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What’s Behind America’s Mass Shootings?

After back-to-back mass shootings this month, even US President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have expressed support for new gun-control legislation, after years of opposing any such measures. But true reform seems unlikely, given the deep and complex roots of this uniquely American problem.

WASHINGTON, DC – After every mass shooting in the United States, Americans and others around the world are confronted with the question of what lies behind this distinctly American horror. Though total gun deaths in the US have actually declined over time, mass shootings (those with at least four victims) have become deadlier and more frequent. Some have had an especially strong emotional impact on the country.

The back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, on the first weekend of August are widely being viewed as the straw that will break the back of the US gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has long stood in the way of congressional passage of gun-control measures. Yet we have heard similar predictions before. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut on December 14, 2012, when a 20-year-old man gunned down 20 first-graders and six adults, then-President Barack Obama, wiping tears from his eyes, vowed to take action.

On the face of it, adopting meaningful gun-control legislation after such a horrendous tragedy should not have been a problem. Polls showed that 92% of the public supported closing loopholes in the requirement for background checks – which at present don’t include examinations of individuals purchasing firearms at gun shows, privately from another individual, or online – and that 62% supported a ban on high-capacity magazines. It was hard to ignore the emotional appeal of the shattered parents who’d come to Washington to plead their case. Yet, even in the wake of Sandy Hook, the US Senate voted down two measures to tighten gun-control laws. 

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