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    In this file photo, guns line the walls of the firearms reference collection at the Washington Metropolitan Police Department headquarters in Washington on Friday, Sept. 28, 2007

    'American Interest in Purchasing Firearms Has Been Decreasing' – Academic

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    The call by the US President Donald Trump to increase the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21 hasn't been included in new White House plan. According to a Sunday statement, the administration is poised to improve the mental health system and background checks on gun purchases.

    Sputnik discussed the development with Professor Robert Spitzer, political science researcher at State University of New York College at Cortland.

    Sputnik: What are your thoughts on this proposal to raise the legal age to purchase assault weapons? Can it have some impact on the gun issue in the US?

    Robert Spitzer: It does reflect President Trump's broader loyalty to the National Rifle Association (NRA), he did indeed at one point express support for seeing a measure to raise the purchase age, for example, of assault type weapon from 18 to 21. But now he's sort of saying let the states work it out. He's clearly not going to push such a measure in the US Congress, so they're off the hook, and I think it's a way for him to back out of that initial support, and that pretty much puts him in line with the NRA preferences on everything else he has proposed or he is talking about. It takes us back to really not very much at all in terms of actual policy change.

    Sputnik: This is really shocking to me because the legal drinking age in the US is 21. You can't buy a beer until you're 21, but you must have the right to have an assault weapon at 18. Why is the NRA so much against this provision?

    Robert Spitzer: The NRA is essentially against anything that makes it harder to get a gun and they're in favor of everything that makes it easier to get a gun. There are two parts to this, one part is that Americans generally. Despite what people in other countries might think, Americans are actually taking less and less interest in firearms.

    The percentage of Americans who own one or more guns has been gradually declining for about 40 years and that broadly continues. As a consequence the NRA is very interested in anything that would press more guns into the hands of more people and anything that has the opposite effect, of course, they oppose.

    The NRA become ever more hardlined on the gun issue generally. They didn't always take such a hardline approach to gun measures at the federal or state level. But for the last few decades they've become more and more hardline on any measure that might make it more complicated to get a gun or that would be other kinds of requirements that they just fight against —  and that has become what they do on a daily basis.

    Sputnik: What can you say of the regulations and measures that Trump is willing to take? Are they of value and will they make a difference?

    Robert Spitzer: Frankly, not much. It's primarily an effort to engage in some political motion to give the appearance of doing something to address the issue. It's a serious issue that clearly still has the public's attention. That may change in the weeks to come. Trump is calling for a creation of a commission, for example, to study gun violence and the causes of school violence more generally. That's OK to do, although we have a great deal of information about those subjects already, and usually you set up a commission because that's where you send policy ideas to go to die.

    I would take it as a sap to suggest that President Trump wants to do something, is trying to move in a direction of allaying public concern about violence and schools and guns. Despite these terrible events, like the shooting in Parkland, Florida, public schools are very safe places and schools shootings are extremely rare events. In fact.  they've actually been declining in the last 20 years and it's a very small number. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything, there's nothing wrong with enhancing school security.

    Sputnik: But there's still Sandy Hook, Columbine…

    Robert Spitzer: Sure, those are terrible events, but they stand out if you look at the overall statistics — it's an extremely small number. But again, I would emphasize that we shouldn't be complacent.

    Sputnik: But not compared to the rest of the world… School shootings in the US are much greater in number than those in any other civilized country I believe…

    Robert Spitzer: That's true, you're absolutely right that school shootings or mass shootings are vanishingly small in other countries compared to the United States, and that's why we should be talking about it, that's why we should be taking steps, but again, I would emphasize that statistically public schools are very safe places, we ought not to panic, we should look at what the best policy options are and proceed in that way.

    Sputnik: Recent polls show that the majority of Americans support stricter gun control laws and of course the activism demonstrated by the survivors of Parkland Florida seems like they're going to go very far in their demands and perhaps attracting other people to this movement. Do you think there is any chance that this is a turning point and we'll see any real changes?

    Robert Spitzer: I would say — probably no, but possibly yes. We've seen this cycle before and what tends to happen after these terrible events is that public outcry and rage subsides.

    The public tends to turn attention back to other issues and other things and then you return to politics as usual. But these students have been quite remarkable, if they can sustain this momentum and keep public attention on this issue and bring it into the fall midterm elections, then it's possible that it could have a real effect how our government responds in policy terms.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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