On October 1st, 2015 a lone gunman killed ten people, including himself, at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and injured nine others. These sorts of stories have become all too frequent. We, as a nation, have become far too conditioned to reading breaking headlines of individuals shot – whether that be at schools, in shopping malls, in movie theaters, etc. President Obama voiced his disdain and frustration with not being able to pass stricter gun laws through a divided Congress, stating bluntly, “Thoughts and prayers [do] not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted some place else in America next week or a couple months from now.”
Instead of simply calling for stricter gun control policies, whether they include stricter background checks or other preventative measures, it might be worthwhile to explore the arguments themselves on both sides, as well as the reasons why each side falls where it does on an issue that is humanitarianly obligatory to explore and resolve.
It is a point of interest to note how many politicians that normally label themselves “pro-life” in the debate over reproductive rights fail to extend this mantra of supporting life when it comes to victims of gun violence. Instead, many of these politicians turn from the instrument used to kill individuals to the perpetrator’s mental state as the true issue at hand. This is something worth exploring. There is no doubt that the stigma surrounding mental illness prevents individuals from receiving the proper care that they may need. It is also true that many of these mass shootings may have been prevented had these perpetrating individuals received the necessary care. However, there is something important that we must recognize if we want to proceed with this dialogue and remain completely honest: while mental illness is something that we, as a society, need to start taking seriously, we must also acknowledge the fact that access to dangerous weapons remains a legitimate issue, regardless of whether or not we are able to care for those suffering from any sort of mental health illnesses.
I came across a comparison chart that showed the difference in how we go about discussing and dealing with other products of our modern age, namely cars. There is a reason one cannot go to a store and purchase a car and do with it what one may. Instead, as the comparison chart pointed out, cars require “title and tag at each point of sale, driving training, written test, practical test, health requirements, liability insurance on each vehicle, [and] renewals and inspections at intervals.” Cars may not be meant to run over people, just as guns (let’s assume and grant this) may not be meant to kill; however, there is still a legitimate risk involved in owning and using either a car or a gun. Regardless of one’s intentions and mental health, car owners and drivers are required, by law, to pass through a series of checkpoints to ensure safety and minimize the possibility of danger. This does not necessitate the confiscation of all vehicles. It requires sensible measures to reduce the possibility for harm.
To capitalize on America’s strange weapon fetish, we instead have politicians and leaders of the NRA actually calling, repeatedly, for more guns to prevent gun violence, just as more “good people with cars” would prevent “hit-and-runs,” for instance.
It’s time for the nation to humble up and admit that we might be in the wrong with our dangerously lax gun laws. Instead of playing off gun violence by saying, as Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said, “stuff happens,” and by sidestepping the issue, we need to consider how many more slaughters it will take for policymakers to realize that it is time for comprehensive, sensible, and necessary gun laws to be passed and enforced if we as a society truly care about those who have been victimized by gun violence. Consider what happens to “the right to bear arms” in the sense that it currently exists in America, when you’re not the one benefitting from the gun lobby and a political agenda, but instead are staring down the barrel of a firearm, realizing that this sort of situation could be entirely prevented if we passed and enforced meaningful legislation.