It’s early morning, and the preschoolers are lining up to enter the school. The sun shines down on their new backpacks as their mothers wave at them from across the street. The children are chatting and laughing noisily; excited for the school day. But now a lone man with a semi - automatic rifle is crossing the street to the school, and suddenly the sun isn’t shining so brightly anymore.
More preschoolers are shot dead each year in America (82 in 2013 alone) than police officers are in the line of duty (27 in 2013), and yet, still no comprehensive gun safety legislation has been implemented in our country.
Why Do We Need Gun Control?
Gun violence is not a random occurrence in America, as it is in other developed nations. Mass murders and shootings are part of an unrelenting saga of gun violence that claims on average one American life every 16 minutes. In fact, “ more Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.”(Kristof) Schools are plagued by the threats of angry teenagers with access to their parents guns. And teachers fear that they will be asked to defend their classrooms with their lives; which was definitely not in the job description.
When they hear the words ‘gun control’ many gun rights advocates often panic and misunderstand the phrase. Gun control does not mean that the federal government is coming to take away all of your guns. Nor does it mean that as a nation we are entering a tyrant dictatorship in which your right to own a firearm is meaningless. It simply implies that certain steps should be taken by the government to regulate the public’s purchase, distribution and access to firearms for everyone’s safety. The government already regulates most other dangerous things in our lives. Car accidents used to take tens of thousands of lives each year, as gun violence does now, and so the federal government implemented comprehensive legislation to make cars safer. Because of this action the number of deaths due to car accidents has decreased by 95%. Most people put passcodes on their phones so that only they have access to them. Why not protect a deadly firearm the same way you protect your iphone and implement ‘smart gun’ technology that personalizes a gun to be accessible only to its registered owner? Even children’s toys are regulated to make them safer.
Gun rights advocates often hold up the 2nd Amendment as proof that they have the right to own guns. Ignoring the fact that the 2nd Amendment specifies this right is for the purpose of maintaining a militia and not a personal arsenal; nobody is saying you can’t own a gun. Just that said gun should be regulated for your safety and the safety of those around you, in the same way your car, or your children’s toys are regulated.
Can Gun Control Even Work?
Many gun proponents state that gun control is impossible because it just ‘won't work’. However, it actually has worked; in almost every other developed nation in the world. Most often used as an example is Australia, which in 1996 had a mass shooting that shocked the nation. Immediately after this conservative politicians came together and drew up comprehensive gun control laws. From inception to implementation these reforms only took three months. In the 18 years before the gun control laws were enacted there were 13 mass shootings (meaning over four people were killed in each shooting) After the gun control reform there have been zero mass shootings, the rate of gun related homicides dropped significantly, and the rate of gun related suicides dropped by 80%. And just like in America, there were conservatives in Australia who believed that these laws were taking away their rights to own firearms and were leading to a police state. But the conservative lawmakers went against their party’s base and now, years later, many conservatives find the regulations quite manageable.
Australia is not the only country who has seen a dramatic decrease in firearm related deaths after they implemented extensive gun control laws. Compare these statistics: in 2008 the United States had 9,484 gun related homicides, in Japan (who has expansive gun control legislation) there were 11. Similarly, in 2006 there were 10,225 gun related homicides in the U.S., and there were only 2 in Japan. Across countries the message is clear: the introduction of comprehensive gun safety legislation leads to a decrease in the number of gun related deaths.
But what do I mean when I say ‘comprehensive gun safety’? Well, there are many ways in which the government can draft legislation to make firearms safer. Smaller magazines for instance would mean that a shooter would have to reload his gun more often; limiting the amount of times he could fire the weapon repeatedly. This would make it easier for law officials to subdue a shooter if necessary. ‘Smart gun’ technology would make guns accessible only to the legal owner by using an identifying code or even a fingerprint. In other words, the gun would not be able to fire unless it confirmed that the legal owner was firing it. This could prevent teenagers from accessing their parent’s guns for malicious or even suicidal purposes. The US General Accounting Office (GAO) estimated that ‘100% of deaths per year in which a child under 6 years old shoots and kills him/herself or another child could be prevented by automatic childproof safety locks.” Longer waiting periods, more extensive background checks; there are numerous possibilities that could make guns safer for the public.
Why Hasn’t it Happened Yet?
So why then, if America clearly needs a change in the way we deal with gun violence and gun control could actually help to stem the avalanche of deaths, hasn’t it been implemented already? The answer is mainly a combination of two factors:
Firstly, gun control is a politically controversial topic that most politicians like to stay away from defending for a number of reasons. Many passionate gun rights advocates tend to feel as though any attempt to regulate guns is an attempt to take away all the guns. Which just isn’t true. These people are the minority, but because so few politicians wish to speak out about the matter their voices can seem deafening. The politicians know that if they avoid the topic most people will move on and it will be easier for them to be re-elected. There is also significant pressure on Congress from the NRA (National Rifle Association) to not only prevent gun safety legislation from being passed, but even to prevent research from being conducted to show what methods would be most helpful to prevent gun violence. This mainly stems from an incident between the Center for Disease Control and the NRA over twenty years ago. In 1993 the CDC funded a study that found that having a firearm in the home led to an significantly increased risk of homicide. This was contrary to the popular belief that having a gun made a family home safer. The NRA was alarmed by the study and immediately they, and “their allies on Capitol Hill”(Luo) pushed through legislation that cut the CDC’s funding for these studies. Since then the NRA has essentially prevented, through the cutting of funds, any other meaningful research from being done on the topic. Since research is crucial for the passing of any legislation, it is now very difficult to get gun safety legislation through Congress.
Secondly, Americans are desensitized to this violence. This is not to say that people don’t care, they do, just not for long enough. Every few months or so there is a terrible mass shooting and it gets covered on every media channel. There are hashtags telling us to pray for the victims on every social networking site and the country feels a sense of patriotism and solidarity. Then comes a week or so of gun control debate in the media and some tearful speeches. But two weeks later the subject is exhausted and everybody returns to normal, that is until the next mass shooting. It is a vicious, cynical cycle that does nothing whatsoever to stop the next attack and instead only desensitizes people to the horror and tragedy of these massacres. The families of the victims carry the pain of the shooting with them for the rest of their lives, but the general public forgets about it after a couple of months. As a nation we keep repeating this cycle, and the shootings start to blend together. It becomes just another part of life in America and people feel as though that's ‘just the way it is’. Except it doesn’t have to be.
What Can I Do?
You can care. Yes, that sounds almost insultingly simple, but it’s true. The best thing any individual can do to impact change is to care deeply about what it is they want to fix. Raise awareness about the tragedies of gun violence and the flaws in our political system that enable the cycle to continue. Don’t let the subject of gun safety disappear two weeks after the next school shooting. Research what your local politicians have to say about gun safety and vote for those who are brave enough to actually push for meaningful legislation in your state. Every politician is bound to the people. Politicians only get away with not enacting meaningful change because we let them. Think of what you want the legacy of our generation, even of our country, to be. Think back to that preschool. AK47’s sending schoolkids to heaven is not the American Dream.