On American Gun Control (Or Lack Thereof)

Sameer Fraser

For the seemingly hundredth time in recent memory, it should be time to begin dialogue on an effective gun control bill.  Following a shooting on the campus of Purdue University, a shooting on the campus of Widener University, and a subsequent false alarm at the University of Oklahoma, the odd mixture of fear and passion surrounding this sensitive issue finds itself at the forefront of conversation.  However, it seems that when this issue is most salient, pressure is high on both sides.  Consequently, when that is the case, it seems that’s when nothing gets done.

Here at The Vanderbilt Political Review, gun control debates came in as the eighth biggest political story of 2013.  In the aftermath of the senseless tragedies in Newtown, CT and Aurora, CO, tempers on both sides of the gun control debate flared and rightfully so.  Never was there more public support for legislative action regarding gun control with a whopping 86 percent of people supporting background checks on gun sales.  Never was there as much fervor from the executive branch in wanting to get a gun bill passed.  Yet, the bill was defeated in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

There are merits to both sides of the gun control debate.  Lawyers for James Holmes argue that he is too mentally ill to face the death penalty.  If he is deemed too mentally ill to face execution, how is he not too mentally ill to acquire the tools to take 12 lives?  In a perfect world, harsher background checks would have prevented the tragedy in Aurora, CO from taking place.  On the other side, people fear that background checks would open the door to a national gun registry.

Whether it be a large-scale tragedy like the ones in Aurora and Newtown or an isolated incident like the shooting this week at Purdue, every life lost is heartbreaking.  In the United States, one person is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes.  However, it is important to note that gun violence is rampant in areas across the globe—not just the US.  While Americans “try” to stop violence at home, some argue that we promote violence outside our borders with our high volume of overseas gun sales.  US weapons sales overseas totaled over $66 billion in 2011.  The second place finisher, Russia, sold only $4.8 billion in arms.  Some in opposition to strict gun control laws point out that the folks supplying guns to people all across the world are taking measures to take guns out of the hands of their own law abiding citizens.

By the same token, another rebuttal to gun control laws stopping gun violence is the thought that gun violence will persist with or without this bill.  Mark Mattioli, father to one of the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy, believes that criminals are going to get their hands on guns and that he should not be hampered in trying to protect himself from them.

Regardless of which side of the fence one sits, there are merits to both sides of the argument.  The problem today is that when gun control and gun violence becomes salient, the acknowledgment of those merits go out the window.  We are dealing with the least productive Congress in history with only 57 bills being passed last year.  When such a sensitive issue comes into the limelight, it needs to be dealt with.  Unfortunately, it is usually dealt with by external actors.  Earlier this month, President Obama began taking measures into his own hands as it relates to gun control debate.  Recent events should push more people to follow the President’s lead and attempt to make a change.  However, recent events will also cause tempers on both sides of the argument to flare.  The saliency of this issue will invite external groups from the right and the left to take extreme stances and pressure lawmakers into joining them.  The urgent timing of the talks may ironically be the reason that nothing gets done—again.

I like to hunt.  I see the merits in gun ownership.  I see no merits in a preventable, senseless murder at the hands of a firearm within the next 17 minutes.  Or the following 17 minutes, or at any time of any day.  There is a middle ground, and it can be found.  In a perfect world, the time to find that middle ground would be now, in the wake of several tragedies.  Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.  We live in the United States of America.


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