Mass shootings in the United States of America are as common as incidences of a Malaysian politician saying something inane. The former, of course, paints a far less amusing picture than the latter. On the 1st of October, a man opened fire at the Umpqua Community College in Oregon, killing 9 people before taking his own life after a shootout with the police. Now, this is certainly something to strike the hearts of people with shock and sadness, yet the more shocking thing to consider is the fact that this is the 43,706th incident involving gun violence (at time of press) in the United States this year. Yes, you read that right: there have been forty-three thousand seven hundred and six gun violence incidents in the USA so far. And the year hasn’t ended. Every single one of them gets the American public talking, but the arguments and debates die out as quickly as they start. This begs the question: is enough being done to prevent these heart-wrenching massacres?
Let’s look at what makes us ask this question in the first place. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states the following:
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.
Unfortunately, many people seem to forget about the existence of the phrase “well regulated” in the amendment. One can argue that the Second Amendment gives them the right to bear arms, but one must also understand that the possession of arms has to be REGULATED; it has to be properly GOVERNED and meticulously MONITORED. It is also important to understand that the Second Amendment was written towards the end of the 18th century, a period of time right after the United States had gotten its independence after a bitter war with Great Britain. It would have been imperative for the young country to be well prepared in the unlikely event of a future offensive from the powers across the Atlantic. It made sense then for the people of the United States of America to bear arms, as a measure of self-defense.
Fast forward to the 21st century; the United States is now the world’s largest economy, possesses the world’s strongest military force and has the largest number of people who have a net worth of at least 50 million USD. The country has become synonymous with freedom, dreams… and gun violence. Roughly, an average of 30,000 people are killed annually by gunfire in the ‘Land of Dreams’. Many proponents of tighter gun laws point to the incredibly loose legislation parameters regarding gun ownership because of the Second Amendment. They press for stricter gun laws, and more stringent background checks for right to ownership. It isn’t hard to see where they’re coming from; it is only normal to believe that the tightening of legislation would result in the control of arms possession which will in turn curb the increase of gun violence.
Here’s the twist, however. There is no proof that tighter gun laws mean lower gun crime rates. A report published by USA Today stated that the states with weaker gun laws suffered higher numbers of gun deaths. Now, this may seem promising, but a CDC report in 2013 showed that a whopping 63% of gun deaths were suicides. In fact, the state of Wyoming, which had one of the highest firearm death rates, also had a homicide rate of zero. These results also do not follow a pattern. This makes it difficult to prove that stricter gun laws do indeed control gun crime rates. The USA Today report also noted that the states with higher gun deaths also had higher poverty rates and lower education attainment. Although correlation does not mean causation, it may be worth it to note the other factors involved. Additionally, it is simply impossible to carry out a scientific study involving a group with guns or permissive gun laws, and a group that doesn’t. However, the threat that comes along with the bearing of arms must not be discounted.
So, gun laws may not be entirely effective. What does that leave us with now? Should America throw in the proverbial towel and give up trying to do anything about the increasingly devastating number of gun crimes plaguing the nation? Should they submit to the damning inevitability that the country that prided itself in being the “world’s policeman” is continuously being debilitated by firearm violence? Should America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, allow itself to buckle under the ever increasing weight of the number of innocent people dying due to gun-related reasons?
All is not lost. Although tighter gun control measures are somewhat ineffective, there are steps that can be taken in order to rein in the incidence on gun violence in the country. These steps seek to address the problem at its root. One method is to increase the availability and accessibility of alcohol and drug rehab. In a study published in Sage Journals in 2013, it was found that “48% of homicide offenders were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the offence”. Rehabilitation is expensive, with some programs costing up to 120,000 USD per month. Low-end programs, on the other hand, cost about $7,500 a month. This too, is rather taxing on the pockets of many of those most affected by this problem: people in the lower levels of the economic ladder. America has one of the worst economic inequalities in the developed world. Many of those involved in violent crimes are usually mired in financial difficulties and commit crimes as a desperate attempt to pull themselves out of it, only to be caught by the long arm of law. Thus, lower rehabilitation costs as well as higher basic wages may help in treating the problem of gun violence at the root.
As I write this article, the number of gun violence incidences continue to increase. There seems to be no respite for this – but if the problem is addressed at the root, there may be hope. It might take years before this is finally resolved, but the results will be worth it. America has to address this problem and arrest the continuous increase of gun crimes, and it has to do it now. Through efforts aimed at the grassroots as well as improvements in economic disparities, the United States of America may honor the Second Amendment, as well as be free from the bludgeons of firearm homicides.
By Saran Anandan
Overhead image credit: nationofchange.org