In 2012, America was shaken to its core when a gunman attacked Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing six adults and twenty children. Today, America mourns again, six years later, the loss of 17 students and teachers—victims of Wednesday’s mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Sadly, such an attack is not so surprising. A Health Affairs study titled Child Mortality In The US And 19 OECD Comparator reported that the gun homicide rate in America is 49 times higher than in countries which hold our same financial standing and that during this decade, children ages 15-19 were eighty-two times more likely to die from gun homicide in the US than in past decades. This is due to the escalation of an absurdly vast epidemic of shooting deaths in the US—an epidemic practically nonexistent elsewhere.
As a recent high school graduate myself, I was appalled by this report. Schools are a place children go expecting to be educated, and more importantly, expecting to be safe. No child should go to school and fear that their desire to be educated might cost them their life. Guns have no place anywhere near academic grounds, and policy must be enacted to ensure students’ safety.
The Second Amendment, Dissected
The Second Amendment was added into the Constitution for a reason, but its original intent has been lost throughout history behind thick partisan lines and unmoving viewpoints. In order to understand it to the fullest extent—to understand when it is to be honored versus regulated—it is critical to dissect it for its true meaning.
The Second Amendment is as follows: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In 1789, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, said that “a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.” When first written, the Second Amendment was protection against an undesired rise of monarchy in the US. A body of people—well trained and with the sole intention of protecting the country’s freedom—have the right to bear arms.
The view of the Second Amendment has been warped over time to mean that any person should be able to own a gun to protect herself or himself from whatever threat might rise. This is not written in the Constitution. Unless a person believes America’s freedom is in imminent danger, they have no need for gun access.
The Center for American Progress reported that “of the 111 mass shootings that occurred in the United States from 1966 to 2015 in which six or more people were fatally shot, only 18 occurred in places where it was restricted for civilians to carry guns.” Gun control might not be the entire solution to America’s gun crisis, but it certainly is a good place to start.
But, if Americans must have their guns, perhaps the way to find common ground is to allow weapons of lesser caliber in households. The only purpose of assault weapons is to assault, and we need less of exactly that.
Mental Health and Easy Access
After Wednesday’s shooting, President Trump addressed Parkland’s shooting and focused on mental health in lieu of gun control, stating “Our administration is working closely with local authorities to investigate the shooting and learn everything we can. We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”
It is true that mental health plays a large role in many school shootings. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) reported that 20% of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition and that one in five adults experiences mental illness in any given year. Mental illness is certainly an extensive problem in the US that deserves to be addressed, but it is inaccurate to solely blame mental health itself for the swell in shootings within the past decade. Many people have mental health problems, but the majority of them do not shoot up schools. The fact that mentally ill people, however, are capable of gaining access to guns, presents a problem.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 states that “persons under eighteen years of age, convicted criminals, the mentally disabled, dishonorably discharged military personnel” and others are prohibited from purchasing firearms. It does not, however, address people with poor psychological backgrounds. The only form of investigation carried out during the gun-buying process is a quick background check—the same type of background check you might receive when applying for a job. Taking just a few minutes, the check is thorough enough to uncover criminal background and other recorded missteps, but not thorough enough to recognize whether a person’s day to day actions might raise red-flags. Many shooters, Wednesday’s included, have no recorded criminal background—making the background checks entirely insufficient.
Finding a solution to this growing problem in the US will inevitably involve trade-off. We must either rethink the Second Amendment or accept the fact that children dying for no reason is something our country is OK with (which based on the current government’s stance on abortion, does not seem to be the case). This is not, however, an issue we can just keep sitting on. Since the Sandy Hook shooting, there have been 239 school shootings in the US, leaving 438 people shot and 138 killed. In 2018 alone, 18 school shootings have already taken place across the country. This problem is not going away and will not solve itself; school shootings are becoming a painfully common occurrence in the US and it is vital that we take action immediately.
In the same address noted above, President Trump said, “It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference, we must actually make that difference.” The first step toward truly making a difference and protecting America’s future generation is by taking the objective of the Second Amendment to heart and refining the process of obtaining firearms.
Condensed version published by The Daily Iowan 2/16/18