On April 20th, 1999, all major news networks in the United States honed in on Littleton, Colorado, where Columbine High School was in the midst of a police siege. For hours, the country hung on the edge of its collective seats, listening to phone calls from terrified students inside, waiting for the police to finally save the students. For hours the country believed itself to be bearing witness to an active shooting situation, when in reality the shooters lay dead in the library. Since that awful day, there have been over 270 school shootings in the US, 141 people have been killed, and 50 successful or attempted mass murders have taken place with schools as the target. These figures detailing deaths related to gun violence, horrific on their own, do not include assaults, suicides, or homicides involving firearms.
In 1993, Congress passed a revisionary bill, the Brady Bill, in order to amend the Gun Control Act of 1968. This bill, named for the White House Press Secretary killed in the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, implemented federal background checks for citizens who wished to purchase firearms, along with a five-day waiting period before the owner can take possession. However, critics believe the law did not go far enough because the “gun show” loophole.
The gun show loophole was a way around federal background checks because private gun dealers do not need to be licensed to sell firearms, and they were not required to run background checks on customers. After the San Bernardino shootings, President Obama ordered an executive action to improve gun control measures in this country. In order to narrow the gun control loophole, Obama ordered all gun distributors, private or otherwise, to register with the federal government and obtain a license to deal firearms, therefore requiring even buyers purchasing privately to undergo the background checks. However, an executive action is not as effective as legislation. Though this action narrowed the loopholes, the order can still be repealed, depending on Obama’s successor in the White House.
While the executive order closed one loophole, another still exists. A year after the Brady Bill was signed, the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act was passed, and it banned civilian use of semi-automatic firearms in addition to banning access to high capacity magazines. However, this ban expired in 2004 and assault weapons are now legalized for civilian use.
The United States is not the only national to experience large scale gun violence. On April 28, 1996, Australia experienced the worst mass murder in its history: a man opened fire on tourists in Port Arthur, killed 35 people, and wounded 23. Only 12 days later, the government instituted stringent gun control measures, featuring a state-sponsored buyback of nearly 600,000 assault weapons, prohibition of private sales, gun registration, and a requirement that all customers provide a “genuine reason” as to why they need a gun—and self defense was not a genuine reason. Between 1995 and 2006, rates of homicide by firearm decreased by 59% and suicide by firearm by 65%, and the number of successful home invasions did not increase, proving that civilian gun ownership was not a deterrent. Most importantly, since these measures were put in place, there has not been a single mass murder in all of Australia, in contrast with the eleven in the decade before Port Arthur.
Similarly, Japan has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world; nearly every type of gun is banned to the public, except for air rifles and shotguns—and even those are incredibly difficult to obtain. After first taking a class on gun use, passing a test on gun use, and passing a shooting range test, the gun owner must then pass a mental health test, a drug test, and a rigorous background check. Citizens must also have their gun inspected by the police every year and retake the exam every three years. In 2013, only 6 people were killed by a firearm in Japan. Compared with over 30,000 in the US that same year.