A school shooting has once again hit the headlines in the US, after a 28-year-old opened fire at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennesse, killing six and prompting renewed calls for tighter gun control measures.
The assailant, a former student at The Covenant School, killed three children and three adults on Monday. The police fatally shot the suspect shortly after the incident was reported.
Joe Biden called the shooting “heartbreaking, a family’s worst nightmare”. He called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, saying we “need to do more to protect our schools”.
“It’s about time we began to make some more progress,” he added.
The Covenant School shooting is just the latest in a series of devastating gun attacks on schools in America which has left communities reeling. It follows the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last year; a first-grader who shot his teacher in Virginia; and a shooting last week in Denver that wounded two administrators.
Why are there so many mass shootings in the US?
According to NBC’s school shooting tracker, 110 people have been killed and 162 injured by gunfire in 57 school shootings since 2013. Since the start of this year, nine people have been killed and six injured in three such attacks.
Last year, 29 people were killed and 29 injured by gunfire in seven incidents. On average, there was a school shooting every 52 days last year.
There have been repeated calls for tighter gun controls, but little action has been taken. Guns are deeply ingrained within American society – the Second Amendment to the US Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms, and the country has more guns than anywhere else in the world.
According to a 2018 report by the Small Arms Survey, the number of firearms in civilian possession in the USA was 393.3 million, which is higher than the country’s population of about 336 million.
Mass shootings spur gun-buying, and experts estimate that since 2018 – one of the worst years for school shootings, including the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida – there has been a flurry of new gun purchases.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is widely used to determine the number of firearms purchases, noted an increase in applications for gun checks in 2020.
The availability and easiness of purchasing a firearm is the main problem. Many Americans can buy a gun in less than an hour.
In a poll conducted last year after a string of deadly shootings, 71 per cent of Americans said gun laws should be stricter, including about half of Republicans, the majority of Democrats and a majority of those in gun-owning households.
The debate on stricter gun controls has divided politicians, with Republicans mostly opposing legislation that could restrict their right to bear arms, and doing so could decrease their popularity with their conservative voter base who strongly believe in that right.
With Congress divided – Republicans control the House of Representatives while Democrats control the Senate – any laws which propose tighter gun restrictions are likely to be rejected by the Republicans.
Why are schools targeted?
Schools are often seen as easy targets, with little security and a large number of people in an enclosed space. Many of the assailants have been current or former students themselves, so are familiar with the school environment.
Firearms are now the number-one killer of children in the US, surpassing deaths caused by vehicles, according to a study done by the health non-profit group, the Kaiser Family Foundation. Firearms deaths are not even in the top four causes of mortality in other similarly large or wealthy countries.
What is being done to stop it?
Ther has been increased funding for school security and mental health services, which Mr Biden signed into law last year.
Earlier this month, he pushed through an executive order on gun control which aims to move the US “as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation”. An executive order does not require the approval of Congress.
However, many people say not enough is being done. Kris Brown, president of gun control group Brady: United Against Gun Violence, told CNN on Tuesday that every state should have a background check system and an extreme risk protection law, and across the country there should be a renewed assault weapons ban.
“If you don’t want this to happen anymore, vote, vote,” she said.
“Make sure that every time you vote you focus on which candidates actually stand for gun violence prevention, or they stand with the gun industry. And if they stand with the gun industry what that means is that is profits over lives.”