x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Required reading: US gun control

New legislation in South Dakota will allow teachers to carry guns in school. So what's behind the US's complex relationship with the right to bear arms?

South Dakota has become the first state in the US to pass legislation explicitly allowing teachers to carry firearms in schools. The new law comes amid an intense national debate on guns access after a spate of shootings, including one in which 20 first graders died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.

Supporters, including the National Rifle Association, say the measure will help keep children safe. Opponents argue that it will only worsen a gun-violence epidemic already spiralling out of control.

A citizenry empowered to defend itself is one of the foundational ideas of the republic as a political entity. No wonder, then, that the special place occupied by guns in the American consciousness can be traced back to the US Constitution and the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms”. But go to Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America by Adam Winkler to learn how the issue is more complex. Senior lawyers, says Winkler – including Republicans – believed that the Second Amendment referred only to a state’s right to maintain a militia, not an individual’s right to own a gun.

So is gun culture in the US really out of control? The US has 10.2 gun deaths per 100,000 people; the UK, where gun controls are tighter, has 0.25 per 100,000 (40 times fewer). Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun portrays the emergence of the current American mindset about guns via the story of the country’s most popular handgun.

So what is holding back gun reform? Gun Crusaders by Scott Melzer is a portrait of the country’s most powerful lobby groups.

The NRA is at the heart of an argument set to intensify as President Obama pushes for new gun control laws. Read the US political commenter John Lott, Jr’s The Bias Against Guns for the pro-gun view: increased gun ownership actually reduces crime, argues Lott. For an opposing take, turn to the Kindle-only Guns, the horror writer Stephen King’s essay urging a practical compromise to control access to guns, written after the Sandy Hook shooting.