As America grapples with yet another mass shooting in a school, Republican lawmakers have already begun pushing back against gun control.
A total of 19 primary school children and two teachers were shot dead in the town of Uvalde. It was the 138th school shooting this year.
“I had hoped, when I became President, I would not have to do this again,” Joe Biden said.
The Democrat said it was time to “stand up” to the country’s gun lobby – a force no president has dared to challenge.
“I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage,” President Biden went on.
Although he called for change, the President stopped short of listing any concrete plans just yet.
Gun ownership in America is an inalienable right enshrined by the second amendment of the constitution.
Reforming it – and the patchwork of laws across 50 states – will not be simple.
The US has four times as many gun shops as it has McDonald’s restaurants, background checks are lax or non-existent, and concealed carry without a permit is allowed in 25 states.
“You can’t underestimate how deeply racism and white supremacy is tied to those conversations, to that insistence on gun rights,” said RMIT historian and author of the book Our Exceptional Friend: Australia’s Fatal Alliance with the United States, Dr Emma Shortis.
She pointed to the country’s long history of racist violence, which continues today in hate crimes, such as when a white gunman shot dead 10 people at a supermarket in a predominately-Black neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York, just last week.
Police said the 18-year-old shooter in that case showed up at the store with the “express purpose” of murdering Black people.
Although not every mass shooting is explicitly racist in motive, the pundits who enable this culture overwhelmingly are.
Then there’s the lobbyists.
The National Rifle Association has about 5.5 million members and, in some states, its endorsement is practically a prerequisite for any political candidate to stand a chance.
“But effectively, it’s money,” Dr Shortis told The New Daily.
“Eye-watering amounts of money donated strategically to politicians.”
The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is the weapon of choice for mass shootings, like the incident on Tuesday. The industry calls it a “modern sporting rifle” while the NRA has christened it as “America’s gun”. Photo: Getty
This, she said, amounts to state capture.
“It’s about the total dysfunction of American democracy so that the people who are in a position of power to change things are completely unaccountable to the majority of Americans who do want change,” she added.
Although shootings aren’t a cultural thing, the radical proliferation of guns is very much a part of the American dream, according to Tim Quinn, president of Gun Control Australia.
“The thing that Port Arthur did in Australia, which isn’t happening in the ’States, is that it became taboo,” he told TND.
“They seem so numb to the fact.”
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz said the issue was not about gun control, but the need to better fortify primary schools.
The shooter had entered via an unlocked door, he stressed.
X González survived a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. With seven other classmates, they have led a campaign against politicians who are associated with the NRA. Photo: Getty
There is, however, a movement building against the gun lobby.
Dr Shortis pointed to mothers’ groups and politicians like Beto O’Rourke, himself a former adversary of Senator Cruz.
Children who have survived shootings are also standing up against the NRA, she noted.
In 2018, 14 students and three staff members were shot dead in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Nine teenage students who survived, among them David Hogg and X González, have since spearheaded a national campaign to end gun violence in schools.
The Australian model
The Australian government under John Howard instituted sweeping gun control reforms after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
The key change was banning semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns for everyone except farmers and sportspeople who can prove they have a genuine need for the weapon.
The reforms also included mandatory background checks, a national gun ownership database, a 28-day waiting period between buying and receiving a gun, and a massive buy-back scheme that took 650,000 firearms out of the community.
Australia has not witnessed a mass shooting since then.
John Howard laying a wreath in Port Arthur in 1996. He is flanked by opposition leader Kim Beasly and Senate leader Cheryl Kernot. Photo: AAP
“What Port Arthur did for us was it gave us a way forward where a conservative government could put in the most restrictive laws on guns that Australia could possibly have had,” Mr Quinn from Gun Control Australia said.
“And, you know, [John Howard] did it with a bulletproof vest on because he was worried that he was going to get shot.”
At the time, Gun Control Australia was known as the National Centre for Gun Control and was chaired by Rebecca Peters.
Ms Peters was instrumental in helping craft Australia’s policies and went on to head the International Action Network on Small Arms, where she advocated for gun control everywhere from Ghana to her current home in Guatemala.
She, and the Australian policy, have become somewhat of a model for how to enact effective gun control worldwide.
The NRA even painted her as “the voice and face of hatred of gun owners and Second Amendment freedoms”.
However, Australia has its own lobby groups looking to wind back gun control.
One condition under the gun control laws enacted by Mr Howard was to make all firearm owners join a club.
These shooting clubs charge fees and have evolved into organisations with a community, and with sway, just like any other kind of sports club.
“So that money goes into lobbying,” Mr Quinn said.
There’s also the arms industry, as well as the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party which sits on the cross bench of the New South Wales and Victorian state parliaments.
Wayne LaPierre has been the CEO and executive director of the National Rifle Association in the US since 1991. Photo: Getty
The US gun lobby has even tried to export American gun policy to our shores.
In 2019, Al Jazeera published a three-year undercover investigation that revealed how Pauline Hanson’s One Nation solicited donations from the US gun lobby and had face-to-face meetings with the NRA.
The party denied the implication that it was looking to change Australia’s gun laws.
But as an NRA lobbyist told One Nation operative James Ashby: “I think that it would be very beneficial if you are all able to take steps in the right direction because the biggest argument we always get from folks is ‘Well, look at Australia’.”