October 6, 2017
Contrary to how it seems amid regular mass shootings in the news, most Americans do not own a gun. A survey by the Pew Research Center earlier this year saw 30 percent of American adults respond that they own a gun. Meanwhile, public opinion is much more anti-gun than the gun laws. About 89 percent of people support measures to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns and 84 percent would like to ban selling guns to people on airline no-fly lists. Both of these things are technically still legal, so a clinically diagnosed psychopath terrorist who is banned from getting on an airline can technically still purchase a gun — and not necessarily just one.
How does it happen in a democratic society that public opinion and the law are so far apart? Lobbying and propaganda.
The American political system, and its reliance on money, is particularly vulnerable to organized groups with strong opinions on a single issue. When it comes to guns this is the National Rifle Association (NRA), but there are others who take advantage too — tobacco companies used to, the current opiate drug epidemic results from pharmaceutical company lobbying in years past and climate change denial is the result of oil companies. More so than actual gun owners — whose views are actually more moderate than you might think — the NRA has essentially convinced enough politicians to vote against any rules limiting guns. That is how the insane “bump stock” device (used in the recent Las Vegas shooting), which allows a semi-automatic gun to be transformed into an automatic weapon, is legal.
By spending money to support political candidates who would loosen regulations on guns and spending money to defeat candidates who would support more regulations, the NRA is able to have a highly disproportionate influence on policies. Gun companies join in too, either by donating to candidates directly or to the NRA. One is tempted to call this corruption, but it is for the most part legal.
Meanwhile, propaganda convinces Americans that they are in danger even though crime rates and other measures have almost all been in consistent decline since the 1970s. About 67 percent of gun owners say they own a gun for protection. This sense of fear starts young, and one study at the University of Oxford found that the average American child today shows higher levels of anxiety than the average psychiatric patient from the 1950s.
It also comes by advertising the Second Amendment of the Constitution (the Right to Bear Arms) which was designed in the 18th century to allow private citizens to defend themselves if the King of England decided to invade. In doing this gun zealots argue there is something deeply American about owning weapons. About 74 percent of gun owners feel gun ownership is “essential to their sense of freedom,” according to Pew.
There is no doubt a gun problem in the United States, but also huge a problem with how politics are organized.