Why America’s gun laws won’t change
Since Saturday’s tragic shootings in Arizona, America’s cable news channels have been flooded with analysts speculating about why.
They have bemoaned the state of America’s political discourse, called for leadership in toning down heated rhetoric, speculated over whether this is a turning point for Barack Obama or Sarah Palin and puzzled over the shooter’s mental state.
But one thing that has scarcely been raised is gun control.
America’s love affair with the gun is steeped in the nation’s foundational stories, particularly its history as a frontier society without an established military.
“The threat of French, Spanish and Indian hostility on the frontier meant that from the very beginning America was a society that relied very heavily on a population that is armed,” Saul Cornell, an American history professor at Fordham University in New York, told the BBC.
“Basically we had a militia as the organisational building block of internal and external defence.”
Jan Dizard, who teaches American culture at Amherst University, adds that Americans have a long history of sanctifying all that is associated culturally with “winning the west” and beating back Britain.
“The myth of the frontier, the myth of the individual defending him or herself against bad guys that the state is unwilling or unable to protect them from runs very, very deep,” Mr Dizard, a gun-owner and hunter himself, said in an interview.
Over time, gun ownership has become fused with a particular brand of American identity that prizes rugged individuality and libertarian notions of freedom – mostly freedom from government.
Most gun control advocates point the finger at the National Rifle Association (NRA) for stymieing the political will in Congress to act.
The NRA has a large, extremely well-funded political lobbying operation – deeply supported by weapons manufacturers – that will not brook any infringement on the constitutional right to bear arms.
For the NRA, that means no limits on access to high-powered weapons, no limits on the number of guns an individual can purchase, no waiting periods for prospective gun owners, and so on.
The organisation has an enormous capacity to run political ads for and against candidates, based on their gun politics.
Mr Cornell says that it also has a very loyal core of members who care about firearm freedom above all else. Passions mostly run higher among the gun owners than the regulators.
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