The deep-rooted American gun culture, deep-seated American social contradictions, racial discrimination, political polarization, and interest groups, along with other factors, all make it challenging to solve the problem of gun control, intensifying the gun violence in the United States. Countless shooting tragedies continue to repeat, which makes the people feel powerless and hopeless, aggravating the sense of turmoil in American society.
Keywords: American gun culture, violence
In the first month of 2023, several mass shootings occurred in the United States, which attracted widespread attention from the United States and international public opinion. It is the highest number of mass shootings in the United States in the past five years, and while feeling sadness, shock, and anger, the voice of the American people calling for gun control is getting stronger and stronger. Furthermore, with the anniversary of the 32nd “Black History Month” in the United States and the anniversary of the shooting death of Malcolm X, the African American human rights activist, in February, the shadow of racial conflict in the U.S. has once again become prominent, causing panic among the American people.
I. Prominent Presence of Gun Violence in the United States
(1) The root cause of the proliferation of guns in the United States. During the American colonial period, gun ownership was within expectation when it was necessary to protect oneself and one’s family from wild animals and indigenous peoples. After the Revolutionary War, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly stipulated that citizens had the right to own and use guns, immensely stimulating the American gun industry. In the late 19th century, the American gun industry developed rapidly, and gun manufacturers and sellers came into being. In the early 20th century, American society and politics underwent dramatic changes, with them came calls for gun control. In 1934, the United States passed its first gun control law, the National Firearms Act, but it was aborted before it could be implemented. Finally, in 1968, the United States passed the Gun Control Act, prohibiting citizens from buying, selling, and possessing certain firearms. Since then, it has made no substantial progress despite repeated calls for a gun ban. In 2022, the United States passed the so-called “most important gun legislation in 30 years”, but ironically, just two hours before the passage of this bill, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people are allowed to hide and carry guns outside, severely limiting the ability of state and local governments to regulate firearms, further sowing the seeds for the proliferation of guns in the United States.
(2) The proliferation of firearms has become a hotbed of violent incidents. Governments at all levels in the United States have connived at and even encouraged civilian gun ownership without a bottom line, resulting in the proliferation of guns and becoming a “cancer” that is difficult to remove in American society. According to data from the “Gun Violence Archive” in the United States, with only 4.2% of the world’s population in the United States, the American people own 46% of the world’s civilian guns, the number of firearms is as many as 400 million, more than one gun per capita. The number of deaths from shootings rose from 43,643 in 2020 to 44,816 in 2021. In 2022, the United States had 647 mass shootings and 44,186 deaths. In January 2023 alone, 52 mass shootings in the United States involved killing and injuring at least four people. Nearly 3,500 people died in gun-related incidents, and shootings wounded more than 2,700 people.
The excessive commercialization of guns and the widespread possession of firearms by the private sector are like a ticking time bomb that threatens the peace of American society all the time. Between 2000 and 2020, U.S. firearms manufacturers produced more than 139 million firearms for the commercial market, with 11.3 million guns out on the market in 2020 alone, an increase of 187% over the number manufactured in 2000 and 23 million guns sold. More than 36 million guns were sold nationwide in 2021 and 2022, and more and more “ghost guns” (privately manufactured firearms without serial numbers) are being used to commit crimes. The American gun culture has its deep roots in “using guns to control guns, imposing violence to stop the violence,” and other views are prevalent. The government has repeatedly lowered the age of legal gun ownership again and again so that the risk of shooting incidents has increased, and even caused some parents to try to protect their children from guns by encouraging them to carry guns. And there have been “ridiculous incidents” of young children carrying guns to school.
(3) Social conflicts have intensified into the cause of a surge in gun violence. In recent years, the political division in the United States has widened. The failure of social governance has led to a widening gap between the rich and the poor and growing class antagonism. As a result, millions of people have lost their jobs and medical care, racist ideas have grown, and the frequency of hate crimes and extreme incidents has increased significantly. In 2020, after Floyd, an African-American man, was “kneeled to death” by white policemen, it triggered the “Black Lives Matter” movement that swept the United States, revealing the scars of long-standing racial discrimination in the United States were once again. Black Americans and minorities have long suffered from “institutional discrimination,” and there is a “security dilemma” with the white rightists. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. government has aggressively smeared China on the issue of tracing the origin of the Covid-19 virus, making Asian Americans more and more frequent victims of violent attacks. At the same time, racist extremist ideas such as “white supremacy” have spread, tearing society apart, and hate crimes have surged, resulting in frequent shootings due to racial discrimination in the United States. Racially motivated mass shootings like the shooting and killing of 10 African Americans in New York State on May 14, 2022, are not rare.
(4) Money kidnapping politics has become an obstacle to gun control. According to an April 2022 U.S. poll, 76 % of Americans believe gun violence has become a “very serious or somewhat serious problem” facing the United States. In addition, 34% of respondents said limiting gun ownership should be a top priority for Congress. However, due to the political polarization, social division, and financial interests related to gun sales in the United States, the United States has not passed any vital gun control legislation in the past 20 years. According to the Firearms Industry Trade Association, the size of the U.S. gun and ammunition industry reached $70.5 billion in 2021, and 5.4 million new gun owners were added in 2022. The expansive gun industry in the United States has formed gun interest groups, including the National Rifle Association, to use the money to promote anti-gun control views such as “shootings are man-made disasters rather than gun disasters” to society, influence American voters, and consolidate gun ownership culture. On the other hand, through donating political funds and lobbying, politicians who oppose gun control are supported to come to power, forming a close interest exchange relationship. Between 1998 and 2020, U.S. anti-gun control groups, including the National Rifle Association, spent more than $170 million lobbying politicians and swaying congressional legislation. The National Rifle Association, which has more than 5 million members, spent more than $29 million on federal elections in 2020 alone. The tragedy of gun shootings continues to repeat in the United States, and most Americans call on the government to take measures to prevent the disaster from happening again. However, the U.S. government’s gun control actions are always “all talk with no action.” It is rooted in the fact that pro-gun interest groups have been deeply bound to U.S. party politics and electoral politics for years, forming a deep-rooted interest network.
II. Impact of Gun Violence in the United States
(1) The public security situation continues to deteriorate, and gun violence crimes are increasingly rampant, resulting in social turmoil. In recent years, many guns have been circulated among the American people, and it is relatively easy for anyone to obtain them. So there are always guns involved in different types of conflicts. Small quarrels will escalate into homicide, robbery, theft, drugs, and gang crimes if firearms are involved. They will further evolve into murder cases and terrorist attacks, making society unstable. For example, on July 10, 2022, at least 19 children and two teachers were killed in the vicious shooting at Robb Elementary School in Yuvaldi, Texas. On the first day of 2023, 6 mass shootings occurred in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and other states in the United States. In the first month of 2023, there were seven egregious shootings in California alone.
(2) Racial conflicts continue to escalate. Racism has a deep soil for survival in the United States, and the rise of white supremacy and extreme rightism has intensified in recent years. In the 32 years from 1990 to 2021, more than 1.11 million people died in gun-related incidents in the United States, with ethnic minorities such as African Americans having the highest probability of being shot dead, roughly 20 deaths from gun violence per 100,000 people. In recent years, some politicians in the United States have condoned white supremacist groups and publicly incited racial antagonism, allowing many racist remarks to spread in American society, further leading to a sharp rise in race-related gun violence. It has also exacerbated the soaring rate of black gun ownership. In recent years, the desire of African Americans and Hispanics to buy guns has been influential, with year-on-year increases of 58% and 46%, respectively, and the risk of fatality has also increased. Just at the beginning of Black History Month in the United States in February this year, the “inexcusably insensitive” lunch served at Nyack Middle School in the United States caused an uproar, and now the gunpowder of both black and white Americans may lead to large-scale violence.
(3) Serious economic losses in the insurance sector. In addition to the loss of life caused by gun violence, the U.S. insurance economy suffered a huge loss. According to official reports, the annual losses caused by gun violence in the United States are about 557 billion U.S. dollars (about 4,025.9 billion RMB), accounting for 2.6% of US GDP. For example, in recent years, gun violence among some American enterprises and employees has increased yearly, and enterprises have to bear the loss of income and production caused by gunshot wounds. The U.S. government and the victim’s employers must pay for it, and employers and their medical insurance companies must bear the corresponding financial burden. The survey found that in the United States, direct medical expenses incurred by gun injury survivors in the first year alone were as high as $30,000. The probability of gun injuries among employees and their families increased four times from 2007 to 2020. And the U.S. government spent $535 million a year on additional losses to private companies alone.
(4) School shootings continue to grow. In recent years, school shootings in the United States have been frequent. As a result, the number of hospitalized teenagers who have been shot has increased substantially. The probability of children and adolescents dying from guns is 15 times that of 31 other high-income countries combined. Moreover, gun-related injuries have become the “no.1 killer” of children and adolescents in the United States. In 2022, there were 302 school shootings in primary and secondary schools across the United States, with intentional and accidental shootings increasing by 46% and 21%, respectively, setting historical records. On May 24, 2022, 21 people were killed in a shooting at Rob Elementary School in Yuvaldi, southern Texas, United States, and the gunman was an 18-year-old student, the largest gun causalities in the United States in nearly a decade. According to the Washington Post, more than 311,000 children in the United States have experienced school gun violence since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. At the same time, the ubiquitous guns seriously endanger the mental health of teenagers, resulting in a surge in gun-related suicides among American teenagers. Some teenagers have even gone astray, becoming perpetrators of gun-related injuries.
(5) People are losing their sense of security. In 2022, a poll by the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago in the United States showed that 75% of Americans believe that gun violence is a “major problem,” and 80% say that gun violence is becoming increasingly severe. In addition, 21 percent of Americans say they, family, or friends have experienced gun violence in the past five years, and more than 40 percent fear they will be victims of it in the next five years. In 2019, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation surveyed that the death rate of gun violence in the United States was eight times that of Canada, 22 times that of the European Union, 23 times that of Australia, and nearly 100 times that of the United Kingdom. The proliferation of guns aggravates violent crimes, and the increase in crime rates forces the public to feel more necessary to own guns to protect themselves, thus forming a vicious circle. It results in the problem of gun violence in the United States becoming more and more intricate to solve. Therefore, people generally feel a lack of security, panic about gun violence soaring, and are less confident in the government’s social governance capabilities.
Guns are becoming increasingly widespread in the United States, bringing severe safety risks and increasing vicious criminal offenses. The frequent shooting tragedies and the continuous loss of innocent lives reflect a series of institutional shortcomings in the United States, such as the proliferation of gun violence, major social conflicts, and widening racial divisions. The United States has fallen into a vicious circle. In addition, the history of numerous shooting incidents proves that American society condones violence and hatred and lacks the will, ability, and action to solve problems, which in the end, aggravates the insecurity of the entire society. Chilling tragedies reveal the systematic violations of human rights in the United States. Like the Covid-19 pandemic, gun violence has become a specter of death hovering over the heads of the American people, threatening their lives and the safety of the American people at all times.