Full metal jacket : challenges to reducing gun violence in Obama’s America
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
According to the non-advocacy Gun Violence Archive, more than ninety Americans are killed by guns every single day. Although definitions vary, on average, there is a mass shooting incident where four or more people are shot every single day. On average, a gun is brought into an American school by a child every single day. The response to this epidemic of firearms violence is partisan and intensely polarised, compounded by issues of race relations, mental health, socioeconomic status, and cultural values. Measures to implement gun control have been met by forceful political opposition, fuelled by a gun lobby hostile to greater restrictions on firearms. The evolution of gun control policy in the Obama administration followed a fascinating trajectory. Early on, the administration had a calculated distaste for engaging with the issue, and Obama paid little more than lip service to gun control early in his tenure. Following a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, the newly re-elected president vowed to make the reduction of gun violence a ‘central issue’ of his second term. Continued violence, and a series of incidents culminating in a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, heightened the Administration’s response, though Obama’s proposals met stringent opposition in Congress and amongst gun rights advocates. This thesis examines the public policy issue of gun violence throughout the Obama presidency, chronicling the administration’s engagement with a deadly spate of mass shootings and rising trends of firearms fatalities. It addresses the challenges of enacting legislation or authorising executive initiatives in the face of what I define as the ‘Full Metal Jacket’ - a model representing an openly antagonistic Congress, the powerful pro-gun lobby, and the gun culture that permeates American society today. It also considers the dynamics of Presidential-Congressional relations. Here I make the case that Obama’s efforts to pass gun control legislation exemplifies the inherent rivalry between the two branches of government as institutionally designed by the Framers of the United States Constitution. The thesis concludes by find that Obama was largely unsuccessful in overcoming the challenge posed by the Full Metal Jacket, thus contributing to our understanding of Presidential-Congressional relations theory in the context of the gun debate.