The Struggle to End Gun Violence

One month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama declared new gun-control legislation that would help prevent homicides such as the ones that happened in Newtown, Connecticut last year. However, in April of this year, the Senate vetoed the president’s bill. Obama’s passion has been reinvigorated after two mass shootings in each of his hometowns, Washington D.C. and Chicago. These massacres are only two out of dozens of shootings that have happened in the United States during 2013.

Since the shootings at Sandy Hook on December 14, 2012, eighteen school massacres have taken place in the United States, leaving seventeen dead and twenty-four wounded. Sandy Hook marks the second deadliest mass shooting, both in and out of a school, in U.S. history. The deadliest was the school shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.

In most mass shootings in the U.S., including the massacres at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, the perpetrator showed signs of mental illness.

A gun show. photo courtesy of M Glasgow for Wikimedia Commons

A gun show. photo courtesy of M Glasgow for Wikimedia Commons

In the current Gun Control Act of 1968, people declared as mental defectives or incompetents, living in a mental institution or currently having a dangerous mental illness are declared unsuitable for owning a gun. Then how did the Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech shooters acquire firearms?

Mental health information is not available to government agencies or gun retailers. In 2007, only twenty-three states submitted mental health information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and four states out of the twenty-three report this data regularly. In fact, only California, Oregon, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey even require background checks for purchasing guns. Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina solely ask for background checks when buying handguns, and every other state in the United States does not require any. Without suitable background checks and unwillingness of states to submit such information to the government, there is little hope for the firearm situation to better at all in the United States. Mental health information is simply not available to government agencies or gun retailers.

The terrible destruction of life that took place at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech was enabled by the shooters’ use of assault weapons with multi-round clips. The possession of army-based assault weapons is widespread and legal since 2004. Without the renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, assault weapons can be bought and used throughout the United States. Now, citizens can own weapons such as AK-47s, armor-piercing ammunition, tanks and chemical explosives. Although, military armor-piercing ammunition is illegal in seven states and Washington D.C.

In Georgia this year, a man (also adjudicated as mentally ill and previously arrested earlier this year) fired an AK-47 into the air next to a school. AK-47s were designed for not civilian use in the Soviet Union during the 1940s. Since then, different models of the firearm have spread across the world to be used in countries’ armed forces and are readily available to citizens. These weapons have interchangeable magazines of 40-round box and 75-round drum, and can reach 100-round drum magazines.

Steps are being made to renew the Assault Weapons Ban in order to make not only our schools safer, but our country as well.

In order to prevent the use of assault weapons among civilians, President Obama’s legislature will reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban. Obama’s bill will also train public and private personnel at schools on how to respond to gunfire in Congress-funded programs; offer students mental health services from trauma or anxiety from gun related incidents in order to stop the cycle of violence; provide strong monetary incentives for states to divulge information to the background check system; create an explicit law against gun trafficking and straw purchasers (unlicensed dealers who sell guns to criminals); reinstate the limit on only 10-rounds of ammunition magazines; trace all firearms to see who the dealers and purchasers are; and create Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), which is a plan to reach 750,000 young people through programs for early detection of mental illness and treatment, as well as training teachers to recognize mental illness, among other things.

Once again, Obama’s efforts have been stymied by Congress. In April of this year, the U.S. Senate overturned President Obama’s bill. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley argued that the proposed background checks would not have stopped the Sandy Hook massacre. Only fifty-four senators voted for the bill, falling six short of the required sixty. Within that group was only four Republican, forty-eight Democrats, and two Independent senators. The congressmen that opposed the bill were made up of forty-one Republicans and five Democrats. A statement from the NRA in Voice of America proclaimed that the bill “would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms…requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right.” Senator Grassley and the NRA are using the fallacy of appeal of nostalgia to argue that Obama’s legislation would prevent the passing down of heirloom firearms from generation to generation.

Around 30 percent of Americans have firearms in their homes. With guns in the house, children are exposed to firearms daily and come to see them as normal. In many families, a right of passage for a child is to go hunting or learn to use a gun before transitioning into adulthood.

Unfortunately, these heirlooms kept for nostalgia end up killing people. In 2000, Dedrick Owens, a six-year-old, found a handgun in his uncle’s house and in front of twenty-three people, including his teacher, shot a classmate. The same year, Nathaniel Brazill, a thirteen-year-old, stole bullets and a pistol from his grandfather’s collection and shot his favorite teacher. These are only two accounts of dozens that have involved young children taking heirloom or family weapons and murdering others. The possession of heirloom firearms in a home bypasses the law because, if a member is mentally ill or an ex-convict, they still have access to weapons. With Obama’s bill, this unsafe practice could be stopped.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is strongly against Obama’s gun control legislation. Blaming the anti-gun advocates for using Sandy Hook to make them look like criminals. In The Washington Times, the NRA declared that the bill “got the defeat it deserved” . After proclaiming soon after that they would never relinquish their guns, the NRA said that the fight against the proposed bill is around ten million strong. However, groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Americans for Responsible Solutions and the Violence Policy Center are going head to head with the NRA, demanding for safety in the lives of Americans.

Since the shootings in Washington D.C. and Chicago, President Obama has begun urging congressmen to take a stand against the rampant gun use and massacres occurring in the U.S. Even now, 90 percent of Americans support background checks, yet their elected officials proclaim that these checks won’t stop future shootings. How very wrong they are. With stronger background checks, there will be even less of a chance for mentally ill, ex-convicts, unlawful users of drugs and persons under indictment to own firearms. If gun sellers had known of Adam Lanza’s mental illness, Sandy Hook might not have happened. If a firearm retailer had known about Seung Hui Cho’s selective mutism (a diagnosis that is caused by intense mental stress and social anxiety), as well as his participation in mental therapy, the killing of 32 people at Virginia Tech could have been prevented. With President Obama’s bill, the repairing of our crumbling infrastructure of firearm laws could be repaired, making the United States a much safer place to live in.

Plastic Gun Issue

Though the use of firearms in the United States are already an issue, a new type of gun is surfacing on the market: plastic guns made from 3D printers. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has declared these new weapons as “lethal and hard to detect” on NPR. In fact, their ammunition “can penetrate a person’s vital organs.” The problem with the plastic guns is that they can get passed normal detection, such as metal detectors and wands, therefore endangering airports and arenas. A law made in 1988 requires all firearms to be made with a bit of metal. However, though the law has been reauthorized twice since its ratification, it is set to expire on December 10 of this year. It is unlikely that congressmen will take action to reauthorize the law before its deadline.

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