In the wake of the shocking on-air murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward this week, there have been predictable and sensible calls for tighter gun control. This would appear to be the cycle. A high-profile crime is committed, commentators comment, and then various people start calling for gun control. There are at least two disturbing features of this, not least of which is the fact that there is a routine, predictable cycle surrounding the senseless shooting of innocent people. A media and campaign machine have coalesced around these very human tragedies, to the point where news consumers not only expect mass shootings on a semi-regular basis, but are able to predict the kinds of products that will be generated by them.
One of these products is the gun control debate. Every time there is a high-profile mass shooting, somebody, not unreasonably, calls for tighter gun control laws. In the most recent case, it’s been Alison Parker’s bereaved father, Andy Parker, calling on the president to step in and change the law. In an emotional message reported by the BBC, Mr. Parker pleaded with President Obama to tighten gun controls, saying,
“Mr President, you need to do this. Please do it. Please do it for us and for other people so they’re not going to lose their Alisons and their Adams.”
Unfortunately, presidential intervention has completely failed up to this point. President Obama himself has been often quoted as saying that the failure to implement “commonsense gun laws” has been one of the biggest frustrations of his presidency. But why is this so? Why is it so difficult to enact a tranche of laws that so much of the public seem to want so badly? Surely, when even the governor of Virginia is moved to call for better gun control, we must have reached a tipping point?
In the opinion of the experts, no. Analysts are practically unanimous in thinking that this latest tragedy is unlikely to have any effect on gun control laws whatsoever, and it’s hard not to see their logic. Random shootings in churches, movie theaters, and, in the horrific case of Sandy Hook, elementary schools, have produced a grand total of zero positive movement in the direction of gun control. So, analytically speaking, why should this case be any different? The reasons for the continued prevalence of guns in America, as well as the stagnation of gun control efforts, are so manifold and so eminently sensible, it’s difficult to see how any kind of argument is going to prevail against them. In Business Insider, Mira Oberman checks off the list of friction factors holding up gun control, and it’s formidable. From the structure of the government, to the symbolic value of guns in American culture, these factors appear to be hard-wired into America’s view of itself.
It would appear that, as emotionally charged as the pleas for gun control may be, they are outmatched by the emotions on the pro-gun side. And when we have two viewpoints, resting mainly on emotion, competing with each other, we simply have no choice other than to turn to facts. The facts are unambiguous, despite what the pro-gun lobby likes to assert. The evidence is in and the conclusions are obvious. Tighter gun control leads to lower gun crime. A standard response is to blame other factors, such as Donald Trump’s recent claim that the Virginia shooting was not a function of gun control, but of mental illness, but this just doesn’t stand up. Australia has almost exactly the same rate of mental illness as America, and world-famously strict gun control laws. The net result? Per capita, Australia has 80 percent less gun crime than America.
When will the American government be able to enact tougher gun control? If we are to believe the experts and analysts, possibly never. But this can’t be so. Surely, if the narrative can move from emotion to fact and evidence-based reasoning, surely reason can prevail and tighter gun controls can be implemented. Surely America can see that tighter gun control is the only way to change a situation where mass shootings are occurring at the rate of one a day? It’s obvious, yes?
As much as I hate to say it, as a news watcher, I’m compelled to say no. Prove me wrong, America.
[Image from Jay Paul/Getty Images]