“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.” -Second Amendment to the United States Constitution
The United States has the highest rate of gun violence in the developed world, with Americans being ten times more likely to be killed by guns than those who live in other developed countries, according to a study released in 2016 by the American Journal of Medicine. The United States also has the largest amount of firearms per capita in the world, and according to the author of the study, Erin Grinshteyn, the results “are consistent with the hypothesis that our firearms are killing us rather than protecting us.” And she’s right. According to a Mother Jones database of newsworthy mass shootings from 1982 to the present, there have been sixty four mass shootings since 2000, with fifty five having occurred in 2007 or later. In addition to mass shootings, which are generally defined as a shooting incident with four or more deaths (including the shooter), the United States sees many thousands of murders annually related to gang or drug activity, and smaller shootings that, while garnering a lot of media attention, don’t meet the criteria for mass shootings, such as the Townville Elementary School shooting in September 2016 that left six year old Jacob Hall dead. Out of all of the mass shootings that have happened in my lifetime I can only remember one in which the shooter was subdued by an armed citizen, that being the shooting at the Texas First Baptist Church in November 2017. Yet people think that we still need our guns.
I recently read a series of articles on The Washington Post that told the stories of gun violence in America from the perspective of children. A boy from Washington, D.C. lost his father to gunfire in a neighborhood riddled with violence. Students from Townville Elementary School in South Carolina who remain traumatized after losing a friend, then 6 year old Jacob Hall, at a school shooting in 2016. A boy who lives surrounded by gang violence in Chicago was shot in the leg by a rival gang and is now trying to escape his old life. A four year old boy who miraculously survived after being shot in the head in a road-rage incident. Six Las Vegas teens, including a set of twins (both of whom were shot, one in the leg and one in the shoulder), who survived the massacre at a country music festival last October. A fifteen year old boy, suffering from depression and anxiety, who called the cops and told them he was armed and holding his mother hostage, so that they would come and kill him. Childhood is supposed to be a time of innocence and fun, of going on the playground or to a concert or the sidewalk in front of your house without fearing being shot. Adulthood, the same thing. You shouldn’t have to worry about being shot at work or at your college or when you’re enjoying a movie or praying at church or visiting a Planned Parenthood clinic or giving a speech to your constituents.
What has been done to stop these tragedies? The most drastic action in recent history was a ban, in place from 1994 to 2004, in effect on semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns, brought on by incidents of gun violence involving semi-automatic weapons, including a shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California, in which over thirty children and a teacher were shot and five additional children killed. However, due to the short amount of time that the ban was in place, there was very little statistically significant evidence to prove its effectiveness, and all efforts to renew the ban since its expiration have been unsuccessful, not allowing us to reap the potential benefits of a country free of semi-automatic weapons.
But similar bans have worked in other countries. In 1996, Australia imposed a ban on certain semi-automatic and self-loading weapons, and instituted a mandatory buyback program for guns included under that law. Over seven hundred thousand weapons were either sold by Australians to their government under the buyback program or voluntarily surrendered (for guns that weren’t banned). The 1996 legislation also made licensing and regulation requirements much stricter. Gun laws were further tightened in 2002, with new restrictions on caliber, barrel length, and capacity. And since Australia has implemented these laws there have been fewer deaths. Just from 1996 to 2007, the homicide rate decreased by twenty percent. By 2013-2014, the homicide by firearm rate had decreased by fifty seven percent since 1990, before the laws went into effect. Has the problem been completely solved? No. But Australia’s 211 people lost to gun violence in 2015 is far fewer than the over 13,000 lost to gun violence in the United States in the same year.
Gun control works. And it is desperately needed. So why can’t we have it here in the United States? Why can someone who is severely mentally ill with a history of violence, or a domestic abuser, or a dishonorably discharged ex-soldier with a history of violence, or an ex-felon purchase a gun? There are laws against some of these people purchasing guns. But there are loopholes, and there are negligent employees who allow these people to purchase guns anyway or don’t update information, such as whoever it was that made the mistake that allowed Devin Patrick Kelley, who shot twenty six people at Texas First Baptist Church in November 2017, and who was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force after assaulting his wife and child, to buy a gun. Why are semi-automatic weapons, like the one that Omar Mateen used to kill forty nine people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, available for purchase in this country? Why can someone who is mentally ill to the point where he was labeled an “imminent danger to others” by a district court buy a gun that is used to kill thirty-two people at Virginia Tech, including Daniel O’Neil, a twenty-two year old Lincoln High School graduate who was pursuing a Master’s degree in environmental engineering?
The reason that these tragedies keep happening is an outdated Constitutional amendment. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “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,” is the root of the gun violence epidemic in this country. When this was written, in 1789, the country was still on edge and feeling the effects of the American Revolutionary War. This was also before our country had the extensive law enforcement network that we have today, and before we became the largest military power in the world. That was when ordinary citizens needed guns, both for hunting (survival), defense and other practical purposes.
Today we have police officers. We have the largest military in the world. Wild animals and hunting for food are no longer common concerns amongAmericans. And today, the guns that are available to us are far more deadly than those that existed during the time of the Founding Fathers.
The most commonly used gun in the Revolutionary War could shoot three or four rounds per minute. An AR-15, one of the many guns that are legal in the United States, can shoot 45 rounds per minute. Twenty-first century weapons are being protected by an 18th century law that was designed to protect people, who are now dying at the hands of those 21st century weapons. And it needs to stop.