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Why is the country having such a hard time drawing gun laws?

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EDIT of June 3, 2022: Joe Biden called this Thursday, June 2, the American Congress to find a way to restrict the sales of assault rifles and castigated the elected Republicans who oppose it. While gun killings have followed one another since mid-May in the United States, [19 enfants et deux enseignantes ont été tués dans une école du Texas]the editorial staff offers you to reread this article by Marie de Fournas explaining why the country has so much trouble legislating on the sale of arms.

This Wednesday, three people died in the United States. Two in Virginia and the third in Minnesota. The common point between these tragedies that occurred more than 2,000 kilometers from each other is that these security guards and this student were shot and killed in schools. As always, these tragic events revive the endless and hopeless debates on firearms in the United States. But, concretely, where is the country on this thorny question?

Where are the numbers on firearms in the United States?

If we remove the suicides, the number of deaths by firearm is particularly impressive across the Atlantic. “There were 20,726 firearm deaths in 2021”, assures the jurist specializing in the United States, Anne Deysine, professor emeritus at the University of Paris-Nanterre. This is more than in 2020, the year during which the 20,000 mark had not been reached, when it already recorded a 25% increase compared to the previous year. “The numbers have increased during the pandemic, but vary by city and state,” analyzes the author of the book. America and Democracy.

Another figure illustrating this upward trend: “nationally, between January 2019 and April 2021, there were 17.5 million new buyers”, adds Anne Deysine. But this number is probably higher: there are the official data from the shops and then there are the arms fairs, of which the Americans are very fond. “It’s everywhere, all the time. We sell new or second-hand weapons there, without traceability, without asking anything from the buyers, unlike an armory where you have to fill out a questionnaire and give your identity document, ”reports Jean-Eric Branaa, lecturer at the University of Assas on American society and politics. Whether Shannon Wattsthe founder of the organization Moms Demand Actionwhich campaigns for a stricter framework for arms sales, assures that there are today “more than 400 million weapons in the hands of American civilians”, it is actually impossible to know their exact number in circulation .

What about gun control?

“There has been a return to the question of firearms for ten years. It was exacerbated under Donald Trump”, notes Jean-Eric Branaa, author of Trumpland: Portrait of an America Divided. Voices have often been raised and heard in the wake of shocking gun killings. We remember in 2018 the movement known on Twitter under the hashtag #NeverAgain, which appeared after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. On February 14, 2018, a former student fired an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, killing 17 people and injuring fifteen others. “There are frequent hashtags that emerge, we also saw a lot of #momsagainstgun (moms against guns) but that does not lead to big changes. It only convinces the convinced, ”says the US specialist.

Things are moving all the same, but rather at the local level. For example, weapons made with 3D printers have been banned by many states, counties and cities. “It’s madness right now in the United States and these are weapons that are untraceable,” reassures Jean-Eric Branaa. At the national level, Joe Biden rightly assured last April that he intended to fight against these so-called “phantom” weapons because they do not have a serial number. A month earlier, he had asked Congress, the ban on the sale of assault rifles and high capacity magazines. “It is a law that he had already succeeded in having adopted in 2004 when he was a senator. For ten years, their sale was banned in the United States, but in 2014, this law was not renewed,” recalls Jean-Eric Branaa.

Why is it stuck?

The demands of Democratic President Joe Biden to Congress are likely to find a dead letter. For a law to pass, it takes 60 votes. “The Senate is made up of 50/50 Democrats and Republicans. Today the tensions between the two parties are at their highest. If one says red, the other says blue. There is not even any more debate, ”laments Jean-Eric Branaa.

Moreover, if the Republicans are for the most part pro-guns, there are also sympathizers among the Democrats. “No elected official wants to take the risk of declaring himself in favor of a law limiting the carrying of weapons or even prohibiting weapons of war because of the strike force of the lobby”, justifies Anne Deysine. The largest of them: the NRA, an association of hunters which in the 1980s became an association for the defense of the carrying of arms. The latter finances the careers of political figures who then go in their direction. “In 2016, the NRA financed the campaign of Donald Trump who then defended this right in an absolute way”, notes Jean-Eric Branaa.

Because the fact of having a weapon is indeed a right in the United States and not least since it is part of the Constitution (which it applies to the whole territory). The Second Amendment guarantees the right of every American citizen to possess weapons. A point respected to the letter by the Supreme Court when it is called upon to give its opinion. The judges of this highest judicial power “have always been in the direction of leaving as much freedom as possible”, comments the expert. This is how under President Bill Clinton, the Brady law which imposed to come and recover a weapon two days after its purchase in order to avoid acts under the influence of madness had not passed. Even today, in a country where individual freedom takes precedence over the collective, the Supreme Court is often the “crash test” for all laws attempting to regulate the carrying of arms.

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