Ashley George – Friday, October 9, 2015, news broke about yet another school shooting, this time at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. From reports this incident seems to have been the result of an altercation that escalated, leaving one student dead, three others injured, and the freshman shooter in custody. A mass shooting is usually defined as a shooting that results in the death of four or more people, is carried out by a lone shooter, and takes place in a public place/area.
Though the Northern Arizona shooting would not be classified as a “mass shooting,” it took place just eight days after the Oregon school shooting that occurred at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Now these two shootings have extinguished the lives of ten young people far before their time. This number does not include the Oregon shooter, Chris Harper-Mercer, who took his own life during his confrontation with police.
Over the last five years there have been a startling number of mass shootings including the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Washington Navy Yard shooting, Charleston, South Carolina Church shooting, and the Chattanooga military recruitment center shooting. Every time one of these tragic incidents occurs, it adds more fuel to the national debate over gun control laws. We have yet to come to a consensus on what should be done, but it should not be denied that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
One half of the nation is arguing for stricter gun control while the other, backed by the NRA, argues for fewer restrictions. This debate has resulted in the 50 states having vast differences in their gun control laws. Each state has its own set of laws that govern the legal purchase and possession of guns. Shortly after the news of the Oregon school shooting broke President Obama held a press conference releasing a statement advocating for stricter gun laws. However, it is debatable how much the federal government can really do.
As 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.” This has been interpreted to mean that the federal government and state governments, by way of the Fourteenth Amendment, cannot infringe upon an individuals right to own and possess guns.
Nevertheless, those advocating for stricter gun laws are also concerned with another issue. In many of these incidents it is later revealed that the shooter had mental health issues that had been missed or ignored. It is often thought that if these conditions had been treated it may have prevented the shooting all together. For example, Chris Harper-Mercer, the Oregon shooter, reportedly graduated from The Switzer Learning Center in 2009. The Switzer Center is a school geared for special education students with a range of issues from learning disabilities, health problems and autism or Asperger’s Disorder. Harper-Mercer was also allegedly upset because he did not have a girlfriend. Whatever the case may be, the United States has an extremely difficult challenge of figuring out how to tackle mental illness and keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.
Proponents for stricter gun laws are advocating for preventative measures such as background checks, mandatory weapon registrations, owner permits or licenses, and bans on assault weapons. In fact in some states it is harder to get a driver’s license than it is to legally purchase a gun. The problem with this is that it would be an invasion of privacy and likely a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) if these background checks were allowed to search a person’s medical history to see if they had ever been treated for a mental health issue. Additionally, the stigma in our society about mental health issues prevents many people from ever seeking help. As a result, a background check would never reveal anything relating to the mental health of a customer to a gun dealer.
On May 13, 2013, JAMA Internal Medicine medical journal published a study on firearm legislation and firearm related fatalities. The study revealed that the states with a higher number of gun laws had a lower average annual gun death rate. The states with lowest gun deaths were Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York. On the other hand, Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Oklahoma had the fewest gun laws and the highest gun death rates. This study of course does not end the debate over gun control laws because the study does not reveal which laws actually are contributing to the decrease in gun deaths if, in fact, they are at all. All it shows is a correlation between the number of gun laws and gun deaths. So while the study is food for thought, it is not the end all be all.
Interestingly, in the mist of all this, the Florida’s legislature is in the process of passing an open carry bill. It is off to a slow start, but passed its first hurtle by gaining an 8-4 vote from the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. But what kind of effects will this really have on the gun violence in the United States? Will people being able to see who has guns actually deter gun violence? Given the fact that only Florida, California, Illinois, South Carolina and the District of Columbia prohibit open carry the answer is probably no.
In the end, the United States has a real problem on its hands and everyone should be invested in figuring out how to fix it. There is going to have to be give and take on both sides of the aisle.