Finding True America: Why is gun violence a vicious, unending cycle?
Updated 15:27, 16-Jun-2022

Frequent mass shootings in recent weeks have left many Americans stunned at the country's persistent failure to stop the gun violence epidemic.

On May 14, an 18-year-old gunman, driven by racial paranoia, went on a shooting rampage at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 shoppers, mostly African Americans. Just 10 days later, another 18-year-old, Salvador Ramos, opened fire in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 pupils and two adults. 

These horrors bear at least one thing in common – a lethal weapon. The two young gunmen each carried a military-style assault rifle with high-capacity magazines, which enabled them to shoot and kill a large number of people before reloading.

The fact that most of the victims at Robb Elementary School were children makes the crime even more horrific. The killings resemble many other tragedies that took place in American schools in the past decades and have sounded another alarm about the harms of gun violence, caused by the easy access to weapons. The recent tragedies have reignited heated discussions on how America can go further on gun control.

School shootings have long been a category of their own in America's eye-dizzying gun violence statistics. Twenty-seven shootings have occurred on school grounds this year alone, resulting in 83 deaths or injuries, according to Education Week, an organization which has been tracking school shootings since 2018.

People visit a memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Monday, May 30, 2022. /AP

People visit a memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Monday, May 30, 2022. /AP

Since the 1980s, perpetrators behind mass shootings in the U.S. have gotten younger, according to a database maintained by Mother Jones, which tracks indiscriminate shootings in public places resulting in four or more victims killed by the attacker.

Among America's deadliest classroom gun massacres over the past two decades, from Columbine High School in 1999 to Robb Elementary School last month, the age of shooters has been 17-20 years old.

The pains that never fade

On the morning of Valentine's Day in 2018, Joaquin Oliver walked into school with flowers and a plan for a date with his girlfriend.

For his parents, Patricia and Manuel Oliver, February 14, 2018 would be forever remembered as the day they lost their son. Later in the afternoon, Joaquin was shot and killed in a hallway outside his creative writing class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The 19-year-old gunman, a former student at the school, also took the lives of 16 other students and injured 17 others. The killing spree outstripped the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and became the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history.

"There is no more impactful thing to leave and to go through than losing your kid and carrying the feeling and emptiness every day," Patricia Oliver told CGTN.

Since the Parkland shooting, gun violence in America has worsened. In 2020, the most recent year for which complete data is available, there were 45,222 gun-related deaths in the U.S. – a significant jump from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among them, roughly 43% were murders.

Meanwhile, the number of children shot fatally increased by a third from the previous year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. The surge continued in 2021, when over 1,500 kids were killed and 4,000 injured.

Divided over guns

While Americans overwhelmingly believe mass shootings can be prevented, the political left and right have vastly different opinions on how to achieve that.

In general, Democrats advocate for gun control and favor fewer people possessing them. Republicans tend to oppose gun restrictions, and argue that more people having guns would help reduce mass shootings.

The fierce debate on ending the vicious cycle of gun violence is further complicated by the election win of Donald Trump, whose presidency had awakened the nation's conservative forces, along with enthusiasm for guns.

America's biggest gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, added 225,000 new paying members in the first half of 2021, making its membership now over five million. Politicians who intend to make it a little bit harder to obtain a firearm will have to face this bloc of single-issue voters.

Yet, the tragic events in recent days do seem to shift public sentiment in favor of gun restriction, at least for the moment.

On March 14, 2018, students rally in front of the White House in Washington after the massacre of 17 people at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. /AP

On March 14, 2018, students rally in front of the White House in Washington after the massacre of 17 people at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. /AP

Following the mass shooting in Uvalde, and an earlier one in Buffalo, a majority of U.S. adults say it's more important to control gun violence than to protect gun rights, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. The 59%-to-35% margin is the widest in favor of controlling gun violence recorded in a decade in the Marist poll. It also finds a sharp partisan divide – 92% of Democrats say it's more important to control gun violence, while 70% of Republicans say it's more important to protect gun rights.

The recent gun violence has sparked a new round of bipartisan efforts in Congress to work out their differences on gun control measures. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a wide-ranging package of legislation known as "Protecting Our Kids Act." The legislation would, among other things, raise the minimum age for buying a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21 years old and ban bump stocks for civilians. 

"America has lost more children from gun violence than any other cause. Does that embarrass you?" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a debate on the bill. "To think that in our country, more children have died from gun violence than any other cause? These stories are tragically all too common in America today."

However, the measures won't become law without approval in the evenly-divided Senate, where they are likely to meet significant challenges from Republican Senators.

Congress is unlikely to approve the bill finally, thanks to the Senate filibuster, says Einar Tangen, a political and economic affairs commentator. Democrats have a very thin majority in the Senate, with one or two Republicans who would possibly break the ranks.

If the bill is not approved by Congress, America will renew another deadlock on gun control.

"They will tell me or try to convince me that I should have a gun, especially after what happened to us. Because now I know that if I carry a gun, maybe I could prevent these from happening to any other loved one," Joaquin's father Manuel Oliver told CGTN.

"But they say the same to my neighbor and to others. So, at the end of the day, we are all purchasing guns to protect from each other. We are falling into their game."

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