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Byline: Ayla Joseph

The United States once again finds itself embroiled in a controversial gun control debate following the recent mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The sole shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, entered the school premises in the morning carrying three guns, registered in his mother's name. By law, the guns were obtained legally. The shooter then proceeded to open fire on a class of first graders. First responders later confirmed that the class of 20 children was shot multiple times before the shooter exited the classroom and shot himself. In addition to the children, 7 adults were also gunned down. Though media reports originally floated the possibility of multiple shooters spread around the school campus, law enforcement officers later confirmed that Lanza was restricted to one area of the school, and used only a semi-automatic rifle to conduct what has been termed as "America's most horrific mass shooting."

In the U.S., guns may be bought and registered legally, however, their use is debatable. While purchasers have to undergo written tests, submit fingerprints, undergo background checks and submit letters of reference, unlike in Japan, the United States does not rigorously conduct medical and psychological examinations before clearing a citizen to purchase a gun. Again, this varies state to state. Gun control remains a controversial debate and some argue that since President Obama will not be seeking re-election, his fresh mandate will allow him to push certain policies more aggressively.

Whether it was an unprovoked attack on children that sent chills throughout civil society in America or whether this was simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gun control, the debate has erupted in full force. It is uncertain, though, whether any concrete measures in favor of gun control will take place.

In 1994, President Clinton managed to introduce gun control laws pertaining to certain semi-automatic rifles. Though no sweeping legislation by any chance, the move did, however, deal a strong blow to the National Rifle Association (NRA), the strongest and most influential gun lobby group in America. It was perhaps due to consequent discontent that the NRA voted heavily in favor of a Republican-run House and Senate. The ban lasted for 10 years, expiring in 2004 and since then has had gun control lobbyists trying their utmost to get it reinstated.

Vice President Joe Biden recently talked about the need to monitor arms selling shows, introduce more stringent measures to obtain licenses for guns and form special federal units to track arms dealership. However, according to Federal Law, U.S citizens are not prohibited from obtaining handguns for self-defense purposes. Reality, however, dictates otherwise and the rise in mass shootings over the past five years is illustrative of that fact. In 2011, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona and earlier this year a mass shooting occurred at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado as well as at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Previous incidents include the Fort Hood shooting (2009), the Virginia Tech massacre (2007) and the Columbine High School shooting (1999).

Following the Newtown shooting, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading gun control advocate, publicly announced, "It is time to pass an enforceable and effective assault weapons ban." Seizing the opportunity, Democrats on Capitol Hill were quick to introduce legislation to ban the weapons in late December. However, with a Republican-dominated Congress and the NRA's increasing influence, it is highly unlikely that any such move will succeed.

Public opinion does not favor a complete ban on assault rifles. In fact, the NRA reports a surge of 100,000 supporters following the Newtown shooting. The most troublesome incident immediately following the shooting occurred in Utah, when a sixth grader was caught with a gun while in school. Speaking to administrators, the boy and his parents argued that the child needed to be armed to defend himself, in case of a similar assault like in Newtown.

Official statistics reveal that as crime decreased, so did the public interest in gun control laws; in 1990, 78 percent favored stricter gun laws compared to only 44 percent between 2010 and 2012. However, a Gallup poll taken a week after the Newtown shooting found that 58 percent of Americans wanted gun laws to be stricter, as opposed to the 44 percent who said the same when polled a few months earlier.

Gun control laws have always been a bone of contention in American politics, often leading to nothing more than a deadlock and breakdown in talks between the Democratic and Republican parties. More than likely, enhanced security measures will be installed to monitor activities in public places but the ban on gun dealerships will not occur. As a result, fierce public opinion will gradually diminish and the problem will remain unaddressed till another mass shooting incident occurs and civil society activates itself momentarily, again.

Ayla Joseph is a freelance journalist based in New York, USA.
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Publication:South Asia
Date:Jan 31, 2013
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