Serbia acted after two mass shootings – yet the US still does nothing

Earlier this month, Serbia experienced two separate mass shootings that killed more than a dozen people, including children. Serbia, a nation tied for the third highest rate of gun ownership in the world, was shaken by this violence: mass shootings are not a daily occurrence.

It did not take long for the president, Aleksandar Vučić, to take action, announcing several measures to prevent further tragedy. These include a ban on new gun permits, tougher penalties for illegal weapons possession, psychological checks of gun owners and an amnesty for the surrender of illegal weapons.

It only took two days for Serbia to act. Why, after more than 200 mass shootings in 2023 alone, has the United States failed to take similar sweeping action?

Day after day, the US experiences senseless gun violence and yet it’s generally accepted that lawmakers will do little to prevent the next mass shooting. This is despite Americans making it clear they don’t want empty chairs at their dinner tables, and don’t want their children to share trauma with war veterans.

The difference between Serbia’s action and the US’s inaction boils down to the gun industry’s political influence. The US can’t take the sweeping actions favoured by the majority of Americans, including even universal background checks, because a small – but powerful – minority of lawmakers have adopted the gun lobby’s complete opposition to sensible gun laws and regulations. The gun lobby – and not just the NRA – has spent decades making this possible by funnelling endless supplies of donations to political candidates as well as by creating an extremist view of the second amendment that is antagonistic towards any and all firearm restrictions and safeguards.

The gun lobby wants Americans to believe that there is no legislative or regulatory remedy to gun violence. Its loudest voices are telling Americans they’re not “praying enough” for mass shootings to stop. They blame mental health. They point their fingers at everything and everyone except the actual cause of gun violence. While they do everything to distract, one thing is clear: the carnage is caused by ample and easy access to guns.

How do we know it’s gun access? Because when governments, particularly state governments, put into place commonsense safeguards, we see fewer killings and less trauma.

Much like Serbia, other countries have sprung into action immediately in the wake of mass shootings. It only took one mass shooting in Australia for the government to ban assault weapons, and in the decades since, the rate of deaths by firearms has plummeted in the country. The UK has not experienced a mass shooting since 1996, when it acted to ban certain guns in the wake of a shooting in which 16 school children and one adult were killed in Dunblane. After the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, the government offered a buyback programme and removed almost 60,000 firearms from circulation.

* Kris Brown is an activist, lawyer and president of the Brady Campaign for gun control in the US

Here in the US, we’ve seen improvements after states such as California, Colorado, Maryland and Michigan took action to fill gaps left by legislators at the federal level. These states recognise that when an assault weapon or a high-capacity magazine is used in a public mass shooting, nearly 14 times as many people are injured and twice as many people are killed. In doing so, they have made their states safer, but a lack of federal action still leaves them vulnerable to guns brought in from other states. Despite that, California now has the seventh lowest firearm death rate in the country, while states with weaker gun laws, such as Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico, have among the highest. This is not a coincidence. When states put more stringent safeguards into place, fewer people die by firearms.

Serbia has clearly taken note from the successes of nations that put people over guns. What will it take for the American legislators beholden to the gun lobby’s money and influence to do the same? Americans don’t have to live paralysed in fear of whether our schools, our places of worship, our healthcare facilities or our malls will be the stage of the next tragedy. The US government can stop gun violence, but only if our policymakers start answering to the people, not the industry.

Other nations have experienced mass shootings, but in the US too many of our legislators are dependent on gun industry donations and support to take the bold action needed to save lives