The Fight Against Gun Violence

The rising fear of being caught in a random shooting has made an exponential leap following the Orlando mass shooting at a gay nightclub that killed 49 and injured at least 53 people. The shooter’s ex- wife expressed the belief that he was mentally ill and that religion did not play a role in his attack; however, according to a U.S. official, Omar Mateen made a 911 call during the attack and declared allegiance to ISIS. Despite the uncertainty of the evidence, Omar Mateen’s shooting is a wake up call for the necessary conversation about gun violence. Incidents of gun violence–whether mass shootings, homicide, or suicide, stem primarily from gang or criminal activities, radical political intentions, and/or mental illness. Anti-gun control advocates argue for the freedom and ease of obtaining guns in order to preserve a free state; however the American constitution was written to “ensure domestic tranquility” which is close to impossible if guns are in the hands of those who either intentionally or unintentionally do harm with these weapons. I will argue on the side of strict gun control and attempt to solve the obstacles in the way of this control. It is important to note that the term ‘strict gun control’ is a relative term used in relation with the current gun control environment in the United States.

Effective gun control laws should include: background checks for mental illness, violence, criminal records, drug addiction, alcoholism, other forms of substance abuse, and an unlimited wait period for background processing time, third party references, a gun license and registration for guns, a proper safety course, and laws regarding the safe-keeping of weapons when not being used. Strict background checks are necessary to filter out people that would harm others with guns. The unlimited wait period in order to process background checks is an effective way to prevent what is known as ‘the Charleston loophole’ which was brought to the spotlight when Dylann Roof legally attained a gun that was eventually used in the Charleston church shooting that he would have otherwise been denied. In accordance with the current American system, as his background check took longer than 3 business days, Roof was allowed to purchase his gun. Whether that would have stopped this shooting or not, this event shows a loophole which may allow mentally unstable people or those with a criminal history to purchase guns and possibly use guns in a harmful manner . The gun license and registration aim to prevent what is known as ‘the gun show loophole’. The term refers to a loophole in U.S. federal law, under which “any person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of the State where he resides as long as he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe that the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms”. With gun licensing and registration, a person who bought a gun legally would be accountable for the use of that gun, thus selling it to a person without going through the proper procedures would be less likely.  A safety course and proper gun safe-keeping laws would reduce the likelihood of accidental shootings, which in the U.S. in 2015 alone accounted for almost 2000 incidents.  Moreover, in the United States gun laws and regulations should be a federal matter because guns that are legal in one state can, with relative ease, travel to another state that has banned the same gun without being stopped or having the gun confiscated. So in order to standardize procedure across the country and to prevent loopholes for illegal gun possession, gun laws should be strictly a federal matter.

In the United States the right to bear arms is entrenched in the second amendment of their constitution. This is fundamental to understanding the debate on gun violence and gun control. Many argue gun control needs to be similar to that of Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre because it of its positive effects on gun violence and mass shootings. Australia added stricter gun control laws and had a gun buyback program that took 660,959 firearms out of private hands – including long guns, mostly semi-automatic rimfire rifles and shotguns as well as pump-action shotguns, and a smaller proportion of higher powered or military type semi-automatic rifles. The problem with doing a buyback in the U.S. is that gun culture in these two countries differs to a great extent. The U.S. has an unpleasant history with tyrannical governments; and the main reason the nation exists today is because of their ability to effectively fight and win the American War of Independence which would not have been possible without guns. Most developed countries have not had such a violent story of origin, especially one that is as dependent on guns. A prime example of this is Australia as their head of state is still the Queen, due to their constitutional monarchy which links them to the United Kingdom. This is why simply applying strict gun control laws similar to Australia is not as simple as it may seem. When the U.S. tried a gun buyback program in Baltimore in 1974, gun homicides and assaults actually increased during the two-month program, and it was deemed a failure. In 2013, when a Gallup poll asked some people why they would not want the Senate to pass expanded background checks for gun purchases, 40% of people said because it violates the second amendment. Even though I believe that some sort of stricter gun control laws would help in keeping guns out of the hands of those most likely to harm others, the difficult part is convincing the American people to give their currently owned guns to the government.

In order for stricter gun control laws to remove guns from dangerous people, a buyback needs to be successful. This is the most difficult part of reforming gun laws in America because any attempt to ask people to give up certain guns in accordance with any type of stricter gun laws would portray the government as a police state and go against the idea that is taught at an early age that the right to bear arms is essential for a free state. At the heart of any cultural norm is popular public opinion, therefore in order to change gun culture, there must be a shift in popular public opinion. For a buyback to work, people must be willing to give up guns in accordance with new gun laws with reimbursements so that gun ownership can reach as close to a clean slate as possible. A perfect clean slate in terms of gun ownership would allow proper processing, licensing, etc., but that would be close to impossible without infringing on fundamental civil liberties, such as essential privacy rights, which is why I used the term “as close to a clean slate as possible”. Nonetheless, the question remains, is it possible to change a feeling towards guns that dates back to America’s founding and is deeply tied to their culture as a whole? On the level of the individual, it is. As we have seen there is a divide in the U.S. on stronger gun control vs. less gun control, which shows that there are Americans that would support a buyback followed by stricter gun control. In order to shift more into accepting this concept, more people must be willing to let go of tradition and sincerely join the conversation regarding gun laws. For example, those that have seen Alex Jones debating Piers Morgan would probably agree that it is amusing, but this type of conversation -with an overly angry Alex Jones on one side and a Piers Morgan that constantly interrupts his guest on the other- is the type of conversation that creates an “us vs. them” debate. The “us vs. them” debate is one that rarely ends because it turns from a conversation attacking ideas into a conversation attacking people. To make matters worse, it has also turned into a political divide. This introduces the stigma of identity politics, as the hard core Democrats stick with their side and so do the hard core Republicans. The remedy is not simple because, up to this day, there are few that expand the conversation of gun laws properly, but articles like this that have clear arguments, and conversations (unlike Alex Jones and Piers Morgan) are what will help progress better ideas about gun laws infiltrate the minds of the public.

The issue of a faulty mental health system plays a large role in gun violence. The system used to do background checks for mental illnesses is largely incomplete, and to make things worse there are millions of people that are mentally ill that go untreated. Both of these relate to the stigma around mental illness and the accessibility of treatment to those of lower income. About 43.8 million, or 18.5%, of Americans experience mental illness in a given year and, approximately 10 million, or 4.2%, experience a serious mental illness. However, only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Among adults with a serious mental illness, 62.9% received mental health services in the past year. A large part of this problem is the affordability of mental health treatment. In order for the accessibility of mental health treatment to come to fruition, funding from the government must increase. Furthermore, the stigma around mental health especially the view that mental health is a character flaw must be stopped because it is the families and friends of those who are affected by mental health that take care of and support treatment.

There is a large divide among those that propose some sort of gun ban and those who do not support a ban. The problem with a complete or partial gun ban is that guns are taken out of the hands of those who for the most part are innocent and do not intend to break the law – while criminals and gangs remain with their guns or buy off the black market.  A prime example of this is Mexico where, in contrast with the United States, and more similar to the United Kingdom, gun laws are very strict. Civilians are not allowed to possess weapons of war which includes: automatic firearms, sub-machine guns, machine guns, .357 Magnum revolvers and those greater than .38 calibre, handguns greater than 9mm, rifles and carbines of .223, 7mm, 7.62 and .30 calibres, or shotguns with barrels shorter than 635mm or greater than 12 gauge. Mexico has the highest firearms homicide rate, with a rate about 3 times higher than the U.S. Of course in comparison to the United States there are drastic differences in levels of policing and corruption, but the point remains that, even with a partial gun ban as extensive as this, homicide rates do not decrease. Furthermore, according to “” there are an estimated 10,000,000 illegal guns on the streets of Mexico and in 2011 alone there were 20,870 gun deaths. In addition to the possibility of a gun ban not being successful, U.S. citizens would see a gun ban as an infringement upon their freedom and the possible emergence of a police state.