Gun problems in US
On July 20, 24-year-old white male and former graduate student James Holmes went on a shooting spree in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. He killed 12 people and seriously injured 59 others. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney canceled their campaign schedules, gave speeches to mourn the victims and attended memorial services.
The theater is located just a 30-minute drive away from Columbine High School where a similar incident happened in 1999. Many of the press deplore that this kind of event has happened again 13 years later and blame it on the gun law in Colorado that makes it easy to carry guns. They claim that anyone can carry firearms, even on a university campus, with a permit. Since it is easy to get a permit, the only way to prevent this kind of tragedy is to make the possession of guns by civilians illegal.
However, the right to bear arms is one of the 10 fundamental rights of the people, stated clearly in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. At the time of the American Revolutionary War, U.S. soldiers under George Washington were a rag-tag bunch of volunteers without uniforms who brought their own guns. During the time of western expansion in the U.S., guns were important necessities for Americans to protect their families and hunt in Midwest regions like Colorado.
In March 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot by a 25-year-old John Hinckley, Jr. Reagan’s wound was not fatal, but White House Spokesman James Brady was hit by a shot squarely in his forehead. Brady miraculously survived, however he is now a stuttering hemiplegic confined to a wheelchair. His wife traveled with him all over the U.S. to participate in the protest movement against carrying guns. This led to the famous Brady Handgun Control Act that went into effect in February, 1994. They went to Congress to plead to make America a society without guns ― a place like Korea. Their placards contained pictures of child victims killed by firearms and crying parents. Most Democrats in Congress supported this law prohibiting guns. But Republicans strongly opposed restricting the right of the people given by the sacred Constitution without the process of constitutional amendment. They claimed firearms were not the problem and that it was more important to punish those who broke gun laws severely.
A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House, and then the bill is sent to the 50 states and must be passed by 38 of them by a two-thirds vote in both houses of their state legislatures. So, it is realistically impossible to pass an amendment to prohibit the possession of guns. The National Rifle Association (NRA), whose chairman was Charlton Heston at the time, is a strong right-wing organization that provides enormous campaign funds for Republicans. I also received its help as a Republican. I was pledging to myself to support the Brady Act, but I could not sleep over fear of being inundated with reproach from the NRA and conservative organizations on casting a vote in favor of a gun control bill. Finally, I voted against the bill the next morning. The Brady Act was passed after all due to the efforts of Democrats, who held a majority. It prohibited the possession of guns by those under 18 years of age and required a strict background check to buy a firearm.
According to a government report released one year after the bill was passed, about 2 million high-risk people were denied from buying a gun. Now, however, this latest mass shooting reveals the insignificance of the gun control law. After the Aurora massacre, the issue of gun control is boiling up again but there is not a single word for a stronger gun control from Republican candidate Romney and not even from President Obama. The Republican Party won in gun control after all despite the Brady Act. Recently, sales of firearms have increased rapidly. Maybe, it is because people think that a new law may soon be introduced to make it harder to purchase a gun.
Fortunately, Korea has a long tradition of prohibiting the possession of guns by the people. Hence, there are no mass shootings that kill several tens of people. Though there are sometimes cruel knife murders instead, so it is fortunate that people are not allowed to have firearms in Korea. We should keep our society free of guns.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).