There have been sixteen mass shootings in America in 2012. Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Miami, Oakland, Tulsa, Seattle, Wilmington, Aurora, Milwaukee, Texas, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Portland, and now Newtown.
After each one, the gun debate resumes, but inevitably petered out with no resolution. Unless we are okay having monthly mass shootings, something fundamental needs to change.
The unfortunate reality is that we only talk about gun policy after mass killings, when the issues are thrust back into the public eye. As sad as this it, we have another chance to make this right and take action to stop these unspeakable tragedies. How many more killing rampages do we need to get this debate going, again?
After any mass shooting, the left points to the lack of gun laws and the ease of access, while the right says regulations will have no impact. This polarization is routine in politics today. But now that the election is over, both sides need to cut the bickering and act in the best interest of the American people, which is what we elected them to do. This applies to Democrats, Republicans, representatives, senators and the President. As David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, pointed out, the (questionable) liberties of deer hunters and second amendment lovers does not, in any way shape or form, trump public safety and security. The fact that we are even comparing the two is shameful.
Additional gun control seems like one of many logical steps in the right direction. The United States is currently the most armed nation in the world, with over to 279 million firearms, dwarfing Yemen, which has forty percent less. In America, there are 88.8 firearms for every 100 people. Currently, it is harder to plant a tree near the street, buy a car, or get a mortgage than it is to get a gun. This is ludicrous. With the abundance of guns in our society, we need a combination of laws, procedures, education and social standards to mitigate further risks and possible causes of future mass shootings.
The NRA, the largest lobbying machine in Washington, quickly asserts that gun control will have no positive affect or curb mass shootings. There is even a petition on the White House website calling for all kindergarten teachers to be armed. There is absolutely no evidence that arming people eliminates crime or that guns save more people than they kill. The combination of lies and ideology is only pushing the country backwards. However, there has to be a way for the NRA to help and encourage more effective gun policy and education.
After all, it is in the NRA’s interest to participate in this debate. After a mass shooting, everyone is rightfully furious at the NRA and they brush off the criticism. But if the NRA would participate in the debate, and offer their own solutions, we could accomplish something and decrease the frequency of these horrific acts. Similarly, alcohol companies are huge proponents of designated driving, because they know that they will be blamed if their product is partially at fault. The gun lobby should do the same.
As little as I have in common with members of the NRA, I am positive that nobody likes seeing innocent Americans, let alone children, killed. If we framed the issue realistically, as preserving innocent citizens’ lives, opposed to taking guns away from the Americans who have nothing to do with the shootings, many more people would participate in and encourage the debate.
The rhetoric in the debate also needs to be changed from “gun control” to “sensible gun regulations.” This is a similar stance that filmmaker Peter Byck took when working on a film about climate change. He found that if people ideologically don’t believe in climate change, it doesn’t mean they don’t care about green energy. He learned that if he talked about using cleaner energy and resources, opposed to talking about the earth getting warmer and throwing around the blame, people were more motivated to make a difference. The same needs to happen with the debate over guns.
The reasoning behind the rhetoric change is simple: we aren’t currently calling the policy by what it is. We don’t say we want “food control,” we say we have food regulation; we don’t “control” it. Regulating food is a public safety issue, which is why we do it. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t know what was in it or how it was made. Using the same principle, we should start calling gun policy what it is: sensible regulations to ensure the safety of the public.
This reframing would also decrease the gut reaction to the words “gun control.” Whenever a gun-toting American hears these words, the first thing that comes to mind is Big Government is taking away my rights. So far, the most effective policy that’s been proposed would try to limit the sale of semi and full automatic weapons (because hunting rifles fire less rapidly, which discourages their use for mass shootings). It would also impose stricter background (both mental and criminal) checks on gun purchasers, both at gun shops and conventions, closing the infamous “gun show loophole.” These policies would have no effect on gun-loving Americans. Let me repeat, they would have no effect on 99.9% of gun owners.
The goal of these policies is to root out mentally unstable people and criminals, not hunters and other citizens who cite the second amendment as their favorite. Most people who currently own guns would pass all of these checks because they are normal, sane Americas. If I owned a gun, I would favor waiting an extra day for all of my information to check out. If the policy insured that that fewer firearms would fall into the hands of undesired and unstable people and fewer Americans would die as a result, it would be worth it. Additionally, to think that your freedom to own a gun is on par with people’s right to live is selfish at best.
Mental health evaluations also need to be created. If you have to get a physical before you go to summer camp or college, you should have to get one before you buy a gun. And then every few years, you would have to get reevaluated, to make sure you are mentally stable and aware of proper weapon utility policies. Canada also requires two people to accompany and vouch for you when making a gun purchase. Again, the goal is to mitigate unsafe usage and purchases of weapons, not infringe on gun owners’ rights.
There is also a lot more that law enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms can do. The NICS database (the database that gun stores run the purchaser’s name through) and other similar records could be drastically better vetted and kept. Many have called for this database to be combined with the numerous others out there, which would create a central place where all the data the government has about unstable and criminal people can be referenced. This would lead to more informed decisions about whether someone should be cleared to buy a gun. There will always be weapons for sale on black markets and there will always be organized crime, but there is more law enforcement agencies can do to diminish the current threats and illegal avenues.
We also need to better educate gun owners on storing their weapons. There are too many stories every year when a child finds a gun sitting around gets hurt because the gun owner didn’t properly store their firearm.
The bottom line is that this issue is about the safety of American citizens. The argument that policy won’t change anything isn’t valid. Crime hasn’t disappeared because we have police officers, but it’s a lot better than it would be without them. There is a reason America isn’t Syria or Somalia right now. We have laws and procedures in place that facilitate a civilized society. Gun regulation is a sensible and much needed addition.
If someone believes that owning guns will protect their family, that’s their choice. But there is a dialogue (and subsequent action) that everyone needs to have since we all have a stake in this issue. All sides have legitimate concerns, which should be addressed. All sides also need to make concessions. If everyone could work together to find a solution to these horrific acts, whether the solution is policy, laws, education, social standards or a combination of all four, we could make some tangible progress on this issue. We know shootings will never go away, but until we can tell ourselves that we are doing everything in our capacity to diminish them, the burden will remain. What we can’t do is continue to passively sit and watch while the shootings continue.