US Gun Violence – Where We Stand

It has been one month since the fatal mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. The debate over gun control is in the public eye like it always is every time after a massacre, but the issue is deeper than the debate allows.

“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats, funded by the NRA, telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say that no laws could have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS,” said Emma Gonzales, a survivor of the shooting, at a speech at a gun control rally.

Some people claim that it is different this time, that there are protests and that people are done with the way the issue has been previously dealt with. However, we have reasons to be sceptical, the federal government did not do much after twenty children and six adults were killed by a gun man in Sandy Hook Elementary School in NewTown, Connecticut in 2012. Since then more than 1,800 people have been killed and more than 6,400 wounded. “Many of these events led to protests and calls for action, but Congress refused to budge every time,” reports Vox, a US website.

What are the causes of gun violence? For the National Rifle Association (NRA), there is no link between the fact that the US has so many guns and so many mass shootings and acts of gun violence. The root of the problem is mental illness. This argument seems to have its merits; no sane person would commit a murder. Yet only about 4% of violent acts against other people are committed by people suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. Mentally ill people are actually more likely to be the victim of a violent crime. Michael Stone, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, who maintains a database of mass shooters, wrote in an analysis in 2015 that only 52 out of the 235 killers in the database, or about 22%, had mental illnesses. “The mentally ill should not bear the burden of being regarded as the ‘chief’ perpetrators of mass murder,” he says. However, it is the only policy issue that Trump mentioned in his speech following the Florida shooting.

The problem is guns, not mental illness. Gun advocates also blame violence in video games, the media and the supposed breakdown of the traditional family. President Trump even had a meeting with video game agencies about their use of violence and its link to shootings. All of this is running away from the actual problem – the guns.

Long-term research shows that gun control works. Australia is a good example of this. After the worst mass shooting in the country’s history, with 35 deaths and 23 wounded, law makers responded with legislation banning certain types of firearms such as automatic and semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. More so, the government confiscated 650,000 of these guns. A registry of all guns owned in the country was established and all firearm purchases required a permit. In the seven years after these actions were taken, Australia’s firearm homicide rate dropped by about 42% and the firearm suicide rate fell by 57%.

These procedures go far further than any bill that has been suggested in the US. A gun control bill has to go further than anyone wants to admit. The measures suggested over and over are universal background checks, restrictions on mentally ill people buying firearms and a ban on assault weapons and bump stocks. These measures won’t solve the problem of too many guns already in circulation. A cut-back programme would bring the much-desired outcome in the long and short term.

What makes people think this time is different is the engagement of the students. They hold protests, go on talk shows and are not afraid to speak up their minds. But is this enough? In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, three of the Parkland Activists said that they are not against guns, but want more regulations, background checks and the prohibitions of tools that make guns fully automatic.

It seems like they don’t want to cause any controversy by calling for more radical measures. They might worry that they’d lose support if they did. We can’t be sure if what the Parkland activists call for will improve gun violence in the US, but we can be sure that it would be a step into the right direction.

We are already seeing improvements, as Florida law makers passed legislation increasing the minimum gun purchase age to 21, introducing a three-day waiting period, banning bump stocks and adding more mental health services and school security. And big companies such as Delta, United Airlines and MetLife will no longer offer discounts to NRA members.  We can only hope that more changes will follow.

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