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Guns just part of US problem

Ines Pohl
Ines Pohl
July 5, 2016

In the US, House Democrats are planning another sit-in protest on gun control. Although it's bound to get plenty of attention, it's unlikely to have much effect combatting the problems, says DW's Ines Pohl.

USA Protest Abgeordnete der Demokraten für Verschärfung des Waffenrechts
John Lewis helped Democrats protest gun laws last month, and plans to againImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. lo Scalzo

When experienced politicians run out of ideas and enrol members of the civil rights movement it becomes clear: we are now dealing with something more important than the daily grind of politics.

Two weeks ago, with the help of John Lewis, Democrat lawmakers protested for the first time with a sit-in on the floor of the US House of Representatives for one day and one night. Lewis, who campaigned long ago beside Martin Luther King for the equal rights for black people, was on the floor with them. This Tuesday the politicians want to do it again, because they see no other way of forcing the House to engage with their demand to tighten gun controls.

The ugly side of US politics

This incident shows the ugly side of US politics. It demonstrates clearly just how incapable the country is of passing laws that are not constructed with specific political motives or along party lines, which benefit one party or a particular politician.

In this instance we are talking - quite simply - about trying to limit the number of needless daily deaths. Over 25,000 Americans were shot dead last year. Every day seven children under the age of 12 die, while every month 50 women are shot dead by their partners. Nowadays, more people die from gunshot wounds in the US than car accidents.

Cultural heritage

The right to bear arms is anchored in the US Constitution. That's the main argument of those who want gun ownership protected. Foreigners may be unable to relate to the issue, but that is how it goes with cultural heritage: some of the old habits eventually become out of date.

Pohl Ines Kommentarbild App
DW's Washington correspondent Ines Pohl

There are many things in Germany that confuse foreigners too. For example, that we don't like to get involved in foreign conflicts, because of a number of important, historical reasons. At the same time our arms exports to conflicts all around the world are on the increase. That's not doing the right thing either.

But doing the right thing has had nothing to do with the gun control debate in the US for quite some time. It's all about proving who is right and who holds the power in a two-party system, which has given up looking for a compromise.

What does that mean for the current sit-in? Perhaps we will once again see pictures of veteran human rights activists huddling on the floor. This will only really impress those who are already convinced that the laws on gun ownership should be tightened.

Fighting for equality

That doesn't mean that such a protest action is wrong, but it should be only a part of the quest for improving living standards for many in the the US.

After all, gun violence is often closely related to racism, education, inequality and a lack of proper healthcare. It's no coincidence that the most shootings take place in poor communities where a high proportion of black Americans live. It's been researched for years that the broken societal and familial structures in these areas encourage violence. Every study shows that many of the offenders are struggling with major mental health problems, which are often not treated because they don't have the medical insurance that would allow them access to proper diagnosis or treatment.

For that reason, campaigning for tougher gun laws is not enough. The Democrats must know that a prominent fight for less guns on the streets won't really make a difference if more and more citizens give up the dream of taking part in America's wealth. That's why a fight for a reduction in guns must always mean a fight for more equality.

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Ines Pohl
Ines Pohl Bureau head of DW's Washington Studio@inespohl