BY: Brianna Zichettella
While some believe that the aftermath of tragedy is not the time to discuss changes that could have prevented it, I argue that there will not be a more relevant moment. Historically, some of the most drastic changes have followed terrible tragedies.
For example, in the wake of September 11, people across America came together to discuss one question: “How can we prevent this in the future?”
Regardless of the politics surrounding the policies created after 9/11, it is difficult to deny that they were created at an appropriate moment.
That said, few of America’s mass shootings have seen anything resembling the wide-sweeping legislative changes of the early 2000s. Yet, shootings continue to occur.
In 2016, the shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub claimed the lives of 49 people (http://www.npr.org/2016/06/16/482322488/orlando-shooting-what-happened-update).
With 58 deaths and 500 reported injuries, the October 1 attack in Las Vegas has replaced Orlando as the shooting with the highest number of casualties in recent public memory (http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/02/us/las-vegas-shooting-what-we-know/index.html).
With a mass shooting defined as an attack resulting in at least four people wounded or dead, America has an average of more than one mass shooting a day. (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/03/us/how-often-do-mass-shootings-occur-on-average-every-day-records-show.html).
None of these individual incidents had as staggering a death toll as 9/11, but they were all devastating events. With these attacks becoming more and more common, we are left with the same question: “How can we prevent this in the future?”
There is no easy answer or perfect solution, but there are steps we can take towards substantive policy change.
I argue that the most effective route forward would involve strengthening gun ownership regulations and funding research into the causes of gun violence.
On the first count, gun rights activists will often equate guns with self-defense and point to the Second Amendment as a legitimization of every person’s right to own and use a gun.
I believe that this argument is flawed because gun ownership is a privilege, not a right.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as laid out by the United Nations, states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” (http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html).
Self-defense is a part of security; as a human right, all people are entitled to it regardless of status. However, this does not provide provisions for what constitutes self-defense or when the concept is applied too universally.
While self-defense is a human right, gun ownership is not. A gun is a tool used to achieve self-defense, but the gun itself is only loosely provided for under the Constitution’s Second Amendment.
It reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” (http://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/).
The militias referenced in the amendment were the country’s primary mode of defense because, until the creation of the Constitution, the country operated without any standing national army. The guns in question were intended for the upkeep of that militia.
This was also ratified at a time in which guns were much less efficient than they are today. When the Constitution was ratified, the technological limitations of weapons would have made it impossible for one person with a gun to create the kind of devastation seen in Las Vegas and Orlando.
That said, I am not advocating a ban on firearms; instead, I would ask readers to consider restrictions on certain gun modifications and purchases. A ban on bump stocks – the modification that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to greatly increase the fire rate of a semi-automatic weapon – has received a degree of bipartisan support and is a good place to start.
In addition to being a privilege, gun ownership is also a responsibility. To help ensure responsible use, purchasing a gun should require gun safety education and mental health screening.
Gun safety and proper handling are already promoted by the NRA, and a 2017 Pew Research poll finds that 89% of gun owners agree that the mentally ill should not be allowed to purchase guns (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/06/22/americas-complex-relationship-with-guns/).
According to the same Pew Research poll, 82% of gun owners and 84% of non-gun owners agree that those who are on no fly lists should not be allowed to purchase guns.
The positive effects of stricter gun control laws can be seen in Japan.
In Japan, in order to own a gun, a person must file an application and provide details about the type and purpose of the gun; this process automatically excludes those who are mentally ill or have a history of violence (https://www.loc.gov/law/help/firearms-control/japan.php).
The process is purposely complicated, but extensive screening and gun ownership regulations have contributed to Japan’s low gun violence and mortality rates.
In 2011, America had 12,664 gun-related deaths. (https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-8).
Japan had 8. (https://www.loc.gov/law/help/firearms-control/japan.php).
Even given the population disparity between the two countries, the difference is staggering.
Instead of legislating gun control, many gun rights activists point to mental health as the area that should be addressed; I see no reason why we cannot utilize both approaches.
However, there is something of a roadblock. Before taking measures to address mental health, the extent of the situation must be gauged through scholarly research.
Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen.
When compared to the number of gun-related deaths in America, a 2017 study finds that there is a disproportionally low amount of funding and publication on the topic of gun violence (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2595514).
Were more research to be conducted on the causes of gun violence, any proposed policy could be more firmly rooted in existing science. More fully understanding the ramifications of a policy before enacting it would hopefully improve success rates.
Even with additional research, these policies will not eliminate mass murder. If someone is determined to kill a large amount of people, they will find a way. However, making guns harder to obtain legally, and ensuring that those who own them are responsible, will eventually make it more difficult to acquire the weapons illegally.
With time, more responsible gun legislation should reduce the rate at which mass shootings occur nationally. While we cannot go back in time and rewrite the mistakes of our past, we can approach the future with our failed policies in mind.
Only by learning from these senseless, recurring tragedies can we hope to prevent them in the future.