Analysis: Another mass shooting underscores America’s persistent gun control divide

America’s shameful tradition of gun violence turned ugly again Tuesday night at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia.

At least six people were killed at the store, with four other victims, according to local officials in nearby hospitals.

This follows a shooting at the University of Virginia that killed three people less than two weeks ago and, more recently, a shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs that killed five.

It’s hard not to view each incident as just another result of America’s polarized gun debate.

Many Americans consider their right to bear arms, enshrined in the US Constitution, to be sacrosanct. But others say the right threatens another: the right to life.

Each shootout seems to anchor everyone’s respective beliefs.

Watch Glenn Youngkin closely

In an all too familiar cycle, a shooting will prompt some to push for more gun control and others to push for less gun regulation. A tense debate ensues before the issue disappears from the national conversation.

Then another shootout ensues – and we start the cycle over.

President Joe Biden called for congressional action again on Wednesday, but the reality of a divided Congress comes in January makes this unlikely.

“This year I signed the most significant gun reform in a generation, but that’s not nearly enough. We need to take bigger action,” the president said in a statement.

The more interesting political reaction to watch is Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has been touted by some future power player in Republican politics.

“Our hearts are breaking with the Chesapeake community this morning. I will remain in touch with law enforcement officers throughout the morning and have made all resources available as this investigation progresses. Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities,” Youngkin tweeted Wednesday morning.

His message is reminiscent of his response to the University of Virginia shooting. “I know that you can’t say anything, can’t do anything be done to bring them some kind of comfort today. And so I think this is a moment for us to come together to support them, to pray for them, to recognize that this is a chance as a community to come together, to mourn and to support them. It’s just horrific, there’s no other way to describe it,” Youngkin said a temporary memorial at the school.

On Thanksgiving, Youngkin also asked about his condition in a tweet to “lift up in prayer” the families of those killed in the mass shootings.

In his replies, heartfelt as they are, there is no mention of weapons.

If Youngkin is indeed the future “Unifier” of the Republican Party, it doesn’t look like that will extend to gun control.

More guns, more gun violence

According to a January study, there is a direct link in states with weaker gun laws and higher rates of gun fatalities, including homicides, suicides and accidental killings published by Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit organization focused on gun violence prevention.

But the political debate about gun control in America is often divorced from the data.

Consider this: As of November 22 of this year, there have been at least 607 mass shootings. defined as one in which at least four people are shot. That’s just behind the 638 mass shootings in the country at this point last year — the worst year on record for the nonprofit The Gun Violence Archive began tracking them in 2014. In 2021 there were a total of 690 mass shootings.

The United States is likely to soon surpass the 2020 total of 610 mass shootings, with more than a month left until 2022.

What’s even worse is the direction the data is trending. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the firearm homicide rate was 8.3% higher in 2021 than it was in 2020. The firearm suicide rate among people ages 10 and older also increased by 8.3% from 2020 to 2021. And the percentage of homicides attributed to gun injuries rose from 79% in 2020 to 81% in 2021, the highest percentage in more than 50 years.

It certainly doesn’t have to be like this. Countries that have introduced laws to reduce gun-related deaths have achieved significant change, according to an earlier, in-depth CNN analysis:

Australia. Less than two weeks after Australia’s worst mass shooting, the federal government introduced a new program that banned automatic rifles and shotguns and unified the licensing and registration of gun owners across the country. Over the next 10 years, gun deaths in Australia fell by more than 50%. A 2010 study found that the government’s 1997 buyback program — part of the overall reform — resulted in an average 74% decrease in firearm suicide rates over the following five years.

South Africa. Gun-related deaths have almost halved in 10 years after a new gun law, the Firearms Control Act 2000, came into force in July 2004. The new laws made it much harder to get a gun.

New Zealand. Gun laws were quickly changed after the 2019 Christchurch Mosque shootings. Just 24 hours after the attack that killed 51 people, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a change in the law. Less than a month later, New Zealand’s parliament voted almost unanimously to amend the country’s gun laws, banning all military-style semi-automatic weapons.

Great Britain. (The country tightened its gun laws and banned most private handgun ownership after a mass shooting in 1996, a move that caused firearm deaths to fall by almost a quarter in a decade.

But America’s relationship with guns is unique, and our gun culture is a global outlier. For now, the deadly cycle of violence appears to be continuing.

What has the federal government done?

As a reminder, Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law in June after the House and Senate approved the measure. The package represents the most significant federal legislation to combat gun violence since the expired 10-year assault weapons ban in 1994.

“God willing, it will save a lot of lives,” Biden said at the White House as he signed the law.

The package includes $750 million to help states implement and operate crisis intervention programs that can be used to administer warning signal programs as well as other crisis intervention programs such as mental health, drug courts, and veterans’ courts.

The red flag laws approved by the federal action are also known as extreme risk protection laws. They allow courts to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are believed to pose a danger to themselves or others.

The legislation encourages states to include juvenile files in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which would provide a broader background check for people between the ages of 18 and 21 looking to purchase guns.

It also requires more people who sell guns as their primary source of income to register as state-licensed gun dealers, who must complete background checks before selling a gun to anyone.

The law bans guns from anyone convicted of a crime of domestic violence who has an “ongoing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.” However, the law allows people convicted of domestic violence offenses to have their gun rights restored after five years if they have committed no other crimes.

On Thursday, Biden told reporters he would work with Congress “to try to get rid of offensive weapons.”

When asked if he would try to do that during the lame duck session, he said: “I will do it any time – I have to make that assessment as soon as I step in and start counting the votes.”

Congress returns next week with a jam-packed to-do list in the lame duck session, mostly focused on the much-needed government finance bill, as well as other priorities. But any gun legislation measure — particularly the ban on assault weapons repeatedly called for by Biden — doesn’t have the votes to pass. And the reality of a divided Congress in next year’s session makes it highly unlikely that anything will happen in the next two years.



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