose jobs are not remotely related to armed security, help prevent school shootings?

Conclusions

While it is clear that a calm and civilized debate must occur in the US over gun control, it is also clear that some arguments already put forward are not supported by evidence. It is imperative that any measures implemented consider evidence-based arguments and previous research and case studies. After assessing some of the loudest claims about gun control, it is clear that more guns are not the answer. Whether it be teacher or civilians with concealed handguns, more bullets and more adrenaline-fueled firing will not have positive effects on US citizens, particularly the only people guaranteed to be unarmed: innocent children.

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Show solidarity with Women’s March on Washington- 21st January 2017

By Rosa Brown

On Friday, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. Even if Mr Trump’s political inexperience, his inability to commit to clear policy outlines and those appallingly constructed tweets are overlooked, his ascension into one of the most prestigious positions in the world remains problematic.

Though it may be kinder to ourselves and our sanity to block out the US Election campaign trail, let us revisit that point in which 2016 reached new lows of shadiness. As of November 2016, there were seventy-five active lawsuits against the President Elect, ranging from fraud, unpaid bills and sexual discrimination. However, the presence of these lawsuits failed to damage the candidate’s campaign for good. As did the stories from women who claimed to have receive unwanted sexual advances from Trump, some of whom waivered their right to anonymity. Even Trump’s imitation of a disabled news reporter did not stand in his way to the White House. In summary, Trump ran a campaign focused on hate, mockery and lies and no one cared.

But they did. On Saturday 21st January 2017, there will be a Women’s March on Washington to stand against the demonising rhetoric of Trump’s campaign. The march is an opportunity to celebrate diversity as a strength of the community rather than a weakness. It is an opportunity to reject the fear of those who may look or sound differently, a fear that Trump’s success and certain figures in the UK is dependent on. Ultimately, it is an opportunity to recognise women’s rights as human rights, regardless of race, age, sexual identity or religion.

In solidarity with the event and its objectives, there are Sister Marches organised across the globe, two of which are scheduled in Wales: Cardiff and Bangor. Both marches encourage the participation of anyone and everyone to safeguard the freedoms that have been threatened by recent political events.

If you would like further details about these events please follow the links. More information about the global movement can be found at #breakthesilence.

Cardiff Sister March

Facebook page.

Bangor Sister March

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The Orlando Mass-Shootings: Homophobia or Terrorism

Megan Griffiths

On the morning of the 12th of June, the world woke up to the news of a mass shooting in a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Another mass shooting. As the death toll in the Orlando shooting has increased to 49 people, debates on homophobia, terrorism and gun control have been stirred up. Mateen’s homophobic and religious motives are not mutually exclusive but entangled, and the events resonate painfully with both recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Ankara and Beirut but also, attacks on gay men and women in New Orleans and London.

In the next few days and weeks, as is the case with every act of violence, messages of solidarity, prayers and love will be sent from all over the world. Yet the range of different controversial issues will no doubt spark debate and will lead to an array of different perceptions of the deeper rooted issues in American society. It’s easy to point the finger towards terrorism, especially considering the inherent American fear of radical Islam. This crime cannot be simply ascribed to being an act of terrorism but as Obama pointed out, also an act of hate. According to Mateen’s father, Mateen became completely enraged when he and his young son saw two men kissing in Miami a few months back, and according to media speculation, it seems his sexuality may be more of a motivation for his actions than his religion. Statistics show that US Muslims are actually more likely to support same sex marriage (42%) than US evangelicals (28%) and are just as likely to support it as general US Christians, suggesting opposition to same sex relationships may not necessarily be a product of any particular religion but of their extremist factions.

T Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted early on Sunday morning a bible verse from Galatians 6:7 ‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.’ The very fact that a prominent political figure can take such an anti-gay stance in such a public way illustrates perfectly the depth of homophobia amongst certain Americans, and how, in some ways, it is actually accepted. A pastor from California gave an impassioned sermon on the shootings, lamenting that “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!” He went on to add that “I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.” If a member of the Muslim community used these words, they would likely be used as newspaper headlines to inspire shock amongst people. But due to his supposedly ‘Christian’ faith, the effect is not the same. What is more, Trump’s use of the attack to forward his ideas on banning Muslim immigrants shows the extent of his ignorance on the state of his own country. Mateen was born in America. Whilst he undoubtedly had outside influences on his ideology throughout his life, he was also brought up in an American society where there is often some form of negative stigma on being gay. Politicians such as Trump will use the attack to ignore the flaws in society and place the blame on anyone but straight white Americans.

Of course, America has made real progress in legalising same-sex marriage and equality for homosexual and transgender people, and indeed does not see this as a crime unlike some countries around the world. Still, the fact that this took place in a LGBT club, during the national pride month, needs to be observed and we should reflect on the homophobia and transphobia that evidently still exists. We should not become complacent in how far we have come. An attack directly on LGBT people has shattered the security that many people had come to accept and has revealed the deeper roots of hate, prejudice and insecurity that have evidently been bubbling under the surface of society. Through the juxtaposition and intertwining of terrorism and homophobia in this particular case, it is impossible to extract one from the other.

Indeed, to some, it is easier to simply place the blame for his homophobia on his radicalisation. It is easier to continue our debates on ISIS and terrorism strategies than also consider our attitudes to gays and lesbians, often a slightly taboo subject at the best of times. Owen Jones’ reaction live on air on Sky News shows just how sensitive the situation is and how people’s perceptions of the attack differ. But this totally ignores the fact that Mateen was brought up in America and was therefore exposed to home-grown ignorance and anti-LGBT rhetoric in American society and government which itself leads to marginalisation and violence against the community on a day-to-day basis. He may be Muslim, but is this actually relevant when we consider how anti-LGBT policies are a fundamental mainstream in many parts of America, regardless of faith.

It would be interesting to ask ourselves if the dialogue surrounding the shootings would be different if Mateen was not a seemingly radicalised Muslim, but an anti-gay Christian acting in the name of God. Where does the fact that, completely aside from his faith, he is cited to be a violent and perhaps mentally unstable individual fit in? Would the event have taken on the shape of a less high-profile hate crime? Or merely another mass shooting? By solely labelling it as a ‘terrorist attack’ and linking it to ISIS, it inspires a specific response in us due to recent events attributed to ISIS. The fact that homophobia is not exclusive to a single religion or belief system means that we cannot allow ourselves to simply focus on this as an ISIS inspired terrorist attack. Much focus has been placed on the fact that the attack marks the deadliest domestic terror attack since 9/11 yet it is also the largest targeted attack on the LGBT community since the holocaust.

Increasing acts of terrorism around the globe, coupled with the European refugee crisis, have led to general negative shifts in attitudes towards immigrants and often, islamophobia, ordinary peaceful Muslims are tarred with the same brush as radicalised extremists, leading to ill-conceived fears of Islam itself. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the US and the rise of right wing movements in Europe have led to a general increase in ‘hatemongering’. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al- Hussein warned that ‘Hate is becoming mainstreamed’. We cannot afford to allow this latest attack to inspire yet more hatred and fear by using Mateen’s Muslim faith as a scapegoat and exploit his faith to forward political agendas on terrorism. To do so blatantly ignores the cracks in tolerance and acceptance within our society and towards the LGBT community. Homophobia, Transphobia and Islamophobia all come together under the same umbrella of hatred and it is not until we have dismantled them all that we can be completely peaceful.

The shows of humanity in Orlando as people go out of their way to help and the messages of solidarity and vigils for the victims and the LGBT community held all over the world show us that love can indeed win. But love will only win if we don’t allow tragedies like this to inspire yet more hatred towards other innocent people. We owe it to the 49 individuals who lost their lives and their families.

 

American relationship with Israel under scrutiny

Faisal Ali The United States and Israel share an intimate relationship. Israel was a key ally during the Cold War and ever since the security of the country has been one of Washington’s primary concerns. As a result, the US provides Israel not just with military, political, and moral support but also financial. Continue reading

Is the U.S. drug war calling a ceasefire with marijuana?

Iwan Benneyworth

A cannabis store in Denver

The drugs debate in the UK has been somewhat stirred recently, with a Channel 4 documentary examining what cannabis does to the (Jon Snow) brain. This came in tandem with Nick Clegg announcing a Lib Dem election pledge to move drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health, emphasising the public health rather than exclusively criminal nature of the issue.

Continue reading

Hillary: The Next US President – Why It Is More Likely Than You Might Think

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The second term of any re-elected US President has its perks and pitfalls, however a poorly conducted second term can hurt the president’s political party as much as their own individual political career post-Presidency. The Democrats and Republicans tend to kick the ball of Executive control back and forth fairly evenly, Republicans holding more consecutive streaks (the last back to back Republican streak lasting from Reagan to Bush Sr., last triple streak running from Harding to Coolidge to Hoover), and the Independents, well, they last held office in 1845.

So, after two terms of a Democrat as President, what is next for Washington? We are now two years away from the next Presidential ballot. The Republicans have yet to name a contending candidate, and the Democrats are facing criticism that the current Commander in Chief is a second term ‘Lame Duck’. While Obama sets a strong note of change coming into the Oval Office, the prematurely delivered 2009 Nobel Prize (for doing…nothing, sans winning a Presidential race, which does not exactly warrant peaceful behavior) seems to have set a solid standard for his scale of effectiveness-versus-praise.

So who is the only political contender with enough experience, publicity and reputation for tangible results? Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton. Her resume is nothing to scoff at: first female Senator for New York, Secretary of State, Juris Doctor law degree from Yale, and she has served on the board of numerous fostering and child-orientated programs and acts. Her time as First Lady of Arkansas and of the United States wasn’t all smooth sailing as we can recall, but she weathered it better than most and pulled off some daring pantsuits in the process.

But it’s more than her bravado and experience which impacts the public’s opinion of Hillary – no candidate that the Republicans could throw against her would have the amount of social media presence, Oval Office familiarity, and sheer volume of media-presence, dating all the way back into the 1980s, to draw upon. The American public is an extremely diverse landscape of race, culture, language and politics – however, the unifying feature of all successful Presidential nominees has been their media wherewithal; and Hillary has a formidable lead against any other candidate – from any party.

Her policies and stances on the Iraq war should be noted, as military know-how is a pivotal factor in America’s choice of President, particularly as Middle-Eastern disputes are not going away anytime soon. After the September 11th attacks against the US, Hillary supported (as Senator,) the initial military intervention in Afghanistan and the Iraq War Resolution (the 2003 Iraq Invasion); however, she was very open about her discontent with the Bush Administration’s conduct within Iraq and the domestic policies that blatantly broke US citizen’s Constitutional Rights.

She continued her involvement with military disputes as Secretary of State and openly (and quickly in political terms,) took responsibility for the Benghazi Attack on an American Diplomatic Compound in Libya, which (while a physical and political cluster-muck,) was a sound move for her office and the US’s disposition in the region at the time. She is the most-traveled Secretary of State in US history, and was one of the first female politicians in Washington to employ social media outlets to engage with her constituency and beyond.

While anyone of enough caliber and clout to run for President must have a solid resume, political ties and experience and preferably a decent bill-fold (which Hillary has, for better or worse, thanks to her engagements with Wall Street), the fact that Hillary Clinton, a Democratic politician, has been in the public forefront for so long could be the make-or-break of her 2016 Presidential race. Even if the Republican Party can rally a candidate that has a fraction of her Capitol Hill experience, the fact is the Republican Party is currently a very wounded and fractured entity.

It would not be surprising if the party faced a very prolonged and indecisive candidate selection process, and if factions of the party split during the nominee process, no experienced political analyst would think twice.

It is not that Hillary will not have some competition from a Republican Candidate, however, the American public, as heavily-media-influenced as it is, will, more likely than not, mirror each candidate’s media presence (both contemporary and retrospectively) in the voting booths. Hillary is so disproportionately represented in the media that some might say, this race is already over.


Devon Mitchell Simons is a PhD student at Aberystwyth University. Her main research interests include terrorism policy after 2001 and during the Iraq War and the media-to-government relationship.