The Valentine’s Day massacre in Florida was the eighteenth school shooting of the year – claiming at least 17 lives. This unsurprisingly reignited the debate of gun control in the USA, and while many see these heinous acts as possible catalysts for gun law reform, the events of Valentine’s Day will do nothing in the form of speeding up gun-related policy.
Almost half of mass shooting cases have involved a shooter who had been ‘red-flagged’ (i.e. someone who has a history of violence or mental health problems), as was the case with Omar Mateen – the shooter responsible for the Orlando shootings in 2016. Despite the logical assumption that lethal weapons must not be easily accessible, there are only four states with restrictions on the purchase of firearms: California, Connecticut, Indiana and Washington. Apart from Indiana, the mentioned states are all within the fifteenth percentile for lowest gun-related deaths. Generally, the states with the tightest gun-purchasing restrictions have the least gun related deaths.
The above facts are not new and is common knowledge even amongst the most ardent supporters of ‘gun rights’. These people are aware of the dangers of guns but often cite the Second Amendment to the Constitution – the protection of the right to bear arms.
Republicans also echo the same arguments as most of the gun-rights ‘activists’, probably not through ideological conviction but through their reliance on National Rifle Association (NRA) donations: the anti-gun-restriction NRA donated $50.2 million to the Republican Party during the 2016 election. The Republicans in Congress will blindly oppose even the most moderate gun-control policies – as they did in February 2017 when they repealed an Obama-era executive order which ensured background checks would be taken on those wishing to purchase guns.
It is not hard to see why Republicans are so religiously against gun-control measures, as the NRA support for Congressional Republicans during elections tends to end in a victory for the Great Old Party (GOP). Of all the state races the NRA poured funds into, only the Nevada race was unsuccessful.
The resolution to gun violence in America is not just a case of debating the pros and cons of gun control but a question of fixing the crooked patronage system which benefits the mere interest group and political party, as is the case with the NRA and Republican Party. With the GOP in control of both houses in Congress, and increasing role of interest groups funding electoral campaigns, gun reform is further away than ever.
Donald Trump once again displayed his talent for causing controversy with his criticism of the parents of Captain Humayun Khan, an American Muslim soldier who was killed in action during the Iraq War in 2004. His comments once again called into question the Republican candidate’s attitude toward the issue of racial relations. However, despite the shock that his remarks have caused, the worrying prospect that such behaviour may become the norm in future US presidential elections cannot be ignored.
Aside from the remorseless and uncaring manner of his comments, Trump’s criticism of Khan’s bereaved parents was unsettling because it showed that Khan had failed to win Trump’s respect despite sacrificing his life for his country. The link between Khan’s Islamic background, Trump’s comments and the hard line stance that he has taken over the issue of Islam in America is clear. The mere thought that these comments were racially motivated is enough for eerie historical comparisons to be made between Captain Khan and African-American soldiers who fought for the US during both World Wars, but returned home to experience the same racism, bigotry and violence that they had always faced.
What is also of considerable concern is the legacy that Trump’s success may leave. He has actively caused controversy to stir up more support amongst his anti-establishmentarian followers. It is unlikely that this anti-establishment feeling will subside anytime soon. It has been caused by escalating social tensions over sensitive issues such as race, immigration and gun control, which has been exacerbated by increasing instances of violence over these areas. The recent shootings in Dallas and Orlando to name but two examples. These tensions will take a long time to reconcile. The prospect of another candidate like Trump, who seeks to use this tension to their benefit emerging again in the future is realistic.
The notion that the sort of rhetoric directed toward Captain Khan’s family could consequently become the norm in US elections is disturbing. Finding a way to reconcile the social and political tension that helped give rise to it will be the greatest domestic challenge faced by the White House and Congress over the coming years. Unless genuine bi-partisan agreements and compromises are reached over the contentious issues plaguing US society, something which both major parties and the White House have failed to do during the Obama administration, we could very see this election campaign repeat itself soon.
This month Barack Obama visits the UK possibly for the last time as President. During this visit he is expected to publicly announce his support for Britain staying in the EU. This has been widely briefed and has drawn a mixed reaction from campaigners on both sides of the debate. Figures such as William Hague and Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond have openly stated they think Obama is well within his rights to share his opinion, but advocates of Brexit strongly disagree.
Boris Johnson has accused Obama of ‘hypocrisy’ and UKIP leader Nigel Farage called him ‘the most anti-British President in US history’. A letter organised by former Defence Secretary Liam Fox advising Obama to stay out of the debate has gained the support of over 100 MPs. The letter says “It has long been the established practice not to interfere in the domestic political affairs of our allies and we hope that this will continue.” However not all are worried by Obama’s involvement. For instance Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg rates Obama as a failed President and believes his stance would actually help the Brexit cause.
According to the polls this is not a view shared by the British public. A poll from Pew Research in June 2015 found 76% of British voters trusted him ‘to do the right thing regarding world affairs’ and an older poll conducted by YouGov in September 2014 gave Obama a net approval rating of + 49 in the UK. For any politician, these numbers are hugely impressive and they indicate Obama is both liked and trusted in this country.
Barack Obama brings an element of stardust with him whenever he visits this country. He is well-respected and voters listen to him when he talks. If and when Obama chooses to involve himself with this debate, he is likely to have an impact. With a significant proportion of the electorate still undecided, Obama could convert a number of voters to the ‘Remain’ cause. The debate will continue over whether he should get involved, but if he does speak-out then it will be significant and important and may be a game-changer.