Founding Fathers gives everyone a right to own a Musket
While the country reels over the grisliness of the December 14th shooting, debate concerning future prevention of mass murders has ensued. It seems relatively Angelaunanimous that the issue is multifaceted, and that one blanket solution will fail to address all of the problems that lead to such unfortunate events. But, ultimately, in every concrete issue, there is an underlying cultural problem.
To begin, the weapon of choice in every mass murder is a gun. This may seem like an oversimplified statement, and it is, but organizations that are against gun regulations, like the NRA, need to acknowledge that fact. That being said, guns, in and of themselves, are not vessels that are completely neutral in regard to ethics. Regardless of how they are used, and who is using them, guns are designed to physically harm human beings. Some argue that homicide will still happen regardless of whether or not guns are readily available, and I agree, but in this case we’re talking about solving the issue of mass killings. A murderer with the intention of killing multiple people equipped with a knife or a blunt object is going to be far less effective and much more easily stopped than a murderer equipped with a gun.
Many Americans contend that owning firearms is an inherent American right through the second amendment and that implementing regulations on gun ownership punishes law-abiding citizens who could use those guns to protect against mass shooters, and that mass shooters could buy guns illegally anyway. There are two significant flaws in this argument. According to study conducted by the magazine Mother Jones of 62 mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years, “in not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun.” The central purpose of law enforcement is to have trained professionals intervene in criminal situations for civilians, and, unsurprisingly, if the gunman hadn’t already committed suicide, it was law enforcement that stabilized the situation. Another flaw is that while it may be true that criminals could pursue illegal weapons, in 49 of the 62 instances of mass shootings in the study, the firearms used were purchased legally (including those used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting). And so, in the majority of the mass shootings over the last 30 years, gunmen were both able and took advantage of their capability to access their weaponry with ease. Even if guns weren’t outlawed altogether as some Americans fear, and just stricter regulations were set in place, it would provide obstacles for those who are ill-intentioned.
This is where our first cultural problem comes into play. An independent research project based in Geneva called The Small Arms Survey found that of the 28 countries surveyed in 2011 on civilian firearm possession, only two countries considered civilian ownership of a firearm a basic right – the U.S. and Yemen. And, accordingly, the United States is an outlier in terms of the high number of homicides of developed countries. The U.S. is also the only developed country that doesn’t always require gun licenses to purchase weapons and is one of the only countries that does not necessitate gun owners to register all of their firearms. Dr. Garen Wintemute of University of California, Davis, Medical Center, who practices emergency medicine and researches the prevention of gun violence says that aside from the United State’s homicide rate and gun violence rate, the U.S. is not a uniquely violent country and stated: “It’s not clear that guns cause violence, but it’s absolutely clear that they change the outcome.”
Other developed countries with a lower homicide rate do not completely outlaw civilian possession of firearms, but they do have much stricter regulations. Japan, for example, requires that prospective gun owners must attend an all-day class and pass a written test, then take and pass a shooting range class, then go to a hospital and pass a mental test and drug test, and, finally, pass a background check for a criminal history or affiliation with extremist groups before being allowed access to any legal weapons. Americans may find this process an infringement on their individual liberty, but, if we are required to pass tests to drive a vehicle, why wouldn’t it also be obligatory to pass a test before owning a firearm designed to cause physical harm? In 2006, only two Japanese civilians in the entire country were killed by guns.
But firearms are not the sole problem in the issue of mass shootings. There is another pattern we must recognize amongst the shooters – the prevailing presence of mental illness. More specifically, Mother Jones found instances of acute paranoia, delusions and depression. One of the shooters in this study in particular was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had lived in a secure federal facility for more than a year where he underwent psychiatric examinations and received medication. At least 36 of the shooters committed suicide on or near the scene and at least 38 of the shooters showed signs of mental health problems prior the killings.
According to James Knoll IV, MD, of Medscape, today’s mental health system birthed from deinstitutionalization in the 1960’s and 70’s – a time marked by the emptying of state mental hospitals. While intended with the hopes of improvement of the mental health care system, it rendered many mentally ill and former patients homeless and resulted in filling some of our correctional facilities with people who have serious mental illnesses. Knoll stated: “In Virginia, jails now house more persons with serious mental illness than do Virginia psychiatric hospitals” and “The Los Angeles correctional system has been referred to as America’s largest psychiatric facility… Correctional administrators readily concede that their facilities are being used as ‘dumping grounds for many individuals who could be better served through early intervention in noncustodial environments because other options are just not available.’” Clearly, how we are currently handling the mentally ill is not working.
Later, Knoll describes the pattern of the profile of mass shooters as people have “extreme feelings of anger and revenge” and “feelings of social alienation” who “were also narcissistic and coped with personal problems by blaming others.” This leads us to another cultural problem – the media. As with the Sandy Hook shooting, the shooter’s name, picture, history, and overall plight in life got more airtime than any one of the victims. So, perhaps the shooter did not take his anger out on individuals he felt specific anger against, though he certainly may have with his mother, but his actions were immediately sensationalized and he was able to show the nation his personal rage and probe the public to think about how his individual story could have been solved – how the media’s given details of the quiet autistic boy, oddly carrying a briefcase to school was failed to be helped by our nation’s system. The media ought to be focusing on those affected by the tragedy and the efforts taken by the community to rebuild itself, rather than granting a killer the attention of a celebrity.
Hopefully this tragedy will prompt the nation to make serious changes as to how we handle gun control, the mentally ill, the media and the cultural attitudes that fuel the continuation of this serious national issue. If the fatal shooting of twenty children and six adult staff members at an elementary school isn’t enough to get the nation’s attention that there is a problem that requires immediate action towards both finding and establishing a workable solution within this country, I don’t know what will. Do You
Editors Note: I must thank Angela for taking time to write for my blog while I’m physically incapacitated. Angela is the youngest of of my nine grandchildren and I’ve always admired her writing skills since she was in Jr. Hi. and am proud of her writing now. She is a JR, at Columbia University and write when she has a break from schoolwork.
As usual I am in agreement with her opinions. The constitution like many other writings are prone to interpretation. The 2nd Amendment was written when we had fewer people and Muskets were the guns of choice. One can wonder if they would have written the 2nd Amendment so loosely if the had the guns we have today?