One of the symbols of our sovereign nation was the famous shot heard around the world, a phrase referring to the first gunshots traded between Massachusetts colonists and British troops that opened the Revolutionary War.
That shot heard around the world was not just a harbinger of the independence of our nation, but of the gun violence that would go on to define the US and appall the world.
Within 10 days, a supermarket in Buffalo (May 14), a Taiwanese church in California (May 16), and an elementary school in Texas (May 24) were attacked by mass shooters. Collectively, 10 were injured and 30 were murdered.
Conveyed through our nation’s response is the duality of Americans distraught and desensitized. We’ve established a routine: Some push for federal gun reform, others argue against, and no federal legislation is passed.
To an extent, I knew that the American ideology is not keen on talk of restricting guns — still, while reading a report by The Economist about the elementary school shooting, I could not get over a cited Gallup poll: In October 2021, 52% of surveyed Americans believed that laws covering the sale of firearms should be made stricter, down from 67% in March 2018. Eleven percent believed that such laws should be loosened, up from 4% in 2018.
I just couldn’t forget these statistics. After a few days’ reflection, I have some theories that I hope can help explain.
First, I do think that the proportion of Americans who support stricter gun laws would be higher than 52% if Gallup polled now, given the freshness of the deadly shootings in our minds. This would fit a pattern visible from the poll throughout the years: In the surveys before and after the one on March 2018, the proportion of Americans who wanted stricter firearm purchase laws hovered at 60%. March’s uptick to 67% was likely in response to the February 2018 mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida.
Nevertheless, looking at the pattern found by Gallup, that higher proportion would fall in time and join the downward trend. Perhaps one reason for this is because we have short attention spans.
With the constant news cycle and the fast pace that we consume information, our attention is never on one issue for long, and the intensity of our opinions wane. This is not American exceptionalism; I think the whole world is experiencing a shortening attention span.
Only in the US, though, is firearm fanaticism so steeped in culture. Though the majority of gunowners will not hurt people — hunting is a strong tradition in many parts of the nation — it is ridiculous for the US, with 120.5 civilian guns owned per 100 people, to outscore Yemen (a country burdened by civil war!) by more than two-fold.
The Second Amendment is not just a political issue, but a public health one. I wonder how many civilian deaths by firearm — whether by law enforcement or otherwise — would be prevented if the person who ultimately pulled the trigger did have rational suspicion that the aggressor was concealing a firearm.
On the politics side, the NRA has a chokehold on Republican congressional representatives, and its lobbying has no doubt played a large role in the lack of federal legislation aimed at reducing gun violence. Pair that with the federalist structure of the US government, where states’ stricter firearm purchase laws can be bypassed by the trafficking of firearms from surroundings states with laxer policies (for example, only about 15% of gun violence in New Jersey is perpetrated with guns from in-state) and I can understand why the Americans who do support tighter regulations become disillusioned over time.
Another reason behind the results of the Gallup poll may be increased gun ownership since the onset of the pandemic. Fear of an apocalypse and the need for self-defense pushed Americans to purchase firearms at spiking rates. Naturally, less Americans would answer that they want stricter gun purchase laws. In addition, I wonder if calls and movements to defund the police, as seen in the resurgence of Black Lives Matter last May, also drove Americans to look to firearms for self-defense.
Ever since the Uvalde school shooting and the pattern of the American response repeated, I have been thinking about “natural laws” of civilizations.
One of Newton’s natural laws of physics described gravity; what goes up must come down. When it comes to individuals, we know that those who are indulged and spoiled become lazy and weak-minded. Perhaps the same can be said for civilizations (which, after all, are composed of individuals); one of the Roman Empire’s ultimate conquerors was its public’s debauchery.
The US has enjoyed a prosperous history since that shot heard around the world, from emerging in the late 18th century as one of the few anti-colonial independence movements that truly succeeded to becoming a world leader in the mid-20th century and on. Are our nation’s ailments — rancorous polarization, gun violence, etc. — an equal and opposite reaction to its centuries of prosperity?
Is such a “fall from grace” accelerated by a civilization that has been coddled by sovereign protection that is beginning to crumble? We won’t ever know.
We know that every generation indulges in its brand of nihilism, and despite that, we are still here. My guess is that that pattern will act as patterns do, and persist — as will that of American opinions on gun control.
Lily Wu is a junior at Hatboro-Horsham High School in Pennsylvania. She's editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, on the girls' varsity tennis team and runs a book club with friends. She loves Greek mythology.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Hatboro-Horsham junior asks why more Americans don't support gun control