American Gun Laws: Politics and Culture

August 9, 2018
Editor(s): Neala Guo
Writer(s): Huishan Feng, Nicholas Bea, Shreya Sharma

Politicised Youth

“Politicise my Death.” It is a chilling statement with an even more harrowing origin that has received the support of over 2,000 signatures. The pledge that sees the death of an individual at the barrel of a firearm, used aloud for political advocacy for gun reform, has seemingly become as recurrent as holding candlelit vigils and politicians weeping crocodile tears and offering infuriating words of support and thanks that now is customary after every mass shooting event. The Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in which seventeen students and staff members were killed, while a truly tragic event that should never see a repeat, provided a small silver lining, in the form of increased and more forceful than ever, advocacy for gun reform.

Students who knew shooter Nikolas Cruz and the victims he left behind stand at the forefront of gun protests. Notably, Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, as well as many more, called out the country’s leaders’ resignation to mass shootings. The famous proclamation, “We Call B.S.” served as the forefront of enraged political advocacy by students and individuals across the nation. Followed by the subsequent March for Our Lives, one of the largest protests in US history with between 1.2 and 2 million attendees, the visual representation of gun reform advocacy has never been more clear. 

Beneath the Politics

When innocent 5-year olds were brutally murdered in the Sandy Hook School Shooting, and the government set out to only ban semi-automatic weapons, how did nothing change? For most people, that information would be enough to start rallying to make a difference. It’s easy to blame politics, but what you’re seeing is a small symptom of a much larger problem: America has a culture for violence.

Former congressman Joe Walsh embodies this aggressive perception, as determined by Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Kinder Guardians,” published on “Who is America,” going so far as to suggest that 4-12 year olds should be introduced to “pistols, rifles and semiautomatics” to transform “first grader’s” into “first grenader.” Of course, he claims he was “duped,” and targeted for “being a Republican” but regardless, by reading off the teleprompter, he was essentially validating the underlying message in the prank- America should continually arm themselves until they achieve some kind of sense of security.

We already know the negative connotations associated with the theory of “fighting fire with fire” but that is, at its very essence, what is occurring in America. People’s fears of becoming a victim of a shooting- of a murder have caused them to rely so heavily on the Second Amendment that they are basically supersaturating their own country with weapons.

Television culture

The cultural state of America and the different political opinions forming government response is brutally expressed through the American political satire mockumentary television series, ‘Who is America?’.

Famous comedian Sacha Baron Cohen offers his take on America’s patriotism. Cohen portrays many characters to trick celebrities, politicians and general American victims into exposing their underlying beliefs and prejudices on sensitive topics. The series presents America’s cultural state as a whole, where some inhumane ideas are advocated, especially surrounding gun laws.

Gun-rights activist and founder of Gun Owners of America, Philip Van Cleave, actively agrees with Cohen’s ridiculous prank of arming pre-schoolers with armed weapons. He happily endorses the “Kinder-Guardians”, featuring in an advertisement that aims to educate children on how to load their gun and kill the “bad guys” that may enter their school. Other politicians, such as former senator Trent Lott, also support the school program, looking straight into the camera and endorsing the training of children, as young as the age of 3, handling fire weapons.

It’s not only politicians willing to support Cohen’s plot. Joe Walsh, a talk radio host, states, “a first-grader can become a first-grenader” in his charming media tone. The Bachelorette star, Corinne Olympios, willingly features in a promotional video for a charity that puts donations towards training and buying firearms for child soldiers.

Most of the reviews of this new series criticize Cohen for his trickery, deceptive behaviour and point to the decline of his comic talents. However, many fail to discuss the impact of Cohen’s social experiment. This series shows how easily people can be influenced to agree and actively promote inhumane ideas, such as children using guns. Whether these ideas are personally held or manipulated based on their need to conform with Cohen are debatable. However, these high-profile Americans endorsing such gun usage set the tone for the country. These are the people that everyday civilians look up to. This demonstrates how volatile the cultural state of America is and how easily the country’s views could be changed.

Comparing Australia to America

The last gun massacre in Australia dates back to 1996, when a gunman opened fire on tourists in Port Arthur, Tasmania, killing 35 people. This triggered John Howard, who was then Prime Minister, to radically change Australia’s gun laws. Semi-automatic and pump-action guns were banned, strict licences were introduced and about 700,000 guns were destroyed as part of a federal buyback scheme. Since then, no fatal mass shootings have occurred in Australia.

In 2012, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, United States, a US congressman stated that America should follow Australia’s example on gun laws. Indeed, given the massive success of the Australian gun laws, it’s hard for us to understand why America doesn’t introduce the same sort of legislation. But would the same gun control policies work? The simple answer is – not necessarily.

Firstly, there is a significant difference in the speed of government action between the two countries. In 1996, John Howard managed to reach a consensus from all six Australian states to agree to and pass uniform sweeping gun control legislation in just 12 days. In the US, the general consensus from all 50 states is hard to fathom.

The second – and bigger – the difference is the cultural mindset with regards to firearms, which is partly due to each country’s historical origins. While both countries were Great Britain’s colonies, only the US had to fight a Revolutionary War for its independence, after which the right to bear arms enshrined in its constitution. This post-colonial legacy certainly played its role in perpetuating the current gun culture in the US.

Americans certainly love guns. So did Australians before 1996. Although the deadliest, Port Arthur was not the first mass shooting Australia had experienced. The country saw nearly 150 people killed in the years running up to 1996 in mass shootings, and the national mood changed dramatically. Port Arthur was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Tim Fischer, who was Howard’s deputy in 1996 and instrumental in getting the new gun control legislation passed, is optimistic that meaningful change could come to the US too, when one mass shooting really tips the balance and the silent majority springs into action.

The Economics Of Guns

For an industry that contributes only $42.9 billion or 0.24% to the US GDP, yet fails to cover even 1/7 of the costs of violence that ensues from its unchecked users, in which gun violence costs upwards of $229 billion, approximately 1.3% of the nation’s total GDP. Clearly, the failure to implement stronger gun reform is not only a waste of economic resources and taxpayers money, but simply results in a complete waste of life.

The CAINZ Digest is published by CAINZ, a student society affiliated with the Faculty of Business at the University of Melbourne. Opinions published are not necessarily those of the publishers, printers or editors. CAINZ and the University of Melbourne do not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in the publication.

Meet our authors:

Neala Guo

Huishan Feng

Nicholas Bea
Shreya Sharma