The Gun Debate Heats Up

Rachel Tropp ‘16
EE Editor-in-Chief

infographicIn the wake of another hideous tragedy, this time the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, the debate over gun control is raging once more.

This massacre is the 294th shooting of the year, occurring on 2015’s 274th day. In fact, our nation has only gone eight days all year without a mass shooting, commonly defined as the murder of four or more people. This time, at Umpqua, nine were killed before mentally ill gunman Christopher Mercer-Harper turned the gun on himself.

Nearly 1 in every 3 mass shootings takes place in America, a statistic far out of proportion with the nation’s population, which makes up 5% of the world. Some criminologists say that America’s individualistic culture helps encourage such senseless acts of violence, yet no other free nation experiences such high rates of this brand of ideologically-motivated, often terror-based crime.

In the last few years alone, domestic terrorists like Dylann Roof, Elliot Rodger, and now Harper-Mercer have chosen their victims out of hatred for a group: African Americans, women, and Christians respectively.

The news coverage of such killings only motivates more shooters to act, as they are able to send their message of hatred further through the media’s attention and spread the fear their acts are meant to instill.

Although the number of mentally ill people in the country has not gone up significantly, the number of mass shootings has–in fact, it has tripled in the last three years, according to CNN. The copycat phenomenon combined with the easy access to firearms have jointly caused this change. Though only one in three Americans owns a gun, there are almost the same number of guns in the country as people, a totally unique status in the world.

In the aftermath of this newest tragedy, President Obama once again spoke out in favor of gun control, saying, “When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer.  When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities.  We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives.”

“The notion that gun violence is somehow different,” he added, “that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations, doesn’t make sense.”

Opponents of gun control argue that passing stricter laws and requirements won’t help in  the effort, as criminals never follow laws. Yet, proponents rebut this point as ridiculous, saying that criminals ignore all laws, yet we pass them anyway.

They also criticize the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument; just because there are other ways to kill people doesn’t mean it’s not better for the public interest to restrict the current most common manner of homicide, and guns are a cheap, available, and physically detached way of quickly producing massive body counts.

Although it’s true that people can always find a way, and that bombs also kill many at a time, they are much more difficult for an amateur to handle, while other deadly weapons like knives kill only one person at a time and thus don’t appeal in the same way to twisted would-be mass murderers.

The heart of the legal conflict rests in the wording of the Second Amendment. Many people feel that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of this law is inconsistent with its original intention, as it clearly states citizens should have the right to bear arms in “a well-regulated militia,” rather than an unregulated mass, and that with “militias” like the police force and the National Guard, private gun ownership should not be necessary.

Additionally, the grade of weaponry has vastly changed in the past few centuries, and the rifles and muskets of the founder’s age in no way compare to the semi-automatic assault weapons of today.

The original intention of the amendment was to help protect citizens from the possible tyranny of the government, and to allow them to violently overthrow it if they decided it was not upholding their rights. By today, we have yet to overthrow a single tyrant, yet guns have killed thousands of students, theater-goers, shoppers, and children in the last decade alone.

Many gun owners fear that the government will come to take their guns away, and stockpile even more weapons in the aftermath of each new mass shooting. Yet, this fear is far from the truth.

Rather, political leaders are merely calling for regulations on gun purchase and ownership. One such requirement would be universal background checks, including the removal of  barriers in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that limit access to people’s mental health information.

The proposed plans also include incentives to the states to provide better criminal and mental health information, bans on military-style assault weapons and magazines with a capacity greater than ten rounds, stricter penalties for gun traffickers, better training for “active shooter situations” for law enforcement and within schools, an increase in the number of mental health professionals in schools, and the creation of awareness about mental health issues, including informing health care providers they can and should report threats of violence, ignoring patient-doctor privilege.

The numbers tell us that for every victim of a terrorist attack, 1000 people die of gun violence on average each year. Nevertheless, the problem has yet to be fixed, and the time has come for changes to be made.

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