It is said that you can't put a price on a life, yet many gun supporters believe that the right to bear arms is more valuable than preventing gun violence and saving thousands of lives. The one-year anniversary of the Stoneman Douglas School shooting that occurred on February 14, 2018, has come and gone, and many people are still grappling with the horrors of gun violence in the United States. In the wake of the SDS shooting, people around the country called on Congress and the President to pass the necessary legislation to help prevent future school shootings. Coordinated by survivors such as Emma González and David Hogg, students led walkouts and came together in the March for Our Lives with the hope that change was just around the corner. A year after the devastating school shooting, activists are still fighting for gun control.
The United States has an unusual relationship with guns, to say the least. According to NPR, the U.S. has the 28th-highest rate of gun violence deaths in the world: 4.43 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. This rate is significantly higher than other developed countries of relatively similar socioeconomic status. A primary reason behind this disparity is the lack of comprehensive gun control in the United States and the ease with which people can access guns, specifically semi-automatic and military-style weapons. In 2017, nearly 40,000-gun-related deaths occurred in the U.S. According to the New York Times, “more people died from firearm injuries in the United States last year  than in any other year since at least 1968.”
Though mass shootings make compelling news stories, other gun-related deaths occur that aren’t broadcasted throughout the media. In fact, roughly 60 percent of gun-related deaths are a result of suicides. This fact is discouraging as it suggests that many lives could have been saved if more extensive background checks prevented people with mental illnesses from obtaining guns.
Although mass shootings do not make up most gun-related deaths, they must be noted for the fear they strike in the lives of Americans. A mass shooting, as defined by the FBI, is “an incident in which four or more people, not including the suspect, are killed.” According to the Washington Post, “most of the victims are chosen not for what they have done but simply for where they happen to be.” This highlights the fact that no one is truly safe from the threat of gun violence, as one could simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least 20 mass shootings occurred in 2018 alone, impacting the lives of people around the country. The statistics clearly demonstrate that gun violence is a problem in our country – so why haven’t we done anything to address the issue?
One of the most common arguments made my pro-gun activists is that they have the right to bear arms granted by the second amendment of the Bill of Rights. It is important to examine the second amendment as it reveals the ambiguity of the Bill of Rights, a notion that can easily be overlooked. The second amendment states, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." There are two ways one might interpret this amendment: the individual rights theory and the collective rights theory. The individual rights theory argues that “the United States Constitution restricts legislative bodies from prohibiting firearm possession, or at the very least, the Amendment renders prohibitory and restrictive regulation presumptively unconstitutional,” using the statement, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” as evidence. On the other hand, the collective rights theory notes the use of “a well-regulated Militia” to assert that “citizens do not have an individual right to possess guns and that local, state, and federal legislative bodies therefore possess the authority to regulate firearms without implicating a constitutional right.” The fact that there is debate over how to interpret the amendment is important to note as it casts doubt on the right of individuals to own guns.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it say we have a right to bear AK-47s, AR-15s, or other military-style weapons of mass destruction. Nowhere does it say that we cannot have background checks to vet prospective gun owners. Furthermore, I think it’s safe to say that the founding fathers did not create this amendment with an AK-47 or AR-15 in mind, which we must bear in mind when discussing the future of legislation surrounding semi-automatic and military-style weapons.
As I have demonstrated above, there exists debate regarding the interpretation of the 2nd amendment. Given this ambiguity, it is unwise to rely solely on the second amendment to defend the right to individual gun ownership. Many gun proponents argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. However, this is a flawed argument. Guns, specifically semi-automatic and military-style weapons, were created with the intention of efficiently and effectively killing people–it is hard to deny the inherent purpose of these weapons. Guns also are capable of killing a larger number of people in a shorter period of time than other weapons. According to The Washington Post, “in the United States, people who want to kill a lot of other people most often do it with guns.” So, while it’s true that a gun on its own cannot kill a person, it is a weapon that people choose to use when they intend on killing. Thus, any policies that put restrictions on gun ownership have the potential to significantly reduce the number of gun-related deaths in the U.S.
Lastly, in response to those who argue that gun control measures such as extensive background checks, bans of bump stocks, and bans of semi-automatic weapons would not reduce gun violence, I offer an example in which it did. After the Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people were killed in Australia, the federal government acted by prohibiting “their [semi-automatic and other military style weapons] import, and lawmakers introduced a generous nationwide gun buyback program, funded with a Medicare tax, to encourage Australians to freely give up their assault-style weapons.” Since this ban and implementation of background checks, no mass shootings have occurred, and gun violence overall also decreased. Additionally, the murder rate in Australia fell “to less than 1 killing per 100,000 people—a murder rate one-fifth the size of America’s.” Furthermore, gun suicides “dropped by some 80 percent, according to one analysis.”
While some may argue that the country has made little progress regarding gun control, in light of the facts presented, progress has occurred. The very fact that gun reform is now a highly debated topic in society indicates some degree of progress. However, studies show “that even after such efforts ramped up after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, gun violence continued its dizzying assault on America.” America still has a serious problem, and unfortunately, not enough has been done to address the issue.
To put it simply, thoughts and prayers are not enough. They won’t bring people back, nor will they prevent future gun-related deaths. What we need are new policies that protect the interests and safety of citizens. We need comprehensive gun reform. We need change. We know that putting gun control laws in place, such as extensive background checks and banning semi-automatic guns, can reduce gun violence, as demonstrated in Australia. At the end of the day, guns, specifically semi-automatics and other military-style weapons, were created with the intent to kill people. The fact that they are used for recreational purposes now should not obscure their original purpose. Comprehensive gun reform is essential and should be a priority for our country. Gun reform should include, at the very least, extensive background checks and a ban on bump stocks. We should also ban semi-automatic and other military-style weapons. While these are some possible gun reform policies, the main point of this article is to convey the importance of getting to a place where we’re able to take any action at all. I am tired of hearing about another mass shooting on the news. I am tired of the statistics each year that show that gun-related deaths are increasing. I am tired of feeling hopeless after seeing another death at the hand of a person who shouldn't have owned a gun, let alone a semi-automatic. I am tired of being scared that I or any of my loved ones could be the next victim. Gun violence affects the lives of millions of people, however, we have the ability to implement lasting changes and we owe it to future generations to make the world safer for them. Gun control is the first step towards achieving that safer world.