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America’s gun sickness

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Consider for a moment that we live in a country where there exists a legally obtainable weapon that allows a single person with malicious intentions to kill or injure multiple people in a crowded place within a few minutes, perhaps seconds. In fact, the United States is plagued with the highest rate of gun-related deaths in the developed world at over 33,000 deaths per year, more than a third of which are homicides. Moreover, 1 in every 78 deaths is caused by a firearm (excluding cases of legal intervention). It is clear from these statistics that there is a very serious gun issue in the United States that requires our attention, notably with regard to mass shootings; as of Sept. 8, the United States is averaging 1.05 mass shootings (defined as incidents in which four or more people are shot) per day in 2015. Given the clear severity of the issue, I think we can all agree that something must be done to curb these frightening numbers.

Even in the wake of the recent school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, there remains a steadfast resistance to efforts of gun control. For example, the phenomenon of “campus carry” is becoming more acceptable in certain places. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, recently approved legislation making campus carry legal throughout the state. Proponents of campus carry allege that an armed campus will not increase the risk of shootings but, in fact, lower it. They argue that the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. This myth is known to be false and has been debunked through numerous studies, including a study by the Stanford Law School that concluded that “the most consistent, albeit not uniform, finding to emerge […] is that aggravated assault rises when [Right to Carry] laws are adopted.” Furthermore, studies have shown that areas with fewer gun owners have less gun violence, and, conversely, areas with more gun owners have more gun violence, thereby directly opposing the “more guns, less crime” hypothesis. Given this, it is statistically more likely that policies such as campus carry will increase the rates of gun violence at schools, not reduce them as its supporters maintain. This has spurred one professor at the University of Texas at Austin to quit his teaching position in fear of the prevalence of concealed weapons, further drawing attention to the issue of campus carry.

Regarding the issue of privacy, this is a country where the NSA is allowed to spy on every American citizen far beyond the limit of what most people who value their privacy find acceptable, all in the name of curbing terrorist activities, which account for very few deaths per year. In contrast, the unbelievably high number of deaths per year attributed to gun violence is not allowed to be politicized, let alone subject to governmental recourse, even though the measures necessary to reduce gun violence would be far less invasive than anything like the NSA. Rather, gun control places reasonable restrictions regarding what kinds of guns a person can have. Given the huge issue of gun-related deaths, is it really that crazy to think that we should increase gun restrictions? That we should deny that possession of automatic weapons serves no reasonable purpose other than to kill as many people as quickly as possible? That the example provided by countries like Australia shows that it is indeed possible to better the situation?

Consider that the modern gun has evolved drastically from a much more primitive weapon used during the lifetimes of authors of the U.S. Constitution. Further, consider that putting forth legislation to control the availability and legality of different kinds of guns is hindered most severely by the refusal of a frighteningly large portion of U.S. citizens and representative officials to admit that there is a very clear difference between these weapons. Any reasonable person would agree that it is comical to equate the individual killing power of the modern gun with that of an 18th-century musket. That is, it would be comical if it weren’t happening right now on a massive scale, thereby gifting us with enough of an excuse to turn a blind eye to the gun violence epidemic ongoing in this country.

The Founding Fathers may have provided us with the Second Amendment, but their arms were very different from ours. I think we urgently need to decide precisely what constitutes arms since it has become dangerously ambiguous. Note that this does not mean outlawing guns entirely, but rather using a neutral position regarding the urgent matter of public safety as a lens through which to better view the situation. This is an issue of our time, not the 18th century, so it will not do to use 18th-century arguments. It would be insane to allow this epidemic to continue unchecked when it is possible to implement simple gun control that will alleviate a deadly phenomenon unique to our country. However, in order to cure our gun sickness, we must refrain from denying it any longer.

 

Contact Ian Knight at isknight ‘at’ stanford.edu.