By NEHA BHARDWAJ
After the recent string of mass shootings in the United States, the issue of gun safety has been brought to the forefront of the political arena. However, although this topic is only just being reinvigorated, the truth is that gun violence has been an institutionalized problem at the core of this nation for decades.
The United States has one of the highest rates of fatality by gun violence in the world, far outranking most developed and developing nations and surpassed only by a handful of South American and Caribbean countries (NPR). The United States’ rate of violent gun deaths – around forty thousand per year (Pew Research) – is abnormally high, and the source of such a rate is undeniably mystifying. After all, it is safe to say that the general state of this nation is a far cry from the rampant gang and cartel activity, widespread poverty, and crippling economic and political instability present in other nations with similar rates of gun death. In fact, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation stated that the United States’ violent gun fatality rate is ten times what it should be, based on the nation’s socioeconomic status and crime rates (NPR). The source of American gun violence, thus, cannot be attributed to any of the usual suspects. Rather, upon closer examination, the trail of bodies leads back not just to the zealously-defended Second Amendment of our Constitution, but also the political corruption and manipulation surrounding it. As the bodies pile up, sometimes in dozens by the day, it becomes increasingly imperative to shine a light on this oft-shrouded corner of American politics – a matter, quite literally, of life and death.
Among the multitudinous forms of gun violence sweeping the nation, one that hits particularly close to home in light of the recent Santa Clarita tragedy is the prevalence of mass shootings in the United States. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza went to an elementary school in Connecticut and shot and killed 26 people, the majority under the age of seven. The Sandy Hook shooting has since lived on in our memories, and to this day, it remains the deadliest mass shooting at a primary or secondary school, the second-deadliest school shooting overall, and the fourth-deadliest mass shooting in United States history.
Since Sandy Hook, there have been over two thousand mass shootings in the United States. On average, the civilians of this nation face at least one mass shooting every day, with 2015 seeing 355 mass shootings in only 336 days. Yet, the massive death toll from mass shootings only scratches the tip of the iceberg – 2% of it, to be exact (Vox). The other 98%? Violent gun-related homicides and suicides, also at rates unparalleled for a developed, wealthy nation. According to American Progress, thirty-three Americans are murdered by a gun every day – a rate twenty-five times higher than that of other high-income nations. The prevalence of guns has also exacerbated the national suicide epidemic, bringing the United States’ gun suicide rate to eight times that of other developed nations. Moreover, the United States’ rate of accidental gun deaths, typically amongst young children, is six times higher.
It should not take too great a leap to link the United States’ frequent gun fatalities with our constitutional protection of the right to bear arms, especially since the United States is one of the only nations with such legislature. Since its inception, the Second Amendment has evolved into one of the most vehemently-contested laws in the Constitution, as separate camps have arisen over the increasingly divisive topic of gun safety. Opponents contend that gun safety laws would be an abridgement of a guaranteed constitutional protection. As a result, gun safety legislation is repeatedly shot down in Congress, branded by gun enthusiasts as unconstitutional and anti-American. However, the facts do not lie. Clearly, without sufficient controls to ensure that guns do not fall into the wrong hands, guns are doing just that – falling into the hands of mentally unstable or criminally inclined people – and the carnage that unfailingly ensues cannot be brushed under the rug any longer.
This begs the question: if we are in such dire straits, why do politicians continue to reject gun safety laws? Make no mistake, it cannot possibly be attributed to the incessantly reiterated argument of constitutionality. After all, did anyone contest reinterpretations of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures in regards to phones, computers, and other technologies that did not exist at the time of our founding? Almost every amendment has been reinterpreted by the law as technology and society advances. It would be preposterous to argue that the same should not apply to the Second Amendment, now that mere handguns can shoot up to 1,200 rounds in a minute.
Thus, if the issue is not one of protecting constitutionality, what is it? There is indeed one other glaring, though far less idealistic possibility: corruption in politics. The NRA, or National Rifle Association, is a well-known political lobbyer, notorious for extending its tentacles into American politics to advance its own agendas. For instance, after the shootings of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, President Trump openly and repeatedly called for stricter background checks. However, a mere two weeks later, he turned on his head, suddenly insisting that we already have sufficient background checks and that any further gun safety legislation would be a “slippery slope.” His new stance echoed the statements of the NRA, which, coincidentally, donated $30 million to get President Trump elected into office (Vox).
Unfortunately, we cannot deny the fact that lobbying is an inevitable aspect of American politics. However, when hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake, we cannot resign ourselves to complacency. We cannot settle for political policies that irrefutably endanger the lives of every resident of the United States. As each new shooting pops up in the media headlines, as the death toll skyrockets without any ceiling in sight, citizens of every walk of life grow increasingly afraid that they could be the next victims. Now, with the nation at fever pitch, it is the most crucial it has ever been to combat the epidemic of gun fatalities head-on. Researchers have found the most effective gun safety measures to be universal background checks, bans for past violent offenders, and “may-issue” laws (giving police discretion in issuing concealed-carry permits), which, when used in conjunction, are associated with a staggering thirty-six percent drop in homicide rates (City Lab). With the vast majority of Americans supporting such measures, including a stunning ninety-seven percent of gun-owners, the answer is clear. As we careen towards the boiling point, the only solution in sight is immediate implementation of stricter gun safety laws.