News Analysis: Deadly U.S. shooting unlikely to spark major gun debate, experts say

Source: Xinhua| 2019-06-04 11:22:05|Editor: Yang Yi
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by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, June 3 (Xinhua) -- A mass shooting in the U.S. state of Virginia on Friday is unlikely to cause a major debate on gun control, as the public has become used to news of gun violence and is unlikely to clamor for change to gun laws, experts have said.

"People are desensitized because there are mass shootings all the time in the United States," Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West told Xinhua.

"Most Republican legislators will do nothing because many of their constituents favor gun rights and do not want to see significant restrictions," West said. "Until that changes, there is not likely to be any meaningful legislation in this area."

Twelve people were shot dead Friday when a gunman opened fire at a government building in the city of Virginia Beach. Authorities so far said they do not know the shooter's motive.

A VIOLENT DECADE

Over the past 12 years, mass shootings have grabbed headlines: in 2007, a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people; in 2012, a deranged gunman entered the Sandy Hook elementary school in the southern state of Connecticut and murdered 26 people, including 20 children; in 2016, a gunman killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando.

In 2017, 59 people were killed, including the shooter himself, and hundreds wounded in a Las Vegas mass shooting. On Feb. 14 last year, a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire on campus with an assault-style rifle, killing 17 students and educators within six minutes of hell.

A PBS News Hour/Marist/NPR poll published a few months back found 51 percent of Americans favor stricter firearm-related legislation, down sharply from the poll's finding one year ago after the Parkland school shootings, when over 70 percent of Americans favored tighter gun laws.

Republicans and Democrats are at odds over the issue, with Democrats calling for more gun legislation, and Republicans fearing that more laws might not lessen the violence, but instead infringe on rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

While Democrats have been vocal on gun control since Friday's shootings, their outrage is likely to die down when headlines start to fade, experts said.

"The daily epidemic of gun violence continues to exact a devastating toll on our schools, community streets, houses of worship and workplaces," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in response to Friday's shooting, with a number of other Democrats chiming in and calling on the GOP to cooperate on gun legislation.

STATE-LEVEL GUN LAWS

Gun control is simply not on most voters' radars in the lead-up to the 2020 elections, TV news personality and Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

He noted that polls show only 5 percent of Americans view gun control as a major issue, while healthcare, jobs and immigration top the list of voters' priorities. While Democrats may introduce bills on a national level, experts said they won't go far in a divided Congress.

The United States is more likely to see laws enacted on a state level than on a national level, O'Connell said.

"I think you're going to have real battles in some of the Senate races," but not on the national level, he said.

"It's an issue of importance to some voters, but I don't think it's going to decide the 2020 election. It may have more salience in certain key Senate races, but it's not going to be the reason Trump wins or loses."

On the state level, the legislation conversation has become more robust since last year's Parkland school shooting, with eight states having passed "red flag laws," allowing for temporary but immediate disarmament of individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others.

Hundreds of firearm-related bills have been introduced at the state and federal level based on a variety of theories about how to keep Americans safe while respecting fundamental constitutional rights, Amy Swearer, a Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow, told Xinhua.

Lawmakers on both sides of the political divide in more than two-dozen states have enacted dozens of new gun laws, and the U.S. state of Washington voted to increase the legal age to purchase semi-automatic rifles to 21 from 18, according to the Giffords Law Center.

But those are far from the major federal gun laws that many gun control advocates favor.

U.S. SCHOOLS GETTING SAFER

While U.S. mass shootings in schools have grabbed global media headlines in recent years, it's important to remember that mass school shootings are "extraordinary and rare events," Swearer said.

"Moreover, American schools are statistically much safer from violent death than they were 30 years ago, and continue to trend toward becoming safer. This is consistent with a general decrease in violent crimes -- and firearm-related crimes specifically -- throughout the U.S. since the early 1990s."

While all violent deaths are tragic, statistics "clearly show that there is no school shooting epidemic in the United States, and certainly nothing necessitating a drastic overhaul of state and federal gun laws," she said.

"We are definitely getting better at intervention -- our research shows that since 2010, more school shootings have been thwarted in the U.S. than have been carried. We need to continue to analyze these instances to learn why some are successfully thwarted but others are not," Swearer said.

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