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A major reform is needed to prevent mass shootings

Too often in recent years have we become accustomed to hearing about mass shootings in the news. A mass shooting, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), is the use of any gun that produces four or more injured or dead victims. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), defines it as an event in which at least four victims, including the shooter, end up dead. In the recent years, we have seen way too many mass shooting, some of the most notable including the Las Vegas shooting and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Mass shootings have become a fixture in American news and culture, with most mass shootings going under the radar of public political conscience. Because of the sheer volume of mass shootings, we oftentimes do not realize how many occur every week, every day. The GVA has already documented 36 mass shootings in 2018. That’s almost one every two days.

Despite the recent uproar over these gun-related incidents, particularly in relation to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, we are doing little, if anything to prevent these situations from occurring in the future. While, yes, it is a constitutional right for citizens to be allowed to bear arms, there are some major flaws in the way our country legislates and regulates responsible gun ownership.

Our laws do not make a sufficient distinction between guns that are primarily useful for self-defense, like handguns and weapons of war. Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters, a retired Army lieutenant and Fox News contributor, is one of the many who have expressed strong opposition to the sale of AR-15 guns. In his Op-Ed in the New York Post, Peters says “But I believe, on moral, practical and constitutional grounds, that no private citizen should own an automatic weapon or a semi-automatic weapon that can easily be modified for automatic effects. These are military weapons. Their purpose is to kill human beings. They’re not used for hunting (unless you want to destroy the animal’s meat). They’re lousy for target shooting. But they’re excellent tools for mass murder.” It would be much more difficult for mass shooters to inflict the amount of casualties that they do currently if they did not have access to automatic weapons. The only weapons that citizens should be allowed to easily purchase should be non-automatic or semi-automatic weapons, as there is no need for automatic and certain semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 in a self-defense, hunting, or target shooting scenario.

Another possible regulation for preventing gun violence is an age minimum. The perpetrator of the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting is 19. In the U.S., any adult is legally allowed to obtain a weapon. This low age limit is ironic given the legal drinking age in the United States is 21. A common, if flawed, justification for the 21-year drinking age is that the frontal cortex of the brain does not fully develop until the age of 25 and that not drinking before the brain is close to its full development encourages poor decision-making. If we are going to use this justification for drinking, we should certainly treat guns the same. The American government regulates anything it might consider dangerous, from drinking to cars to food, so why not apply that same level of scrutiny to guns?

That being said, establishing a minimum age to buy a gun will do little to stop mass shootings. The Washington Post reports that the vast majority of mass shooters since 1966 have been between the ages of 20 and 49, meaning most would have access to guns even with a higher minimum age. Additionally, younger mass shooters could obtain guns from parents or older friends.

In order to understand why mass shooters are violent and how to stop them, we have to look into demographics besides age. Since 1966, all but three of recorded mass shooters in the US were male. This indicates that there is something about how American culture treats maleness and masculinity that causes males to lash out violently. The American government needs to research and address the causes of this male anger to better prevent these shootings from happening.

Mental illness is another common fixture in the nationwide debate about mass shootings. Many people mistakenly believe that most mass shooters are mentally ill. That is not the case. While the friends and family members of some mass shooters sometimes say perpetrators did show signs of mental illness before the shooting, most did not. According to Harvard Health, people with diagnosed mental illnesses are not any more likely to commit violent crimes than the general population and are actually more likely to be the victims of violence. Someone with a mental illness, due to their increased likelihood of becoming the victim of violence, might very reasonably want to buy a gun for self-defense. That being said, rates of mental illness among mass shooters are incredibly difficult to measure, as some mentally ill shooters might not have shown obvious signs or obtained a diagnosis. Certainly some of the 150 mass shootings since 1966 could have been prevented with better access to psychiatric care and more sensible gun restrictions. To prevent shootings by mentally ill people, the government must provide easier access to mental health care through programs like Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. It could also restrict gun ownership for people with illnesses that make them suicidal or homicidal, at least until they receive effective treatment. This would allow most people with mental illnesses to buy guns, while keeping them out of the hands of particularly dangerous mentally ill individuals.

There is plenty that our representatives in government could do to try to prevent mass shootings, so why don’t they? These past weeks, much of the blame for our country’s lack of gun restrictions have centered on the National Rifle Association (NRA), a lobbying group that donates to political campaigns in an effort to prevent politicians from passing gun control legislation. The NRA is funded partially by enthusiastic members and partially by gun manufacturers who benefit from widespread, unregulated gun ownership. In 2017, the NRA reported 5.1 million dollars in lobbying expenditures. It’s unclear how much of that 5.1 million went to donations, but it’s very clear that as long as the NRA wields this kind of financial influence, any gun restriction bill that enters Congress will struggle.

The only way to encourage politicians to break from the NRA and support reasonable gun control is to make them fear that their ties to the NRA will cost them the next election. According to Miami News Times, Florida Governor Marco Rubio’s approval rating has hit an “all time low” in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Governor Rubio, who accepts donations from the NRA, likely fears that his political career is under threat because of his anti-gun control stance. It’s possible that he and other politicians like him will drop the NRA in order to save their careers.

People have the right to own guns, but they don’t have the right do own any gun they want, whenever they want, regardless of their age or mental state. For now, it’s unclear which gun control regulations will be signed into law, and if the regulations will work. However, it’s inexcusable for our government to not make some meaningful attempt to prevent mass shootings. These attempts can come in the form of regulations of which types of guns people can buy, age restrictions, or mental health-related restrictions. In order to promote reasonable gun control legislation, we the people need to hold our legislators accountable.

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