The horrific massacre in Newton, Connecticut last month has ignited a national debate about gun control. In response, President Obama has pledged “meaningful action” on this issue and appointed Vice President Biden to head a federal gun violence task force whose recommendations will be released on January 15th. With the highest murder rate in the industrialized world, surely something must be done to address this crisis. However, lawmakers should reject the tendency to blame this problem solely on America’s high rate of gun ownership.
Other nations such as Israel and Switzerland have relatively relaxed gun regulations, yet extremely low gun murder rates. Many gun proponents have pointed to Great Britain, where private gun ownership is banned and murder rates are relatively low, as a model for the United States. However, this example is misleading, the murder rate in Great Britain actually increased after handguns were made illegal. Gun control advocates must face the reality that other factors are driving the high levels of violence in the United States. Any attempt to ban guns would not only violate the second amendment but likely strip law-abiding individuals of the right to protect themselves while ignoring armed criminals who have already demonstrated a willingness to break the law.
Fortunately, most proposals have rejected the idea of an outright ban. Instead, many have suggested that President Obama push congress to reinstate or expand the 1994 assault weapons ban which expired in 2004. However, this action would have a futile impact on gun violence and likely waste crucial political capital, which would be better spent in other areas. As Ben Lovitz ‘15 noted, “It’s unlikely that an assault weapons ban could pass due to stiff resistance from Republicans and some Democrats.” According to a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study, the ban could not be credited with any “recent drop in gun violence.” Despite their military-style appearance these weapons are not any more lethal than many hunting rifles and are used in only a small percentage of crimes. Similar efforts to ban types of magazines are also unlikely to have any real impact. Shooters will simply purchase multiple magazines.
Other proposals to prevent these weapons from falling into the wrong hands have more merit. For example, many guns are now purchased at gun shows where background checks are not mandatory. Closing down this loophole, along with stricter penalties for illegally purchasing firearms and a national database to track the movements of these guns are all reasonable ideas which should be considered.
However, in order to truly consider steps which could actually make a difference in preventing the next mass murderer, it is important that we move past just the issue of gun control. Shortly after the Newton shooting, Liza Long posted an essay titled I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother, in which she described her challenge of raising a mentally ill son who has shown an inclination towards violence. In the piece she informs her reader that her only option for dealing with her son is to get him arrested because “no one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.” Surely more can be done to deal with people who have these types of psychiatric issues before a terrible tragedy occurs.