Another day, another mass shooting in the United States

Another day, another mass shooting in the United States
Feature: The US has witnessed more mass shootings than days this year. The latest, in San Bernardino, California, however, it is unlikely to usher in stricter gun controls.
5 min read
03 December, 2015
14 people were killed in San Bernardino, California [Getty]

The United States witnessed a deadly mass shooting on Wednesday, after a number of shooters opened fire inside a state facility serving developmental disabilities in the southern California town of San Bernardino.

Police said that 14 people were killed and another 17 injured after the suspects opened fire using powerful automatic riles inside the Inland Regional Centre.

Two suspects were apprehended a few hours after the attack and shot dead in a gun battle with authorities, however the motive of the attack remains unclear, with "workplace dispute" being one of the possibilities being investigated.

     Wednesday's tragic events mark the 342nd mass shooting in 336 days

The deadly shooting comes days after a lone gunman opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing two civilians and a police officer.

There have been more mass shootings in America than days this year, with Wednesday's tragic events marking the 342nd mass shooting within 336 days.

The very heated and politicised debate about gun control in the United States has been reignited.

The numbers are horrifying. Some 11,208 people were killed in the US in homicides involving firearms in 2013, three and a half times the number killed in the September 11 attacks.

The US is facing a gun violence epidemic of epic proportions - but the official response is virtually non-existent, especially when compared with government responses to terrorism.

What threat?

There is no doubt that the US, like many other countries, faces a real threat from terrorism - and every life lost in a terrorist attack is an absolute tragedy.

But terrorism is not even close to being the biggest threat to the American public.

Yet, a 2014 US congressional report revealed that, since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the country had spent approximately $150 billion a year on its global "war on terror", in addition to the legislation and measures that have been passed to protect against terrorism.

Despite the staggering number of gun crimes and repeated mass shootings in schools, movie theatres and elsewhere, Congress in June extended a 1996 ruling which banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - the nation's largest public health body - from even researching the causes of gun violence.

The ban was extended immediately after nine people were killed in the Charleston massacre in South Carolina on 17 June.

The ban was first instated after the National Rifle Association (NRA), America's largest gun rights lobby group, accused the CDC of lobbying for gun control - which resulted in Congress stripping $2.6 million from the public health agency's budget - the exact amount the CDC spent on gun research the previous year.

The CDC's funding was eventually restored, but allocated elsewhere. "None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control," politicians later clarified.

"The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health," said Republican House Speaker John Boehner at a press conference in June.

"I'm sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don't kill people - people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon," added Boehner.

     The NICS cannot even force states to share their records with its database, especially those regarding mental health

The sacred amendment

The issue of gun control is perhaps the most divisive political topic in the US, because it touches on the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects the rights of people to keep and bear arms.

The amendment was introduced as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, in response to calls from several states for greater constitutional protection for individual liberties and restrictions on governmental power. It epitomises America's perception of its foundational philosophy.

Therefore, conservatives invariably see calls for regulations and controls on gun ownership as contradicting the founding principles of the United States, and attempts by the government to have greater control over individuals.

Ironically however, conservative politicians demonstrated no such concern for individual rights and privacy when they passed the Patriot Act in October 2001 - which vastly expanded the government's authority to spy on its own citizens, while reducing oversight and public accountability over those powers, in a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

On the other hand, US lawmakers have yet to pass a bill requiring background checks on gun purchases.

The checking mechanism that currently exists, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is run by the FBI, accesses criminal databases to determine whether the prospective gun buyer has a criminal record.

However it only applies to people purchasing guns from licensed gun dealers, and if the check does not come back with a result within three days, the sale can legally go through.

Gun sales between private parties, which make up 20 percent of all firearms transactions, are not subject to this background check.

The NICS cannot even force states to share their records with its database, especially those regarding mental health, which means people suffering mental illness can pass the background checks and legally purchase a gun.

This is exactly what happened in the case of Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, who had been declared mentally ill by a judge two years before he murdered 32 people.

America's relationship with its guns and gun violence is complex. But in order to effectively face the country's staggering number of annual gun deaths, it needs to start viewing the problem as seriously as it does terrorism.