Biden fighting a losing battle in US mass shootings

Americans are divided over whether restricting legal gun ownership would lead to fewer mass shootings

Satyen Mohapatra
Satyen Mohapatra

Biden Administration seems to be fighting a losing battle against the surge of gun violence in the US since the beginning of the pandemic despite spending millions to bring about a change.

Only yesterday you had four persons gunned down on a St Francis Hospital campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by a shooter who after committing the violent act shot himself.

Despite all its freedom and wealth, the US continues to remain the number one country known for mass killings. No other advanced country experiences mass shootings like the US.

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Some more known mass shootings which took a heavy toll being in recent times are –

May 14, 2022: A shooter killed ten black African-American shoppers and injured three others at the only Black-run grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

May 24, 2022: An 18-year-old shot dead 19 children and two teachers in  Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

August 3, 2019: A man killed 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.

February 14, 2018: A student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 students and educators.

October 1, 2017: A gunman opened fire at a Las Vegas Concert killing 58 persons

November 5, 2017: In Sutherland Springs Church, Texas, a  US Air Force officer opened fire at a Sunday service killing 25 devouts.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, killings the gunman shot and killed himself after shooting down four people.

It also was the second mass shooting this week in Oklahoma. A woman was killed Sunday and seven others were injured during an annual Memorial Day festival in Taft, a small town near Muskogee.

Law enforcement officers and first responders were lauded at Tulsa for responding to the situation swiftly and with bravery.

U.S. Senator  James Lankford said, “It is hard to process the anger that motivates someone to commit such violence, especially at a place that provides care and healing.”

Guns are deeply ingrained in American society and the nation’s political debates.

Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms and about a third of U.S. adults say they own a gun, according to research done by the Pew Research Center study.

It said President Joe Biden and other policymakers earlier this year proposed new restrictions on firearm access to address gun violence ranging from rising murder rates in some major cities to mass shootings.

As there is a lot of political controversy over restrictions on guns, it is interesting to note the result of gun ownership rates found in the Pew research. Its survey showed that going by political party affiliation 44% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they own a gun, compared with 20% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

Men are more likely than women to say they own a gun (39% vs. 22%). And 41% of adults living in rural areas report owning a firearm, compared with about 29% of those living in the suburbs and two in ten living in cities.

Personal protection tops the list of reasons why gun owners say they own a firearm.

Americans are divided over whether restricting legal gun ownership would lead to fewer mass shootings. Debates over the nation’s gun laws have often followed recent mass shootings. But Americans are split over whether legal changes would lead to fewer mass shootings.

About half of adults (49%) say there would be fewer mass shootings if it was harder for people to obtain guns legally, while about as many either say this would make no difference (42%) or that there would be more mass shootings (9%).

Effects of gun ownership on crime overall

The public is even more divided about the effects of gun ownership on crime overall. Around a third (34%) say that if more people owned guns, there would be more crime. The same percentage (34%) say there would be no difference in crime, while 31% say there would be less crime.

Rightfully the US government is giving equal importance to having stronger law enforcement with relevant changes in law and also investing to make communities stronger to address socio-economic issues leading to violence.

Policing, street outreach by credible messengers, hospital-based intervention, and youth programming have become important areas of intervention.

The government is giving funding to create economic opportunity with job training, expand after-school activities, provide stable housing, stop recidivism and help formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter their communities.

President Biden has made a  $300 million budget request to Congress envisaging a doubling the size of the Department of Justice’s COPS community policing grant program.

The US government also wants to step up and focus law enforcement efforts on violent offenders, stem the trafficking of illegal guns, and make real investments in communities to intervene in and prevent gun violence.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is USA’s top federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing gun laws.

The US government has attempted to always work with local law enforcement and community leaders to develop and implement data-driven and neighborhood-based efforts to prevent and fight violent crime. However, it is yet to make a noticeable difference to the growing spree of violence.

Ghost guns

One of the major problems facing the Biden government is to crack down on “ghost guns”.

People with a criminal bent of mind naturally prefer to use guns that are not traceable when they want to commit violent crimes.

These guys are all privately made guns (like the local katas found in India and used by criminals).

They are not serialized, and last year about 20,000 suspected ghost guns were recovered by US  law enforcement in criminal investigations. There is a ten times increase in the number of ghost guns found in  2016.

Lacking serial numbers law enforcement agencies can’t be able to track the gun found on crime scenes.

People are getting  “buy build shoot” kits that individuals can buy online or at a store without a background check and can readily assemble into a working firearm in as little as 30 minutes with the equipment they have at home.

This rule clarifies that these kits qualify as “firearms” under the Gun Control Act and that commercial manufacturers of such kits must therefore become licensed and include serial numbers on the kits’ frame or receiver, and commercial sellers of these kits must become federally licensed and run background checks before a sale – just like they have to do with other commercially-made firearms.

The US plans to have “ghost” guns already in circulation into serialized firearms. If an individual builds a firearm at home and then sells it to a pawnbroker or another federally licensed dealer, that dealer must put a serial number on the weapon before selling it to a customer.

This requirement will apply regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts, kits, or by 3D-printers.

In February 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative, which is training a national cadre of prosecutors and disseminating investigation and prosecution tools to help bring cases against those who use ghost guns to commit crimes.

Firearms with split receivers are subject to regulations requiring serial numbers and background checks when purchased from a licensed dealer, manufacturer, or importer.

Decades ago, ATF issued a regulation defining the “frame or receiver” of a firearm as the part that is regulated by the Gun Control Act – meaning that is the part that triggers federal serialization, background check, and other requirements. At that time, many firearms in the United States were single-framed firearms, like revolvers, that house key components in a single structure.

There was seen to be increasing popularity of firearms using split or multi-part receivers that house key components in multiple structures. Some courts interpreted the decades-old regulatory text in a way that, if broadly applied, could mean that as many as 90 percent of firearms in the United States today would not have a frame or receiver subject to federal regulation.

Now the regulatory definitions of “frame” and “receiver” are being changed to ensure that firearms using split or multi-part receivers continue to be covered by our common-sense gun laws.

Now rules are being framed requiring federally licensed firearms dealers to retain key records until they shut down their business or licensed activity previously, these dealers were permitted to destroy most records after 20 years.

ATF’s National Tracing Center, on average more than 1,300 firearms a year are untraceable because the federally licensed firearms dealer destroyed the relevant records that were more than 20 years old.

Background checks

The US government wants to bring in laws making it mandatory for background checks for all gun sales, ensure that no terrorist can buy a weapon in the United States, ban the sale and possession of un-serialized firearms — ghost guns, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and repeal gun manufacturers’ protection from liability.

A study by the National Institute of Justice into the Public Mass Shootings database of last more than 50 years in America( 1966-2019) has come out with interesting results.

  It says those persons who committed public mass shootings in the U.S. over the last half-century were commonly troubled by personal trauma before their shooting incidents, nearly always in a state of crisis at the time, and, in most cases, engaged in leaking their plans before opening fire.

Most were insiders of a targeted institution, such as an employee or students. Except for young school shooters who stole the guns from family members, most used legally obtained handguns in those shootings.

The Violence Project database aims to build a broader understanding on the part of the public, the justice system, and the research community of who mass shooters are and what motivates their decision to discharge firearms at multiple people.

As part of the project, researchers also separately interviewed persons in prison who had engaged in mass shootings, in part to look for shared traits.

The research examined an era of a marked increase in the number and deadly effects of mass shootings in the United States.

The project spanned mass shootings over more than 50 years, yet 20% of the 167 mass shootings in that period occurred in the last five years of the study period.

Death toll

The death toll has risen sharply, particularly in the last decade. In the 1970s, mass shootings claimed an average of eight lives per year. From 2010 to 2019, the end of the study period, the average was up to 51 deaths per year.

Suicidality was found to be a strong predictor of the perpetration of mass shootings. Of all mass shooters in The Violence Project database, 30% were suicidal before the shooting. An additional 39% were suicidal during the shooting. Those numbers were significantly higher for younger shooters, with K-12 students who engaged in mass shootings found to be suicidal in 92% of instances and college/university students who engaged in mass shootings suicidal 100% of the time.

In terms of past trauma, 31% of persons who perpetrated mass shootings were found to have experiences of severe childhood trauma, and over 80% were in crisis.

Trauma was a common element of the backgrounds of those committing mass shootings, both in the database and the qualitative studies.

 Early intervention through school-based services may be a key component of early prevention.

In public discourse, mass shootings are often blamed on mental illness but this research showed that only 10 percent suffered from psychosis.

The data show that many individuals who engage in mass shootings study past mass shooters — one in five (21.6%) studied other mass shooters, and many are radicalized online. The researchers recommended media literacy education as a means of helping people critically consume information and counter extremist propaganda that facilitates violence.

Of the 172 individuals who engaged in public mass shootings covered in the database, 97.7% were male. Those shooting were 52.3% White, 20.9% Black, 8.1% Latino, 6.4% Asian, 4.2% Middle Eastern, and 1.8% Native American.

Most individuals who perpetrated mass shootings had a prior criminal record (64.5%) and a history of violence (62.8%), including domestic violence (27.9%). And 28.5% had a military background. Most died on the scene of the public mass shooting, with 38.4% dying by their hand and 20.3% killed by law enforcement officers.

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