U.S. gun violence is considered by many at home and abroad as an example of a horrific, unfortunate, uncontrolled domestic aspect of its past, misguided Constitutional interpretation, and underlying culture. Indeed, it is the only country in the world with more guns in the hands of civilians, than people. This representation of the society has very troubling implications beyond American borders, in the world at large, in undermining American “soft power,”. It needs to be much more of the country’s political discussion.
Media headlines reporting on mass gun killings reach every corner of the globe. In the space of only a few weeks, there have been mass murders coast-to-coast: a shooting of primarily African-Americans at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, by a young man with an AR-15 style assault weapon; nineteen children killed in a Uvalde, at a Texas elementary school by an eighteen-year-old with a long gun: three people dead and many wounded from gunfire in Philadelphia; a mass shooting in Chattanooga leaving three people dead; parties in Arizona, Virginia, and South Carolina leaving a total of at least three deaths and 22 people injured, many of them children.
Sadly, such terrifying events are not unusual in the United States, especially during the summer months. Every day on average, more than 110 people are killed with guns and more than 200 are shot and wounded.
The US has suffered far more mass shootings than there have been days in the year 2022 so far, according to the Gun Violence Archive: 226 deaths from gun violence were reported from January 1 to June 7, 2022, included.
These devastating effects reach beyond those killed or injured, directly and indirectly affecting the lives of millions in communities. Not only are those who are witnesses, know someone who was shot, are a relative or co-worker or live in fear of the next shooting.
What people around the world see is that law-abiding citizens fear their neighborhood may be the next victim of gun violence, giving authoritarian countries and their leaders a powerful tool for their people to contrast life in their neighborhoods, casting doubt on the American way.
Daily U.S, gun violence news headlines provide an opportunity for Russia to deflect global attention from its mass crimes against humanity in Ukraine; and for China to do the same with respect to its treatment of the Uyghurs.
It is increasingly clear uncontrolled availability of guns is having an impact on western democracy attitudes with heightening distaste and disillusionment. Developing countries that are usually favorably disposed to the U.S. when they see average people are in danger wherever they congregate, doubt this is what they will want for their future.
Such doubts are substantially based on the previous President and current Congressional inaction, unwillingness or inability to pass and approve legislation to protect people, as captive to a vocal and deep pocket minority.
Yesterday the House approved a wide-ranging package of gun control legislation by a narrow party-line vote, 223-to-204, but as the New York Times wrote, “the measures were all but certain to go nowhere in the evenly divided Senate, where negotiations continued on more modest proposals that could draw the bipartisan support necessary to move forward.”
The takeaway by other countries is that if the national authorities as reflected in laws that are so insensitive to the harm done to their own citizens, then this attitude may well shape foreign policy when the concerns of others are at stake, and hard decisions have to be made.
The U.S. now is at an inflection point; national leaders of both parties can join in support of genuine restrictive gun ownership, or it can continue as it has in the past and virtually do nothing but talk.
If America chooses the path of significant gun reform, others will see it as a demonstration that this form of government – democracy – ultimately functions in the interest of the people.
Benefits will be direct for its citizenry, of course, but also strengthen America’s image abroad.
We know that “soft power” is a critical asset in building allies and national security. While this is no surprise, it has not been much discussed or taken up. It is time for the U.S. foreign affairs community to actively engage, to link our do-nothing gun laws with negative effects on our standing in the world.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com – In the Featured Photo: Rally for gun reform legislation, demanding that gun retailers stop selling military-style weapons, lobbying companies to end partnerships with the National Rifle Association. The event was organized on March 15, 2018, by the high school civic network Coalition Z in association with Mobilizing MSD Alumni (NYC). Source: Iryna Yafimchyk for Working Families, Flickr cc