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Changing America’s gun culture won’t be an easy task

At the heart of the matter is the Second Amendment to the US Constitution dating back to 1791

editorials Updated: Mar 27, 2018 13:48 IST
Gun violence,United States,Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Sir Paul McCartney takes part in the March for Our Lives Rally near Central Park West in New York, March 24. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation.(AFP)

The United States is currently witnessing unprecedented protests by hundreds of thousands of people, many of them students, against gun violence amid a polarising debate on the right of Americans to bear arms. The demonstrations are being led by students who survived the mass shooting that claimed 17 lives at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last month. But gun violence in the US is not a new issue. Nor are the deaths caused by the lethal weapons that Americans are allowed to carry, thanks to the Second Amendment in their Constitution. Gun violence has been a problem for the US for long and the statistics related to the havoc wreaked by firearms are mind-numbing – 61,584 incidents of gun violence last year that left 15,596 people dead, and 12,687 incidents so far this year that have caused 3,257 deaths, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Students have played a key role in arranging the latest mass protests, adding a hitherto unseen emotive aspect to the movement demanding greater regulation of firearms. But a change, if any, will not be easy.

At the heart of the matter is the Second Amendment to the US Constitution dating back to 1791, which states: “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.” Generations of Americans have argued that this amounts to a blanket approval for every individual to own guns. Those on the other side of the divide have argued that the conditions which led to the amendment in the 18th century no longer exist, and there is no need for militias, well regulated or otherwise, in a country that is seen as the world’s foremost military power. Those favouring greater gun controls have questioned whether someone like the emotionally troubled 19-year-old who targeted the high school in Florida should have had access to, leave alone allowed to buy, a semi-automatic rifle.

The anti-gun movement led largely by the students has a tough battle on its hand. Opposing it is the National Rifle Association, which provides millions of dollars in funding to American politicians and is at the forefront of the move to protect the right to own and bear firearms. There are already reports that the NRA has quadrupled its digital advertising budget, placing its ads on YouTube channels meant for children. The malaise runs deep and the tide is unlikely to turn soon, but at least the students have presented a glimmer of hope by taking on the political establishment.

First Published: Mar 27, 2018 13:48 IST