By Conner Yarbrough
Blog Content Contributor
Well, it’s happened again. The so-called “greatest country in the world” has had yet another mass shooting; this time at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A total of 17 were killed, another 14 injured, and countless others, as of February 26, will have returned to the classrooms where they had to hide in fear for their lives. Families lost their sons, their daughters, their cousins, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, their fathers and husbands. Stories have surfaced of both teachers and students risking their lives to protect their students and classmates, their friends and teachers. These stories are all too familiar as these events have become commonplace across the country. A normalized evil.
Columbine. Las Vegas. Charleston. Aurora. Sutherland Springs. Pulse. Sandy Hook. Stoneman Douglas. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Gun violence in America has taken thousands of lives and our government’s response (or lack thereof) is a despicable display of our society’s priorities. Social contract theory states that we, as citizens, sacrifice our absolute freedom as individuals to the government in return for protection, security, and order. It seems, to me, that there is an obvious disconnect when it comes to gun safety. So, why has nothing changed?
The debate surrounding gun violence and regulation in the United States is fragmented and goes beyond mass shootings. While the United States does have more mass shootings than any other developed country in the world (by a long shot), we also have the highest per capita rates of homicide and suicide. Gun violence doesn’t account for all of these deaths; however, it plays a major role in pushing our rates well above the rest of the developed world. Studies have proven that this can be explained with one simple correlation, even when rates of unemployment, poverty, and crime are taken into account: the more guns, the more gun deaths. And, how many guns do we have? Upwards of 310 MILLION, not including guns sold through private sales and gun shows. The simple solution? America needs less guns.
This is where the conversation gets sticky because, of the most developed countries in the world, the United States of America is the only to have the right to bear arms. Similarly, we are the only developed country to lack federal legislation that requires all gun owners to go through a standardized process to purchase a gun. This process would include extensive background checks to ensure that the purchaser is not a threat to others or themselves, training in gun safety before receiving a license, registering every purchased gun to a national database, and proving that the purchaser has the means to store the gun safely. However, with this process not already in place and hundreds of millions of guns already in circulation, it seems almost futile to even try to implement such a process so late in the game – especially when such legislation would have to receive bipartisan support in Congress and the cooperation of the public. But, if we wish for our schools, churches, concerts, movie theatres, nightclubs, and other public spaces to be safe, it is clear that change has to occur.
In the weeks following the shooting in Florida, we have already seen an uprising for reform spearheaded by the students of Stoneman Douglas. They’ve led public rallies and protests, garnered hundreds of thousands of supporters over social media, and have even called for justice using national news outlets. In a live-broadcasted CNN town hall, students, parents, and teachers all had the opportunity to ask their district representative, Ted Deutch; Florida senators, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson; town Sheriff, and NRA representative, Dana Loesch; about the next steps to be taken in order to prevent future mass shootings – Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, and President Donald Trump declined their invitations to attend. The conversation at the town hall and across social media has taken sharp focus on the legality of the sale of assault rifles, like the AR-15, which are common weapons of war and happen to be the go-to for mass shooters. Why would civilians of the “safest” and “greatest” country in the world need an automatic (or even semi-automatic) weapon of war? A weapon designed and created to kill as many people as possible in the least amount of time? No one on CNN’s panel seemed to have an answer that would please those listening.
The amount of activism that has poured out of the students of Stoneman Douglas in light of the tragedy that they endured has inspired companies and legislators across the country to actively seek gun reform. While pro- and anti-gun advocates provide opposite solutions – arming teachers or banning backpacks vs. outlawing assault weapons altogether – students across the country have joined in on the fight by participating in historic school walkouts with a nationwide walkout planned for April 20th (the anniversary of the Columbine shooting). States, like Oregon, have already begun passing legislation that limits access of guns to people convicted of domestic abuse. Though, after the shooting, Florida legislators voted down a bill that would ban the sale of assault weapons in the state, it is obvious that even small steps forward are integral in keeping tragedies, like the one in Parkland, from happening again.
Now, companies like Dicks Sporting Goods have stopped the sale of assault rifles and raised the age to purchase a gun to 21, sponsors of the NRA are ending their discounts for NRA members, and the conversation on gun control continues to divide along party lines. No solution is going to be easy, but it has never been more clear that something has to change – and it’s going to take the cooperation of everyone for those changes to be effective. If you are displeased with the way your legislators are handling the issue of guns and public safety, remember that we the people have the power to vote them out of office, and midterm elections are upon us. Register. Vote. Be the change that we are all looking for.
Featured image courtesy of Dylan Knight and Conner Yarbrough.