In a move that politics enthusiasts such as myself thought might never happen, recently US President Barack Obama introduced new gun control reforms. But is it a case of too little, too late?
Second Amendment rights
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, the nation’s highest governing document, provides US citizens the right to “bear arms.” However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that existing gun regulation is ineffective.
The BBC recently compared gun deaths in the US and the UK, which has some of the tightest gun regulations in the world. Statistics show that during 2012, the most recent year for comparable data, the number of gun-related murders in the US, per capita, measured 2.9% per 100,000 people. This was 30 times higher than the UK, where 0.2% of deaths per 100,000 people were related to gun violence.
This data also suggests that there were a staggering 372 mass shootings, defined as a single shooting which kills four or more people, in the US during 2015. Responding to recent incidents such as the mass shootings in Oregon and San Bernardino, California, President Obama has issued an ‘executive order’ (a rule issued by the President to a nation’s executive branch of government which must be enforced by law), outlining new gun reforms.
These new rules are designed to prevent dangerous individuals e.g. those who commit mass shootings, from buying guns. They include measures to strengthen the background checks which are used to bar dangerous people from acquiring guns. There are number of ‘loopholes’ in current legislation which allow people to bypass these checks and purchase firearms on the internet, at ‘gun shows’ and through other means. View a summary of the executive order here.
Slow to act
I commend Obama for issuing this order, but I also suggest that he’s waited far too long. He’s had seven years to introduce these measures and despite major incidents such as the Sandy Hook mass shooting in Connecticut during 2012, he waited until 2015 to act.
I understand why; the National Rifle Association (NRA), the US’ most powerful gun lobby group, has long opposed such measures. Obama’s rivals the Republican Party hold the same position and have controlled at least one House of the US Congress (the country’s legislative body) since 2010, so he was never going to do it that way.
But Obama and his Democratic Party hold the opposing position, they’ve long said they believe gun regulation should be tightened. The President can issue an executive order (as he just has done) without the approval of Congress. So with the problem getting worse by the day, and the means to at least somewhat address it through an executive order, why did Obama wait so long to act?
Explaining away excuses
I’m not a fly on the wall in the White House, I don’t know why Obama waited so long. If I had to guess I would say it was for reasons of political expediency – the NRA, who are largely funded by gun manufacturers by the way, really are a very powerful lobbying group. He probably didn’t want to provoke them into talking out against him before his (successful) re-election bid in 2012. But that still doesn’t explain why he didn’t enact this executive order once he was re-elected.
Whatever the excuse, in my opinion waiting until the last year of your Presidency to introduce tighter gun control reform in the US really is a case of acting too little, too late. If you have the power to at least try to prevent the occurrence of more mass shootings you should use it, and Obama should have used it much earlier.