The U.S. added yet another mark to its list of mass-shootings at the end of October when Jaylen Fryberg opened fire in his high school cafeteria in a small town in Washington state. The freshman killed a fellow classmate and injured four others before taking his own life.
This shooting, sadly, follows suit in a long string of shootings that have occurred in the U.S. during the past decade. In 2007, a Virginia Tech senior shot and killed 32 students and faculty members and wounded at least 17 others. In 2012, more than 70 people were either killed or injured at the screening of the new Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado. Before that year’s end, 20 young children and six teachers were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
These are only the highly publicized shootings. According to an FBI report, since 2000, 1,043 people in the U.S. have been wounded or killed by an active shooter attempting to kill people in a confined and populated space. The FBI report concluded mass-shootings have sharply increased in recent years, a fact no citizen desires to hear.
The question of “why” still remains, and how the nation is working to change this trend.
In early 2013, President Obama announced his plan to reduce gun violence. The four-fold plan included closing background check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands, banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, making schools safer and increasing access to mental health services. A year later, Obama’s agenda was considered dead on Capitol Hill.
While aggressively challenging the Second Amendment may not be the best or most efficient way to reduce gun violence, at least two parts of Obama’s plan should be seriously considered: background checks and mental health.
Nearly every gunman responsible for a mass shooting has reportedly suffered a mental illness. Elliot Rodger, 22, the gunman who killed six people and left several others wounded in Isla Vista, California, in May was slightly autistic and displayed narcissistic traits. The Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, lived with Asperger’s syndrome starting at age 13. Just this week, a 17-year-old girl in Pennsylvania, who reportedly had a history of mental illness, was arrested on charges of plotting a mass-murder at her high school pep rally.
Of course, not all mass-killing shooters are mentally ill, but to reduce gun violence, we have to start somewhere, right?
Mike Weisser, longtime proprietor of the Ware Gun Shop in Ware, Massachusetts, loves guns, but he also strongly believes the U.S. needs a new approach to gun control that emphasizes public health, according to The New York Times.
Weisser told The Times he had stopped selling guns earlier this year to focus his efforts on promoting mental health awareness related to gun use.
The government, in order to ensure that guns do not get into the hands of the mentally unstable, must enforce stricter requirements to purchase a weapon. Logically, this would involve obligatory background checks – checking that the customer does not have a history of mental illness, checking that none of the customer's family or close friends have a mental illness history or could pose a threat, and so on.
As of now, federal law requires that licensed dealers perform background checks on purchasers. But unlicensed, private sellers – online or at gun shows, for example – who are responsible for about 40 percent of firearm transactions, are not required to do so. Changing the federal law to encompass every single firearm sale would be minute, given that nearly every transaction requires a background check already, and, more importantly, it would push the U.S. one step closer to reducing gun violence.
If it sounds as if I am pushing for stricter laws, it’s because I am. Critics argue that stricter laws are an infringement of privacy and of constitutional rights. But I am not suggesting banning weapons for the country. Rather, I’m recommending making it increasingly more difficult to obtain a gun.
In Canada, where some of the toughest gun control laws are implemented and an equivalent to the Second Amendment does not even exist, gun violence is drastically lower than that of the U.S.
In an interview with NBC, Solomon Friedman, a Canadian gun-law expert and defense lawyer, said, “Absent some minor tragedies, gun violence has never really been a great social problem in Canada.”
There were 679 firearm-related deaths in Canada in 2011, according to NBC. The same year in the U.S., 32,163 people died from being shot. Friedman attributes the lower rates to the fact that ownership of a gun in Canada is a well-regulated privilege, not a right.
Owning a gun should be viewed as a privilege in the U.S., as well. Again, I don’t think the Second Amendment should be eliminated, but citizens need to treat it with care and respect. If you own a gun, it’s bound to go off at some point, and it better be in the proper hands when it does.
Contact Opinion editor Stephanie Manley at firstname.lastname@example.org