By Noah Tananbaum, Staff Writer Earlier this year, a troubled citizen killed six people and injured 13, before committing suicide. This event has since become known as the Isla Vista killings. While mass shootings are statistically rare, this type of story has sadly become all too familiar to the American people. The topics of gun rights and gun control have always exerted enormous influence over the American people and have been the instigator of many a debate.
Perhaps it is due to the nature of how our country was formed, but America, unlike every other Westernized country, has had an unprecedented level of gun-related violence. Each year, more than 30,000 people are killed due to gun violence in this country which, broken down, translates to roughly 30 people killed each day because of the prevalence of guns. Although there is no national gun registry, there are an estimated 283 million guns owned by regular U.S. citizens. Total U.S. population is approximately 316 million. These figures reflect an undeniable truth: guns are a deeply rooted aspect of our culture.
America was founded in a blaze of revolution. The men who fought in the Continental Army were ordinary citizens, not trained members of an organized military. Americans have since inherited the notion of having an armed citizenry in order to protect against a potential dictatorial government synonymous to the regime of King George III. While this scenario will unlikely ever manifest into reality, it is important to respect the Constitution and all Americans’ rights to defend themselves. However, it is crucial that the clauses of the Constitution be applied to the changing circumstances of our constantly modernizing world.
When the framers wrote that “the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” could they have possibly envisioned the types of deadly weaponry that would evolve from advancement and new technology? Would they endorse the civilian use of such items? When conservatives are posed this hypothetical they generally utilize the oft quoted line that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” While technically true, Americans put guns in a special category, one that is apparently immune to reform, unlike other categories of objects that can kill us. The primary purpose of automobiles is transportation and yet, given what we know concerning the potential dangers of cars, the government has restrictions regarding driving laws in order to make the road safer for all. These laws are not controversial. Yet, when these types of preventive measures are implemented with regard to firearms, there is uproar.
No rational person wants to remove all guns from society. The right to defend oneself is an important one, and law-abiding citizens should be able to exercise it. The process of purchasing a firearm however, should not be as straightforward as getting a Milky Way at CVS. The vast majority of gun shows are able to sell guns without having to perform background checks. Since the guns are part of interstate commerce, the argument is that the federal government cannot regulate these transactions. Consequently, in 33 states private gun owners can sell their products at these shows and buyers are not subjected to background checks. In fact, 30 to 40 % of guns are purchased without a background check. In 2013, the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey Bill, was defeated on the floor of the Senate. It would have required universal background checks.
While Republicans’ beliefs on this subject are no doubt sincere, they are clearly informed by the influence and financial support that stems from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA keeps a list of candidates who would be more sympathetic to their interests. If a candidate does not support their extreme pro-gun position, then the NRA will pour money into their opponents’ campaigns in the next election cycle in order to unseat them. No special interest group should have that level of power in the political process. This type of behavior completely undermines the concept of democratically elected leaders. Our elected officials are supposed to represent the will of the people. When 80-90 % of the country supports universal background checks and the U.S. Congress strikes down a bill that proposes them, our government is not working the way it should.
Adjusting for population size, America’s rate of gun homicides is 6.6 times greater than the gun deaths in Portugal, one of the most violent countries in Western Europe. No other modern, westernized country comes anywhere close to our rate. Believing in the integrity of the Second Amendment and supporting common sense gun reform do not have to be mutually exclusive. Many conservatives argue that criminals will get their hands on guns regardless of the restrictions and therefore there is little point in enacting tighter restrictions. This argument is utterly lacking in logic. Drivers can get drunk and then get behind the wheel and yet this does not mean that we should not have laws against driving while drunk. If gun reform approaches do not work then different strategies should be pursued, but doing nothing is the wrong response. America cannot afford to sit idly by while year after year, 30,000 Americans lose their lives to gun violence.