Analysis: Three experts explain America’s gun politics

At this point, it’s no surprise that there’s been another mass shooting in America.

The latest tragedy came in Allen, Texas, on Saturday when a gunman opened fire on shoppers at an outlet mall. It was another horrific attack on people simply going about their lives, whether at shops, a bank, parties, schools, places of worship or even at their own homes.

After every shooting, the political rituals are the same. Republicans who have harnessed their party to activists who want to loosen gun laws offer prayers for the victims and talk vaguely about a mental health crisis. Democrats demand more gun control and a ban on fast-firing assault weapons that can kill multiple people in seconds.

But nothing ever changes.

Is there any way out of this endless cycle of death? Or is the political system simply too deadlocked — even though majorities of Americans in most polls favor some kind of reform to gun laws.

How the states compare

Jennifer Mascia is a senior news writer with “The Trace,” an independent news operation dedicated to covering America’s gun violence epidemic.

Meanwhile: Some state officials in pro-gun Texas have argued that since mass shootings also occur in liberal states with tighter gun laws, more restrictions would be not work. Is this true?

Mass shootings do occur in states with tight gun laws, as we saw with Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay in California earlier this year. But the states with the loosest gun laws still tend to have higher rates of gun death.

According to the most recent CDC figures, the states with the lowest rates of gun death (which includes both homicides and suicides) are Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island; California is 8th. Those states all have gun owner licensing, which means you must get a license or permit before you can even buy a gun. That process typically involves a thorough background check, interviews with law enforcement, character references, mandatory firearm training, and fingerprints. Gun owner licensing, also referred to as permit-to-purchase, is considered the most effective policy at reducing gun deaths.

Meanwhile: What are the states with the most deaths from firearms?

The states with the highest rates of gun death are Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama, and Wyoming; Texas is 28th. With the exception of New Mexico, all of those states (including Texas) have enacted permitless carry, meaning gun owners are not required to get a license or undergo training in order to carry a concealed gun in public. There are 27 permitless carry states now, and studies have shown that gun violence rises after states loosen concealed carry requirements. A study last year from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the average rate of gun assaults rose 9.5% in the first decade after 34 states relaxed their concealed carry restrictions. Missouri provides an interesting case study: Until 2007, the state required permits to purchase guns, like Massachusetts, California, and a dozen other states do. In the five years after permit-to-purchase was repealed, the murder rate rose 14%, one study found. Missouri further loosened its gun laws, enacting permitless carry in 2017. In 2019, the Kansas City Star found that the firearm death rate in Missouri had risen 58% since 2007, when the state eliminated permit-to-purchase.

Meanwhile: How does the US compare to the rest of the world?

Bottom line: In terms of gun violence, you’re safer in California than you are in Texas. But you’re still safer in other countries than you are in California. That’s because, to quote UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, “California has the strictest gun laws in the US but some of the loosest, most permissive gun laws in the industrialized world.” And that explains why California still has mass shootings: Our strongest gun laws are still no match for those in Canada, the UK, Japan, Switzerland, or Israel, among others. Those countries are very careful who they allow to have guns and the screening process lasts many months. The only system that’s comparable is New York City’s gun permitting process, which is overseen by the NYPD.

How is pro-gun Texas handling the latest attack?

Abené Clayton is the lead reporter for The Guardian’s “Guns and Lies in America” team

Meanwhile: Texas officials seemed to be very loath to offer many specific details about the mass shooting at the shopping mall. What is going on here?

I believe that Texas—and most officials who are staunch gun rights and Second Amendment protectors—are working overtime to put distance between guns and the violence that we saw this weekend and continue to see daily. I believe that in addition to wanting to keep their voter base happy, many officials are genuinely afraid of armed resistance from extremists who own guns and are willing to die or create chaos if there is even a hint that there will be limitations put on gun ownership and retention.

I also think that the lack of acknowledgment of broader issues of gun violence is meant to maintain the narrative that mass shootings are the result of spiritual warfare or innate evil. Conveniently for officials, neither of these factors can be legislated so it gives them the opportunity to point to a reason for shootings but take no accountability for supporting and creating solutions that will keep people safe.

Meanwhile: If local state officials won’t enact measures to stop massacres – or at least try to – what are their obligations for example in doing something meaningful to address mental health problems that they always cite – or to help mitigate the trauma of the victims?

There are federal and some state victim assistance programs specifically geared toward people of mass violence and terrorism. (…) I think that state officials need to support, empower, and uplift survivors of mass shootings even though some become politically activated around issues—like red flag laws and assault weapon bans—that may not be palatable for right-leaning legislators’ bases.

Politicians like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — both Republicans — and all the local and state officials that refuse to have good faith arguments about gun violence prevention solutions (outside of more police and school hardening) need to at minimum show genuine care to the people who lose loved ones and are irreparably injured following a shooting.

What happens next — will anything change?

Stephen Gutowski founded the “The Reload” — a subscriber publication set up to provide sober, informed reporting on gun ownership in the United States.

Meanwhile: Is there any chance that the country’s fractured politics can produce anything to stop this cycle of shootings?

There is broad agreement that more needs to be done to prevent mass shootings. The problem is that there’s little agreement between the parties on how to do that. Democrats generally favor broad gun restrictions and bans. Republicans generally favor stricter enforcement of current gun laws and mental health intervention. There is likely some crossover on either point among voters but little among their elected representatives.

If these high-profile killings continue to increase, and they are happening at a record pace this year regardless of what count you look at, it could increase pressure for new gun restrictions. That’s what led to last year’s federal gun-control law. But there’s little reason to think it could result in a new national ban on AR-15s or other firearms because there is no support for that among congressional Republicans, and there is unlikely to be even 50 votes for it in the Senate since some Democrats also oppose a ban.

Meanwhile: Where is the action to watch on gun policy legislation?

State-level policy is becoming increasingly polarized based on the prevailing politics in each state. Red states are focused on reducing attacks by making it easier for law-abiding citizens to obtain and carry guns. Blue states have turned increasingly to bans on “assault weapons” and ammunition magazines that hold a certain amount of ammunition. “Red Flag” laws that allow officials to temporarily seize guns from people determined by a judge to be a threat to themselves or others have mostly caught on in Democratic strongholds.

But Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Lee is attempting to address some of those concerns in a new proposal the Republican-controlled legislature is set to debate in a special session. If they can craft a policy addressing gun rights advocates’ concerns, that could create momentum for the policy in other states. That makes this gun policy debate the most noteworthy at the moment.

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