Texas school shooting prompts look at responses of other nations

Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand tightened their gun laws following mass shootings in recent years.

Joe Biden with arms crossed
In the aftermath of the mass shooting at a primary school in Texas, President Joe Biden has vowed to push for new restrictions, but any such efforts are unlikely to succeed [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

A deadly shooting at an elementary school in the US state of Texas has reignited a national push for stricter gun rules in a country that has more permissive gun laws than many other nations, and where mass shootings are frequent.

The rampage on Tuesday left 19 children and two teachers dead, making it the deadliest US school shooting since a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. And it came 10 days after a white supremacist shot 13 people at a supermarket in a mostly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, New York.

Nationally, more than 200 mass shootings have been reported so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group. And 17,331 people have died from guns this year, including 141 children under the age of 11.

In the aftermath of the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, President Joe Biden has pledged to push for new restrictions, but any such effort is unlikely to succeed.

In the US, ownership of guns is based on the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which ensures citizens’ rights to keep and bear arms. Gun legislation is also influenced by the so-called “gun lobby“: highly-funded efforts by lobbying groups to influence both state and federal policy on gun ownership.

Democrat-backed bills requiring background checks, banning semi-automatic rifles, and strengthening gun safety measures have failed for a decade in Congress in the face of Republican opposition and objections from some moderate Democrats and independents.

Republicans have mostly called for more efforts to address mental health and to shore up protections at schools, such as adding security guards.

Crosses with children's names
Crosses bearing the names of the shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas [Jae C Hong/AP Photo]

But in other nations, including Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, mass shootings have prompted governments to tighten their gun laws.

After a gunman killed 14 female engineering students in Montreal, Canada in 1989, new legislation was passed that required safety courses, background checks and increased penalties for some gun crimes.

In 2020, shortly after a gunman shot and killed 13 people in Portapique, Nova Scotia, Canada banned more than 1,500 models of “assault-style” firearms and components, and set limits on how destructive bullets could be.

Canada’s rate of firearm homicides is 0.5 per 100,000 people, versus the US rate of 4.12, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said in a 2021 analysis.

In Australia, after a gunman killed 35 people at a cafe and tourist site in 1996, the country banned all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. Thousands of unlicensed firearms were surrendered under a gun amnesty programme, and licensed gun owners are required to take a safety course.

The chances of being murdered by a gun in Australia plunged from 0.54 per 100,000 people in 1996 to 0.15 per 100,000 people in 2014, a decline of 72 percent, a Reuters analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed.

Pro gun activist
The majority of US states are either controlled by Republicans who oppose gun restrictions or are politically split, leading to stalemate [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

In the UK, a gunman killed 16 children and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, prompting a public campaign that led the country to adopt some of the strictest gun controls in the world. Within two years, new laws effectively banned civilians from owning handguns.

The UK’s rate of gun homicides is 0.04 per 100,000 people, the IHME calculates.

In New Zealand, after an attack on Christchurch mosques that killed 50 people in March 2019, the prime minister banned the sale of assault weapons within days.

Parliament later voted to bar the circulation and use of most semi-automatic firearms, parts that convert firearms into semi-automatic firearms, magazines over a certain capacity, and some shotguns.

Firearm-related murders were rare in New Zealand and remain so; the country had 12 in 2018 and 11 in 2021.

Meanwhile, in the US gun safety advocates are urging Biden to make an emergency declaration on gun violence and to name a gun-violence czar, among other measures.

But the Biden administration is pressing Congress to pass tighter gun laws, which can have a more lasting impact than executive action.

The White House is “continuing to look at every tool we have to stop gun violence, with new urgency following the tragic shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, including through additional executive actions”, White House spokesman Michael Gwin said in response to questions about Biden’s next steps.

The president, he said, “has, and will continue, to forcefully press Congress to act”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies