James Holmes and Adam Lanza: Will They Change America's Gun Culture Forever?


2012 witnessed the tragic incidents caused by the actions of mass shooters Adam Lanza and James Holmes; but will these incidents change gun control forever? Sadly, it's unlikely and here's why.

The New York Times rightly argued following the Newton school shooting in December "inaction is not an option, morally or politically." And President Obama's response didn't disappoint. Following the shooting, Obama stressed that these tragedies must end and that he's committed to pursuing action on gun control. In the New Year, he's come out in support of a bill that bans assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, as well as considering other possible gun control measures.

If Congress supports Obama, the likely outcome of the most recent incidents is a law that closely resembles the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004. An independent study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice reported in 2004 that the ban was not responsible for the nation's steady decline in gun-related violence, and that little would be achieved if it were renewed. So it wasn't, but in hindsight, there seems little harm of it being renewed. Now, Obama is openly supporting a reinstatement of a similar federal ban on assault weapons.

Such legislation is definitely a move in the right direction, but will it really change gun control forever? It's difficult to envisage that the weapons likely to be outlawed being taken completely out of circulation; many will be left in the hands of those the law is designed to target, namely the law-breaking citizens. Moreover, it is also unlikely to address those assault weapons that are already legally owned, such as the one Adam Lanza took from his mother. Only a separate buyback initiative or other approach could address this aspect, which is unlikely to comprehensively materialize out of this bill or across the whole of America.

The original Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 was then, as now, the product of a violent tragedy. July 1, 1993 saw, what is now known, as the 101 California Street shooting and created the impetus for the bill; but this seemed long forgotten by 2004 when the ban was up for renewal. There is a high risk that the actions of Adam Lanza and James Holmes will be forgotten if a new ban is passed with an expiry date given Congress' short memory.

It is highly likely a gun control bill will be passed in 2013 as a result of these incidents, but it's unlikely to impact gun control "forever." The only way this can be achieved is if a true and honest evaluation is made of America's gun culture, and a comprehensive reshaping is pursued.

Work on new gun regulations needs to be accompanied by better education, comprehensive and consistent background checks, greater cooperation between authorities across state lines, better mental health care and record sharing with law enforcement agencies, and many other improvements. Fundamentally, a new mindset needs to be adopted by all. This all needs to be achieved while respecting the Bill of Rights. Is this achievable? Probably not. With so many diverse voices shouting to be heard in the political sphere, no agreement is likely to be reached. Moreover, Congress, as well as the authorities at the federal and state level, is not going to take on such a monumental, and perhaps impossible, task of trying to reform the gun culture in America.

So while some short-term measures are likely to be seen in 2013, Adam Lanza and James Holmes have not changed gun control forever. Instead the world continues to brace itself for news of another major gun-related tragedy coming out of the U.S.