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OPINIONS

Fool Me Once…

Last month, seven college students were murdered in Santa Barbara. When I first learned about the massacre, I found myself horrified and disgusted — but not surprised.

Perhaps I was surprised seven years ago, when I turned on the television to discover that a Virginia Tech student had killed 32 of his peers and teachers. Perhaps I was still surprised a few years later when a mentally ill man killed six people and severely injured a congresswoman at a grocery store in Arizona. Perhaps some part of me still felt surprise during the following years as mass killings occurred at a movie theater in Colorado, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and an elementary school in Connecticut.

But when I heard that another disaffected, possibly mentally ill young man had killed students at UC-Santa Barbara, I just sighed and wondered how long it would be until the next tragedy.

While this attitude may seem cynical, the opposite is in fact true. The true cynics are those who still feign surprise at these events despite their regularity. According to Mother Jones, there have been at least 70 mass shootings in the last 30 years. Unless that rate changes, we can expect at least one such tragedy in the coming 12 months.

The response to these events is, by now, familiar to most Americans. First comes a national revulsion. Then, a brief push to heighten gun regulations. Finally, a push back orchestrated by the National Rifle Association that accuses gun control activists of exploiting a tragedy for political gain. The end result is that nothing ever changes.

It is this meta-tragedy — the failure of the American people to learn the lessons of countless acts of mass murder — that allows the cycle of violence to continue. In order to reduce the number of gun-related deaths in the United States, we need to reduce the number of guns.

However, there are two main objections to gun control reform. The first is empirical; it asserts that reducing access to guns won’t actually make people safer. The argument often states that dangerous folks will find a way to acquire firearms despite the regulations, leaving law-abiding citizens powerless to protect themselves.

This argument is flawed, especially regarding the assault weapons that are used in the deadliest murder sprees. How often do you see law-abiding citizens carrying assault rifles around for personal protection? The truth is that firearm regulations have been proven to be an effective way to lower violent crime. A recent Harvard study found a negative relationship between the strength of a state’s gun regulations and the number of firearm deaths in that state.

The other main objection to gun control reform is that such legislation would violate the Second Amendment. For many, the text of the amendment is perfectly clear: The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

But what are ‘arms,’ exactly? Is it true that in the United States today, there are no regulations on the types of weapons that citizens may own? Of course not. It would be illegal, for example, for you to build a hydrogen bomb in your backyard, even if it were for self-defense. Similarly, any attempt on your part to create a new, weaponized strain of anthrax would be met with a visit from the FBI and a life sentence.

These examples might seem hyperbolic, but they drive home an important point: The government can and already does infringe upon the right of citizens to bear arms. Rights aren’t absolute — sometimes limitations must be placed on them so that they do not infringe upon other, more important rights.

For example, in the Schenck v. United States decision, the Supreme Court noted that the Constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech does not entitle a person to scream “fire” in a crowded theater, since this infringes upon other theatergoers’ rights to safety. This is the logic that drives the government to prevent you from owning a hydrogen bomb — your right to bear that particular kind of weapon is less important than your neighbor’s right not to die in a nuclear accident. It is our job, as a nation, to decide how best to balance the right of citizens to bear arms with the safety of the public.

In order to strike this balance, we must rid ourselves of our collective amnesia regarding acts of mass violence. More than half of mass shooters use assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. We should ban these, as Senator Dianne Feinstein unsuccessfully attempted to do last year. Many people who commit mass murder have a history of mental illness — we should require background checks before every gun sale to prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands.

These changes aren’t radical, and enacting them would be a first step towards bolstering the safety of grocery shoppers, college students and elementary school children, among the many varied groups in this country. It’s time we start learning from the history of mass murder in America. If we continue to willfully ignore it, we are doomed to experience the tragic consequences again and again and again.

Contact Joel Gottsegen at Joeligy@stanford.edu.

About Joel Gottsegen

Joel Gottsegen '15 is an opinions columnist for the Stanford Daily. He studies computer science, with a focus on artificial intelligence. He writes short stories sometimes but doesn't show them to anyone. He writes songs sometimes and incessantly shows them to everyone. Joel thinks that despite his country's increasing polarization, it is still possible to have reasonable political discussion. You can reach him at joeligy@stanford.edu.
  • Max

    And somewhere a village is missing its… well, you know.

    I usually come to the Daily to read well-written garbage and
    here I find poorly written garbage.

    My first question: why does this piece bemoaning murders that
    use firearms to murder begin with reference to 7 students killed in Santa Barbara?
    Only 3 where killed with a firearm and yet I hear nothing bemoaning the easy
    access of automobiles by murders (which killed 4).

    While we are trying to “rid ourselves of our collective
    amnesia”, let us hope that we all soon recall that the FBI has already found
    that there is no statistically significant increase in “mass shootings” and
    that hydrogen-bomb straw men aren’t a good starting point when talking about
    your desire to make millions of victims across the United States through the de
    facto disarmament scheme proposed under the guise of “sensible gun control laws”.

    To quote Thomas Sowell:

    “The key fallacy of so-called gun-control laws is that such
    laws do not in fact control guns. They simply disarm law-abiding citizens,
    while people bent on violence find firearms readily available. If gun-control
    zealots had any respect for facts, they would have discovered this long ago,
    because there have been too many factual studies over the years to leave any
    serious doubt about gun-control laws being not merely futile but
    counterproductive.”

    I will grant the author this: his assertion that one right
    is not more important than another is correct: all rights are equal and your
    right to demand that another person bend to your will under the guise of a
    false right to feelings is nothing but a pure violation of the rights to free
    speech and association; that everyone must say and do things that force you to
    feel a the way you deem you should feel. To put it another way: stop allowing
    others to dictate your feelings… because YOUR feelings are under YOUR control and they shouldn’t be used to dominate the feelings of others. You feel scared because you see an inanimate metal and plastic thing carried by another; I feel safe because I carry it; why should your feelings trump mine?

    Oh, and Schenck v. United States was overturned in Brandenburg
    v. Ohio… so much for “fire”

  • Eat it
  • Max

    Another well reasoned response that directly refutes the central point… oh wait…
    I guess facts don’t matter to you as much as “feelings”.

  • Jonathan Poto

    You purposefully read a college newspaper for your daily intake of trash? That’s pretty fucking stupid.