Why is it so hard for Congress and Senate to pass gun control laws in the US?
Despite the huge number of mass shootings committed in the US compared to any other country, what is stopping the government from making real changes?
May 24 saw the latest mass murder with firearms in the US. So far in 2022, there have been 213 mass shootings including 10 mass murders; the year is not yet half finished. In terms of gun deaths, there have been over 17,000 deaths with firearms in 2022. 2020 saw 45,222 gun-related deaths. It has the highest per-capita gun deaths for western nations. As a child in the US, the gun is the most likely way to die.
But why does Congress find it so difficult to advance legislation to prevent more of these deaths?
Congress is hamstrung by rules and lobbies
What restricts Congress the most is the necessity of 60 votes to pass the necessary legislation. This is because governments have to overcome the filibuster, where Congresspeople can stall legislation if it does not have the required 60 votes to overcome it.
During Barack Obama’s first term as president, the Democrat party had 60 seats in the Senate at two points, meaning they could overcome the filibuster and pass any legislation that came their way, provided all Dems voted in favour. However, no significant gun restriction laws were passed during the Obama administration. This included restrictions on expanded background checks, restrictions for those on terrorism watchlists and more. For such a strong legislative position, no significant advances were made.
Another problem that Democrats have when trying to curtail the availabity of firearms is the gun lobby. Headed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the gun lobby does everything it can to support gun advocates in Congress. Officially, the organisation spends around $3 million a year to influence gun policy in the US, while the sums it spends on Political Action Committees (PACs) are thought to be much larger and harder to track. The Brady organisation, a gun restriction group, has a measure of all the money senators are receiving from the NRA with many receiving upwards of a million dollars.
According to Open Secrets, a group which tracks the flow of political money in America, in 2019 to 2020 gun rights PACs gave Republican candidates $1,763,280, while they gave Democrats just over $33,000. With organisations with as much political weight supporting the Republican party, it makes it near impossible for the Senate to agree to further restrictions on weapons.
What does the constitution say?
Critics of gun control legislation site the second amendment to the constitution, the right to bear arms, as the foundation for their beliefs surrounding firearms. The constitution 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.”
There have been long-standing restrictions to gun ownership, such as prohibiting the sales of weapons to the mentally ill or criminals. And the majority of voters support universal background checks and have done for years, according to Gallup polling. 52 percent support and 11 percent oppose stricter rules for getting weapons. In the most recent school shooting in Texas, the killer could purchase his weaponry with little to no difficulty.
While the constitution stands, Americans have proven they want more restrictions on weapons. However, with difficult hurdles to get over in Congress, let alone the money pumped into supporting rights for firearm owners, it could be some time before real change is made.