As gun violence continues, Americans take different stances on gun laws
By Abby Gray and Daniela Wainfor ’18
Las Vegas, Nevada, Oct. 1: 58 dead and 515 injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Sutherland Springs, Texas, Nov. 5: 26 dead and 20 injured in the fifth worst shooting in modern U.S. history. The Sutherland Springs church shooting marked the 307th mass shooting of 2017 in the United States. Throughout the 307 acts of violence, one thing remained constant: guns. It’s no secret that mass shootings are plaguing the nation, but why are they are happening so often? And can our politically-polarized country ever come to an agreement on what to do about it?
SPECULATING THE SECOND
The phrase “pleading the fifth” stems from the Constitutional right guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment that one need not answer questions that may incriminate him or her. The term is used both colloquially in everyday life and seriously in a court of law. “Pleading the fifth” is thrown around in casual conversation when someone doesn’t want to answer a question, but it isn’t making any headlines or sparking controversial conversation; however, “pleading the second” is.
The Second Amendment gives U.S. citizens the right to bear arms — that is, to own guns. When the Constitution was written, both the culture of the time and the fact that America had just fought off a major world power, Great Britain, made the decision to include the right to bear arms an easy one for the founding fathers. But times have changed. Gun violence is the leading cause of death among young African American males, countless individuals have suffered the loss of husbands, wives and children due to mass shootings in public places, and the people of modern America have broken The Second Amendment gives U.S. citizens the right to bear arms — that is, to own guns. When the Constitution was written, both the culture of the time and the fact that America had just fought off a major world power, Great Britain, made the decision to include the right to bear arms an easy one for the founding fathers. But times have changed. Gun violence is the leading cause of death among young African American males, countless individuals have suffered the loss of husbands, wives and children due to mass shootings in public places, and the people of modern America have broken.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) represents the far right’s opinions on gun laws: protect the Second Amendment and push back against regulations regarding the purchase and ownership of guns. NRA president Wayne LaPierre made a statement regarding the stance of the NRA. He said gun control is not the solution to America’s violence problems at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015.
“If gun-free zones save lives, why doesn’t Obama just declare Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan one big gun-free zone?” LaPierre said.
While far-right Republicans tend to fall in line with the beliefs of the NRA, those on the far-left stand for completely opposite views, supporting more gun control and stricter regulations. Even though more moderate views on the issue don’t make headlines, they still exist. Expanding background checks or adding a mandatory gun safety course before an individual can purchase a weapon are a few of the attempts to create agreement between the more polarized opinions.
AT HOME AND ABROAD
On Nov. 8, 2017, the Michigan Senate Operations Committee approved legislation allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns in schools, places of worship and bars. They also passed legislation allowing 18- to 20-year-olds to carry concealed weapons and established protective laws for foster parents with guns.
A 2015 poll conducted and published by EPIC/MRA showed that these new establishments went directly against most of Michigan’s citizens’ wishes. It revealed that 57 percent of those who took the poll said they opposed carrying concealed weapons in schools, and 69 percent opposed the already established law allowing persons who are 18 and older to open carry as long as they have a permit.
In contrast, the state of Ohio does not require a person to have a license to obtain a handgun. There is neither a requirement for the registration of handguns nor a requirement for a license to own a handgun; however, a permit is necessary if the individual wishes to concealed carry.
32.4 percent of Ohioans own a gun. While that’s not as high as the 59.7 percent of Wyoming’s population, it leaves many wondering who those 32.4 percent are.
Whether one lives in a low-crime community like Upper Arlington, a high-crime area of a major city or a low population town in the country, people tend to want a sense of protection from violence. For this reason, some families feel the need to keep a gun in their home.
Michaela Burriss, a local attorney, brings about the point that when it comes to instilling security in any community, the issue should be discussed with the common goal of creating that sense of protection for people in other ways, instead of arguing over gun laws.
“If people don’t feel that they can be safe or that police or EMS can be readily dispatched, then why aren’t we having conversations on funneling additional resources so that they have more [security]?” Burriss said.
However, people looking for security can’t be the only gun owners in the United States. Countries all around the world house citizens looking for safety and protection, but none of those countries own half as many guns as the United States does. Pew Research Center found that the U.S. holds around 50 percent of the world’s guns, even though they’re only home to 5 percent of the world population. So what in the world are other countries doing differently?
In America, there are almost 90 firearms owned per 100 people, whereas in countries abroad, the rate is much lower. Australians own only 15 guns per 100 people, and Japanese own almost none. In correlation, gun homicides are at almost 4 per every 100,000 Americans, but are only at 0.16 in Australia and zero in Japan. These shocking statistics from a Small Arms Survey done in 2007 urged many, including Burriss, to look at gun laws abroad.
“Countries like Australia, [who have banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns], don’t have these ‘gun issues,’” Burriss said, noting that the U.S. should follow models from around the world.
Australia isn’t necessarily a gun-free society, but they make it pretty hard to get [a gun].”
UAHS students are weighing in on the issue as well. Sophomore Wendy Shi believes Ohio gun laws are not strict enough.
“If somebody wants to own a weapon that could easily take someone else’s life, they should have to prove that they will not use it for that purpose,” Shi said.
Opposingly, senior Manny Tzagournis supports the Second Amendment and resists attempts to limit access to firearms.
“Guns are not the problem; it’s simply the people who we need to control,” Tzagournis said. “If we get rid of our Second Amendment right to bear arms: great. That will get rid of the 3 percent of people who buy them legally and use them illegally. But what will we do about the other 97 percent?”
SCHOOL GROUND ASSAULTS
On Dec. 14, 2012, the small Connecticut neighborhood of Newtown stared at their TV screens, horrified. Mothers and fathers rushed to the town’s elementary school, located in a patch of tall trees and blanketed by a muggy, gray sky, and cried out looking for their children. They hoped and prayed that the precious, young people they sent off that ordinary morning would walk out of school alive.
“My whole world shifted on its axis,” mother of Sandy Hook victim, Noah Pozner, said to Salon Media. “It was like you [were] sitting in a room, and everything, including you, turned upside down and you [were] sitting on the ceiling instead of the floor. You have this surreal sense of void, like all the air has been sucked out of the room.”
The rest of the country responded with both terror and sadness. The Sandy Hook Elementary shooter, Adam Lanza, took the lives of 20 children aged 6-7 and five staff members before killing himself.
In 2015, the families of nine victims who were killed at the Sandy Hook shooting, and one teacher who survived, filed a lawsuit against Remington, the parent company of the gun manufacturer Bushmaster, claiming that they knowingly marketed military weapons to civilians. The case faltered in court because the company was protected by the PLCAA, a federal law that protects lawful commerce in arms. This year, these advocates brought the issue back to the table. Their attorney, Josh Koskoff, helped the group reinstate the lawsuit, arguing that the militaristic gun company, even if it was unintentional, supported the shooting in Newtown.
“Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years,” Koskoff said.
Last September, the issue of school safety came closer to home when John L. Staley III, a student of Hilliard Davidson High School, was discovered to have a hit list of students and plans to commit a mass murder at the school’s upcoming pep rally. Although the hit list was never released and Staley was tried and convicted in court as an adult, students were left anxious and dismayed over the situation. Hilliard Davidson senior Jared Emch was a junior at the time.
“Everyone was pretty surprised because you always hear about shootings and the danger of [them], but you never think that it’s possible that it could happen to you or at your school,” Emch said. “It was scary to see how possible it really was and how detailed his plan was.”
SOURCE: THE GUN VIOLENCE ARCHIVE, INFOGRAPHIC BY KATIE ZHAO
THE BLAME GAME
Media outlets flash the faces of the most recent mass shooting victims time and time again. Grief and a desire for change plague the hearts of American citizens, but the means to create this change remains elusive. Tensions grow in light of political polarization in the government. Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to meet in the middle on anything, let alone the heated topic of gun control. President Donald Trump, a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, has stated that the issue lies in the mental health of the individual holding the gun, not the weapon itself.
“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries,” Trump said in response to the Nov. 5 shooting in Texas.
Trump isn’t the only one blaming the problem on the mental health system. According to a 2015 Washington Post poll, 63 percent of Americans presume that mass shootings have more to do with mental illness than gun control.
These opinions are not unsubstantiated. Patrick Kelly, the man responsible for the Texas church mass shooting, escaped a psychiatric hospital several years prior and suffered from multiple mental disorders.
“I believe that mental disorders do factor into shootings, because the people are not stable,” Tzagournis said. “While I do not believe [mentally ill people] are the largest group who use guns illegally, they are still more likely to kill someone.”
Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s former domestic policy adviser, pushed back against those blaming mental health.
“If the mass shootings really are due to mental health, then why are we letting people with mental health problems have access to firearms?” Muñoz said in an interview for The New York Times.
According to the results of 2015 research in the American Journal of Psychiatry, only three-to-five percent of “violent acts” are committed by individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. The percentage of crimes committed with a gun by mentally ill people is lower than that of crimes committed by those without mental illness.
Both sides of the argument have equally important points, supported by facts and the research of many, but facts will not solve the issue. The question at hand is when Americans will set their differences aside and come together to address the problem of gun violence in a substantive, collaborative manner.