Why the United States Can’t Change Gun Law
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A special mechanism and a decades-old lobby make it difficult to change a law that many have been calling for for years.

The year 2022 is not yet halfway and there have already been at least 40 shootings in elementary schools in the United States. The number of deaths rose to 70 this Tuesday, after an 18-year-old boy entered a school in Uvalde, Texas, killing him. It is the latest entry in a long history of violence in educational establishments, and it brings the discussion of the gun lobby back to the center of the issue.

Changing gun laws is something that has been floating around in the various US presidencies in recent years. Some with more determination, others not so much, but all presidential terms have talked about the topic, which always comes up when a tragedy of this kind happens. But then, why is it so difficult to change a law that allows access to weapons, often indiscriminately?

The filibuster effect

In practice, this is the main reason why the law remains unchanged. It is a legislative mechanism that causes all laws, in this case, related to guns, to end up being endlessly postponed in the upper house of Congress, the Senate.

The filibuster figure can be used by a minority of senators, sometimes even by just one of the 100 who were elected, to postpone or prevent legislative changes. What happens is that the senators concerned can use unlimited time to talk about an issue before it is voted on, which usually always ends up in one of two ways: either the bill is amended or it is withdrawn.

This mechanism entered American politics in the 19th century, but it was in 1957 that it had one of its most iconic moments, and they show how far a senator can go to try to “stalemate” a legislative change. That year, Republican Strom Thurmond, who was even a presidential candidate, spoke for more than 24 hours, an individual filibuster record, to try to obstruct a civil rights law. At the time, it was not successful, but resistance remained in the retina: reading the electoral laws of all states in alphabetical order, the Declaration of Independence, Declaration of Rights or George Washington’s farewell letter, were just some of the documents read by the senator. The Senate showed even more resistance and eventually managed to get the law passed two hours after the end of the lengthy speech.

“The tradition of unlimited debate allows the use of the filibuster, a term designed to prolong the debate and postpone or prevent the vote on a law, resolution, amendment or other issue”, says the Senate page dedicated to the topic.

There is a way to end the filibuster on a subject, but it is also difficult to get there. It is about invoking what the North Americans call a “fence” (a figure created in 1917 to face the problems created by the First World War), and which aims to limit the time of a discussion to 30 hours (being that no senator can speak for more than an hour), forcing a vote to be held at the end of that period. However, the process to establish this “fence” is time-consuming and complex, requiring a vote.

It was the filibuster that stopped Barack Obama from making further gun law reforms, and the same is happening to Joe Biden. In practice, the Senate functions as the president’s supervisory body, it is the side of Congress responsible for presidential actions.

The Gun Lobby

US law is lavish in lobbying, ways of putting pressure on the legislature in order to achieve a certain objective. One of the strongest is, without a doubt, the arms lobby.

The National Arms Association (NRA, in its original acronym) is largely responsible for the lobbying. An important organization in the United States, it was created with the aim of “promoting and encouraging weapons on a scientific basis”.

He began his lobbying activity in 1934, sending letters to his members to alert them to possible laws on guns.

From 1975 he began to influence politics directly, creating the Institute for Legal Action, later founding the Political Action Committee, which has served to finance several congressmen.

Officially, it spends around three million dollars a year (about 2.8 million euros) to lobby politicians, but the real values will be much higher, not least because the association’s annual budget is around 250 million dollars (close to of 233 million euros). Much of that money goes directly to congressional campaigns.

A practical example

One of the laws that should soon be voted on in the Senate is precisely related to weapons. The goal is to close the “Charleston loophole,” a loophole in the law that continues to allow gun sales to continue without requiring a buyer’s background check.

Specifically, this amendment, which has already been approved in the House of Representatives, provides for an increase in the investigation time into the person’s past from three working days to ten, a period during which the federal services must certify whether the purchaser will be able to obtain the license to the gun.

As CNN International points out, this loophole allowed a man to buy the gun he used to kill nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. It is this attack that the proposal takes its name from.

The timing of the vote is under discussion, but it is not even clear whether it will come to fruition. CNN reports that it takes 60 senators (a three-fifths majority) to overcome a possible filibuster, and it is not certain that there is such support, not least because, even on the Democratic side, not all senators seem to agree.

Still, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal’s proposal is for the vote to go ahead. “We have to hold every member of Congress accountable and vote so the public knows what they stand for,” he said.

Biden’s Experience

The President of the United States gave an emotional speech after the massacre in Uvalde. Drawing on his experience as a senator, he said that when a law was passed banning assault weapons, such as semi-automatic ones, “mass shootings decreased.”

“When the law expired, the massacres tripled,” he said.

Joe Biden thus again called for something more to be done to change the current laws, something he has been trying to do for several years, first as a senator, then as vice president, and now as president.

“God, why do we need assault weapons except to kill someone?” he asked.

Source: With Agencies

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