President Barack Obama is right. Prayers alone will not be enough to stop mass shootings in a country that remained unmoved even after the massacre of 20 children in Connecticut in 2012. There have been 142 school shootings since Newtown. Last week’s shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, where a 26-year-old man shot dead nine people was the 45th mass shooting this year alone.
The US has a gun problem, and a very complex one at that, but all it has done so far is to fight it with prayers when other countries like Australia have taken proactive action. Australia outlawed automatic and semi-automatic rifles — similar to the ones that have been used in the US shootings — after a 26-year-old man killed 35 diners in Tasmania in 1996.
Following that incident, Australia formulated the National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996, restricting the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing. There has been not a single mass shooting since then.
Mr Obama cites Australia’s example often, but hasn’t managed to convince his own country to go down that road. The Newtown incident could have been a start. The country was outraged and looked ready for tough gun laws. But Mr Obama’s proposed legislative changes to ban assault rifles, restrict ammunition magazine to 10 rounds and universal background checks did not pass the Senate hurdle. The powerful gun lobby spearheaded by the National Rifles Association, which has the ability to influence elections, struck again.
“America is a land of guns,” The Washington Post said in a recent primer on mass shootings. Indeed it is. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution — the Second Amendment — and for many Americans living in far-flung rural areas lacking police help, their guns are their first and only line of defence against threats. For others, guns are family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation wrapped in memories of hunting trips with father and grandfathers. A piecemeal approach of one reform at a time, starting with the least divisive one, may work. There is comparably more support on either side of the aisle, for instance, for universal background checks. It may be a good start.