Seventy-eight shootings. 547 deaths. Thirty years. First were the three weeks of indoor recess in second grade during the Maryland Sniper incident. Then, the hushed voices whispering about the Lockheed Martin shooting in 2003. After that, there was the Amish schoolhouse, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Aurora, Newtown. In 2012 alone, nine mass shootings— shootings in which four or more people were killed at one time—occurred in the United States, leaving 71 innocent people dead. So when the news of the Navy Yard shooting came up on my Facebook newsfeed in September, I was anything but surprised. Society has developed a numbness to mass violence, which is testament to the urgent need for gun culture reform.
The United States ranks first in the world for mass shootings, with 15 of the 25 deadliest shootings in the past 50 years. Finland takes second place, with just two. Each time tragedy strikes, we push for stricter gun laws. Each time, nothing changes. For a country where, just this year, an eight-year-old Maryland boy got suspended for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun, you would think we would be more serious about gun regulations.
Yet gridlock prevails. Why? While many politicians, including the Obama administration, favor stricter laws, a large portion of the population believes that the right to own a gun is essential to individual freedom. The Manchin-Toomey proposal, introduced by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) last April, failed to pass by a margin of eight votes.
The bill would have required that all gun buyers undergo background checks before purchasing a gun, whether it is a public or private transaction. The four democrats who voted against the amendment represent conservative areas and foresee tough reelections in 2014. That presumably played a big part in their decisions.
It is not just federal institutions that face backlash when proposing harsher proposals. In Colorado this past September, two Democratic state senators were voted out of office because they supported stricter gun laws. They were replaced by Republicans supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which, with an annual revenue of $205 million, exercises huge lobbying power. This incident has deterred politicians in other swing states from supporting such measures.
Since policy will not change gun culture anytime soon, there are several alternatives to consider, both within the realm of politics and outside of it. One relatively minor change is to end the “gun show loophole.” Although commercial buyers are required to undergo a background check before purchasing a gun, gun shows are exempt from this legislation in many states. That is because background checks are not required for private transactions, which make up about 20 percent of all firearm sales. Because of the gun show exemption, potentially dangerous individuals are able to gain access to guns. Closing the loophole could prevent this.
Another feasible initiative to reduce gun violence is to implement gun buy-backs, where gun owners trade in their guns and ammunition for incentives such as gift cards or money, no questions asked. Over a six-year period in Chicago, gun buy-backs removed over 23,000 guns from the streets. San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit and Camden have all instituted gun buy-back events in order to decrease the number of firearms in those cities.
Ideally, regulations such as closing the gun show loophole and initiatives like gun buy-backs would minimize the amount of firearms on the streets. However, since such measures would address only part of the problem, society as a whole must put extra effort into teaching gun owners how to safely handle their firearms. Requiring gun buyers to take a short firearm safety class before their purchases would give them both the skills to control their firearms and the knowledge about how they may be safely stored. Here at Macalester, Students for the Safe Exercise of our Right to Bear Arms Club (SSERBA) works to teach students how to responsibly treat firearms.
With the clash of views on gun control, it is unclear what will prompt the necessary change in gun culture. But clearly, something must. So far, there have been five mass shootings in the United States this year. If something doesn’t change quickly, that number will continue to quietly creep up with barely any notice and no more than a fleeting feeling of unfortunate familiarity.