In the wake of the killings in Uvalde and Buffalo, a breach opened in the Republicans’ blind opposition to any notion of gun control. It is an insignificant breach in absolute terms, but at the same time notable in the American context, which says a lot about the difficulty the United States has in putting a deeply entrenched gun culture on trial.
The bipartisan deal announced on Sunday is unprecedented, but it falls short of recommending a ban on assault-style weapons and the creation of a system of universal background checks for buyers as it should, and as Democrats have long proposed. One need not be particularly discerning or cynical to see that this deal made between Democratic and Republican senators accomplishes scarcely more than the prayers Republicans are content with offering victims and their families when a shooting takes place.
Thus, after concessions wrenched from Republicans, background checks would be enhanced for buyers 18 to 21, notably, and for the first time, where mental health is concerned. Another measure, that Republicans have never wanted anything to do with, the proposed law would only make it harder for men accused of domestic violence to purchase or own a firearm.
All these concessions failed to fully address the serious problem of easy and legal access to arms in the civil space. But Democrats, including diehards like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, decided to see them as small steps in the right direction for a Republican Party uncritically steadfast in its defense of the Second Amendment of the Constitution on the right to bear arms.*
In short, it is a compromise that would really not have prevented a young, 18-year-old man from buying an AR-15 assault rifle from shooting 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas on May 24; nor a white supremacist, also 18, from taking the lives of 10 Black people a few days before in Buffalo.
President Joe Biden was reservedly pleased about the deal and the thought of a legislative victory. It is, however, easier said than done, as there are less than two weeks left in the session, which leaves little time for a vote. The 10 Republicans who signed on to the agreement are taking few risks apart from criticism from colleagues. Four of them are retiring, and the six others will not be facing voters in the November midterms. This results in an opening that could, unfortunately, quickly close.
A recurring question is how our neighbors got here. The market for firearms, apart from military weapons, appeared in the United States at the end of the 19th century with the commercialization of the revolver, invented by a certain Samuel Colt during the Indian Wars that lasted from roughly 1778-1890. William Hosley writes in his book, “Colt: The Making of an American Legend,” which is cited in a piece published in The New Yorker, that it was Colt, among others, who instilled in the nascent national consciousness that danger — the “Wild West” — was virtually everywhere. The infamous semi-automatic AR-15, a lighter version of the M-14 military assault rifle, arrived in the 1950s
Still today, the National Rifle Association succeeds by marketing, mythologizing and sustaining the idea of an omnipresent “Wild West” and, thereby, perpetuates a more or less free market for firearms. It has reached a point where — again from The New Yorker — along with the automobile, guns, 20 million of which were sold in 2021, are the “cornerstone of a way of life” for many Americans.
Another turning point in the growth of the firearms market occurred when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, a period known as the “Barack Boom.” While the crime rate was, in fact, at its lowest point in decades, the NRA and Republicans boosted sales in the industry by maintaining that the U.S. had never had a president “as opposed to the right to carry a gun.” It shows just the racist underpinnings in the spread of firearms, from the extermination of indigenous peoples to the election of a Black president.
It is surprising that this American gun sickness did not infect us in Canada sooner. We were sheltered, but we are not, anymore — neither socially, nor even politically. In Montreal, there were 144 violent firearm incidents in 2021, twice as many as in 2020. But Quebec took notice and, among other things, acted to slow the traffic of firearms via Akwesasne, a Mohawk Nation territory on the St. Lawrence River divided by the U.S.-Canada border. As for Ottawa, it cannot be said that it is especially proactive in the fight against underground markets. It cannot wait for the U.S. to listen to reason.
*Editor’s note: The Second Amendment provides: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”