Gun violence has been an issue in the United States for many years. In this article of the ‘Violence in Education’ series, Rebecca Thorning Wine contextualises American attitudes towards gun control in schools and the weak legislation surrounding the issue.
The Education Under Attack report has explored violence in schools throughout various nations and focused on ‘development issues’. Yet in the 21st century, the US is still embarrassingly stuck with arcane gun laws. Out of 82 worldwide mass and school shootings since 1996, 64 of them have occurred in the US.
The second Amendment of the US constitution, states that “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”. The country is therefore polarised between those who believe in gun control, and those who believe that it is their birth right as an American to unrestricted firearm ownership led by an organisation with a war chest so large that Congressmen tremble in their seats.
In 2012, an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut sparked a debate in the US about gun control. 20 children and 6 teachers were killed during the incident. Gun advocates argued that teachers should begin carrying guns, in order to prevent more gun deaths in schools. Oklahoma Senator, Ralph Shortey who argued in favour of this policy, stated that in the rare situation of a school shoot-out, it would be better if the teacher was prepared and that “if we can’t trust a teacher with a gun, why should we even trust a teacher with our kids”.
A week ago, at a high school just outside of Pittsburgh, a 16 year-old sophomore went on a stabbing spree harming 19 students, and one security guard. This re-ignited the gun control debate. Proponents of the right to own guns have used this incident as ammunition for the argument that any weapon is dangerous, and that firearms should not be singled out and regulated. However, gun control supporters argue that if the student was wielding a gun, the 19 students could have died instead of being injured.
Guns and Deaths in the US
In 2013, two New York City cardiologists conducted a study that found that there are 88 guns per 100 people in the US, and 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000, which is more than any of the other 27 developed countries they studied. This begs the question: how can gun enthusiasts claim that more guns lead to fewer deaths? In fact, another study peer-reviewed in the American Journal of Public Health that was released in 2013, found just the opposite: widespread gun ownership leads to widespread gun violence. The authors had found that “for each one percentage point increase in proportion of household gun ownership, firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9 per cent”.
Gun Control vs. the NRA
The National Rifle Association (NRA), a non-profit organization founded in 1871 that promotes gun ownership rights, is considered one of the most influential lobbying groups by lawmakers and congressional staffers, according to FORTUNE magazine. In fact, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer, has said about the organisation that:
“Congress is literally afraid to take on the National Rifle Association because they know that if they make any kind of statement [that] even suggests some sort of limits on gun control, the NRA is going to pour, literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars in a campaign to defeat them.”
According to a Guardian article in 2013 there were 13 ways that the NRA weakened gun control laws. The more extreme of the 13 was to oppose legislation that would prohibit the sale of guns to people on the federal government’s terrorist watch list.
Despite White House efforts to strengthen gun control in the wake of the Newtown elementary school massacre, the republican controlled House piloted by the NRA and an faulty belief in second amendment rights, failed to even pass some of the most diluted gun control legislation.
This, as much as ‘development’ issues of violence in education mentioned in this years report, should be on top of the US – and global – agenda in discussions on the future safeguarding of school children.