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An epidemic of gun violence reveals U.S. political decay
May 30,2022   By:CGTN
May 30, 2022 -- The mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 elementary school students and two teachers is abhorring, and should serve as a catalyst for change to U.S. gun policy. To the astonishment of many, three days later, less than 300 miles (483 kilometers) away in Houston, the National Rifle Association, the leading gun rights organization in the U.S., held its pompous Memorial Day rally, gathering crowds of fanatic gun supporters in a show of defiance. The juxtaposition of these two incidents is perplexingly ironic, revealing the long-term decay of U.S. politics.
 
Epidemic of gun violence
 
Gun violence has long been a bane in the American society, which has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 213 mass shootings have occurred till May 25 this year – leading to 242 deaths – including a grocery store mass shooting that killed 10 African Americans in Buffalo, N.Y. just 10 days before the Uvalde shooting. In fact, gun violence is becoming an epidemic in the United States. According to recently released data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun-related deaths are now the leading cause of death for American children.
 
Despite the horrific numbers, gun control reform has been in stalemate for decades, and the U.S. remains top in terms of gun ownership in the world. It is easy to attribute the conundrum to the American deep-seated gun culture, but public opinion polls indicate otherwise. A Morning Consult/Politico poll right before the school shooting showed that 59 percent of respondents supported stricter gun control laws. The pollster conducted a new poll after the school shooting, which showed that 88 percent "strongly" or "somewhat" support background checks on all gun sales, which is garnering bipartisan consensus. 
 
Despite sustained public opinion in favor of gun restrictions, politicians in Congress have repeatedly failed to enact even modest gun reform measures and are moving toward loosening gun controls. U.S. President Joe Biden's remarks on the Uvalde shooting sounded defeatism and did not outline any specific proposal to prevent the "massacre" from happening again. This led to a serious reckoning of whether the U.S. government is truly "of the people, by the people and for the people."
 
Money politics corrupts gun policy
 
Gun control is one of the most contentious issues in U.S. politics. Politicians in Washington have been engaged in a forever debate on gun control, as the political right defends the "individual right to bear arms" enshrined the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution while the left calls for more gun restrictions, including background checks, limits on assault weapons and other gun control measures.
 
On the surface, it seems like a debate of ideology. But the crux is interest groups and money politics. Just as the military-industrial complex has fueled the U.S. militarism abroad, the powerful gun rights groups have prevented any meaningful gun reform at home. Gun rights groups have been large donors for the Republican candidates at the national, congressional and state levels. According to OpenSecrets, gun rights groups set a new record of lobbying spending in 2021. The most prominent gun right group, the National Rifle Association, has also been active in financing pro-gun research and silencing research on gun violence, in an aim to sway public opinions on gun policies.
 
Confronted with the public outcry after the horrific school shooting, Republican lawmakers came to defend gun rights, criticized Democrats for politicizing the shooting, and tried to shift the blame to school security and mental health. The most insensitive remarks came from Texas Governor Greg Abbott when he addressed the Uvalde elementary school, as he talked callously about "more people who were shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas," apparently casting doubt on the effectiveness of strict gun control laws.  
 
Compared with the strong determination of pro-gun Republicans, Democrats have never countered with a powerful coalition for gun reform. Their campaign to galvanize public support after mass shootings would only dissipate after the tragedies were forgotten. As the U.S. is geared up for mid-term elections, counter-intuitively, gun control has become a sensitive issue for some Democratic candidates, who fear voicing strong demands for gun control would backfire in their races. Instead, many of them only called for strengthening school security measures to protect the children. 
 
The systemic failure of U.S. gun reform is taking a huge toll on American lives as well as American democracy. Dampened trust of American people toward the security environment only leads to a higher demand for guns for self-defense, causing a vicious cycle. With the U.S. political polarization deepening, the gun debate will be stuck for the foreseeable future as such tragedies keep repeating itself.

By: Yuan Sha. Yuan Sha is an assistant research fellow in the Department of American Studies at the China Institute of International Studies. A former Fulbright scholar at Columbia University, she has a PhD in international politics from China Foreign Affairs University.
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