Wednesday, November 10, 2021

SCOTUS about to stir the pot of guns and political extremism

Over the past decade, amid rising mass shootings and fierce debate over America’s gun laws, the claim that “nothing ever changes” became a political cliché, reported Mother Jones. The frustration was aimed in particular at the federal government—foremost at the failure by Congress to mandate a stronger and more comprehensive background-check system for gun buyers, a policy with long-standing bipartisan support among Americans, including gun owners. Much has changed in recent years, in fact, at the state and local levels, where governments adopted hundreds of regulations either tightening or loosening restrictions on firearms, a mix defined largely along partisan lines. From a national perspective, however, the picture has been evolving more recently in some ominous ways.

The US Supreme Court, now tilted decisively to the right with three Trump-appointed justices, will soon rule on a case widely expected to open the floodgates for many more Americans to carry loaded guns whenever and wherever they want. Broad scientific research has long since confirmed that the presence of more guns throughout society correlates with more gun injuries and deaths.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020, gun sales have boomed. “Today, we remain in an unprecedented surge in firearm purchasing that shows no sign of abating and risks becoming part of a new normal for the USA,” observes Garen Wintemute, a leading expert on gun-violence research, in an analysis published in early November in the journal of Injury Epidemiology.

FBI background checks on gun buyers during the first three quarters of 2021 were 60 percent higher than the expected level, with 12.5 million “excess” checks among 33.4 million total, according to the analysis. Even those numbers underestimate purchases, Wintemute notes, since they don’t account for purchases of multiple firearms in a single transaction, nor for the estimated 20 percent of transactions that don’t involve any background checks, such as those between private parties or at gun shows. A least 20 percent of gun purchasers during the pandemic have been first-time buyers, according to multiple surveys included in the analysis, expanding the ranks of the roughly one-third of all Americans who own firearms.

“If that still sounds like unrealistic pessimism, consider what will happen next year when armed voter suppression (surely that’s coming) meets armed voter support.”

America now has nearly 400 million guns in the hands of citizens, the most of anywhere in the world by far and more than enough to arm every man, woman, and child. But concern about an ever-more locked and loaded nation goes beyond those numbers to include escalating political extremism and rates of homicide in the United States—a convergence of conditions that Wintemute says puts the country “at risk for disaster in the months ahead.”

This could include large-scale political violence, he says. “If that still sounds like unrealistic pessimism, consider what will happen next year when armed voter suppression (surely that’s coming) meets armed voter support. Perhaps vaccine or mask mandates will trigger more than isolated outbreaks of violence. Or perhaps the flashpoint will be a more focused conflict, such as private enforcement of an abortion ban in Texas or the fight over water rights in the ever-hotter and -dryer West.” 

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