With the recent shootings at Michigan State University and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School within the last two weeks, the national conversation about gun control is becoming prevalent. As shootings occur week after week with little time to reflect on their impacts, it’s time to consider the ease of access to guns in the United States and the culture surrounding guns as a problem, rather than simply blaming the people wielding them.
On Dec. 16, 2014, one of the world’s deadliest school massacres occurred in the city of Peshawar, Pakistan when six gunmen affiliated with the Taliban opened fire on students at the Army Public School, killing at least 141 people, including 132 students from ages ranging from 8 to 18 years old. However, the numbers don’t nearly compare to the casualties in the United States resulting from the gun violence related deaths. According to EveryTown for Gun Safety Research, there have been a total of 294 instances of firearms discharged on school campuses since 2013. The United Nations and the Human Development Index cite that the United States faced 29.7 homicides by firearm per 1 million people in 2012, compared to Germany at 1.9 homicides and Switzerland at 7.7 homicides. Despite such staggering numbers, they keep rising by the day.
Guns are an extremely prevalent part of American culture. The United States holds the world’s highest gun ownership rank, and according to the Congressional Research Service, around 101 guns are owned per capita. Guns are given value under the Second Amendment of our Constitution, and is widely considered one of the most important in the Bill of Rights. For this reason, it is frequently referenced and defended, which is why gun possession is such an integral part of American culture. Guns are a symbol of protection for many, despite there being other ways to defend yourself. The difficulty behind implementing gun control is that guns are very much an “American” thing compared to the rest of the world.
What’s worse is many immediately blame the people suffering from mental illnesses. There are overwhelming amounts of evidence that there is little correlation between mental illness and gun violence. According to “Gun Violence and Mental Illness” by the American Psychiatric Association, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent around 1 percent of total gun homicides yearly. These serious mental illnesses often transcend common ones such as depression and autism, and include cases of personality disorders, sexual fetishes and sociopathy.
Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old gunman from the Florida shooting, suffered from depression, ADHD, autism and OCD, yet refused treatment, despite being offered by his school teachers, according to Naples Daily News. Other factors such as alcohol and drug usage rank higher in importance when considering causes of gun violence, according to The New York Times. It’s juvenile to immediately blame mental illness as the cause for gun violence and mass shootings.
Gun control is not an impossible solution. In Japan, very few people own guns, and even then, the types of guns one can own in Japan are restricted to shotguns and air rifles. To own a gun, you must attend an all-day class, pass both a written and shooting range test, go through multiple criminal background checks and mental illness checks and inform the police department of the exact location of your gun in your house. According to Gunpolicy.org, there was a total of around 33,600 gun-related deaths in the United States in 2014. In Japan, there was a total of six gun-related deaths. We cannot turn a blind eye to the very real solutions other countries are implementing while we continue to endure the senseless gun violence.
In the past, initiatives for gun control quickly were forgotten and proposals weren’t considered until the next mass shooting. After the Florida school shooting this year, however, things started to change drastically. Students in multiple schools across America participated in a national walkout to fight for tighter gun control, despite facing potential punishments such as suspensions. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart have raised the minimum age to purchase firearms and ammunition from 18 to 21. Both have also stated they will no longer be selling high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and assault rifles. Walmart also will no longer be selling airsoft guns and toys that look like assault-rifles.
As terrifying as it is that another shooting may occur as predictably as the last several this year, the time is now to change the ease of accessibility to guns in the United States. While it’s unlikely that we will see a ban on guns, universal permit systems across states that include private sales seems reasonable. Banning modifications to semi-automatics to convert them to automatics and high-capacity magazines could be a start. We are in a state of disunity, and our lack of legislation tackling gun violence is a result. The time is now to start contacting our state and congressional representatives. As the midterm elections come near, it is imperative that the issue of gun control is not forgotten as part of this seemingly never-ending cycle. How much longer can we wait for another score of innocent deaths to occur by gun violence before we finally wake up?