US must act on gun control now

The tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, which left 59 people dead and around 500 others injured in the worst mass shooting in modern American history, has triggered heated debate over the country’s gun laws. Stephen Paddock was able to commit the horrific crime because US laws permit easy purchase of guns. Loopholes enabled him to build a huge arsenal of deadly weapons over the years. He was able to inflict such a heavy toll because he fitted the semi-automatic guns with bump stock devices. These modified a semi-automatic to fire like an automatic weapon. Thus, he was able to pump up the semi-automatic’s rate of fire from 45-60 rounds per minute to 400-800. Gun violence and mass shootings are common in the US; the country has witnessed 90 mass shootings since 1982. In 2012, 26 children and their teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary school. Last year, 49 people were shot dead at a nightclub in Florida.

Mass shootings in the US are usually attributed to the killer’s frame of mind, his radicalisation or links to terrorist outfits. However, it is in the country’s gun culture that explanations should be sought. Lax gun laws make it easy for anyone to buy a gun.

There are restrictions, of course. Buyers are put through background checks, licensed gun dealers have to report multiple purchases, and sale of automatic weapons is prohibited. But smart killers, like Paddock, are able to easily bypass these restrictions to carry out carnages. There have been several attempts to tighten the gun laws. But these, such as former president Barack Obama’s effort to enact legislation for tighter background checks, have been defeated so far.

Proponents of gun rights say they have the right to keep and bear arms; they cite the US Constitution’s Second Amendment to justify their argument. They insist they need guns to protect themselves from violence. But the security that comes from arming oneself is at best ephemeral. It militarises society and spawns a gun culture, which makes people even more vulnerable to gun violence. Will the Las Vegas carnage push the US Congress to enact legislation to restrict gun purchase? In the past, the National Rifles Association has lobbied hard to prevent legislation restricting gun purchase. It is likely to do so again. Democrat Congressmen are considering legislation to ban bump stocks. This reportedly has the support of some Republican Congressmen. Banning bump stocks is welcome. But this will be the narrowest version of gun control legislation. It will be only a very small step to tackle a huge problem. Gun control activists must mount pressure on Congress to act now.

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