By: Abigail Bender
“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. my response here at this podium, ends up being routine.”
– President Obama on mass shootings in the United States
The latest episode in the saga of mass shootings in the United States took place Wednesday, December 2, 2015 in San Bernardino, California. Around 11 A.M., two shooters opened fire on a company holiday party, killing 14 and injuring 21. This marks the 353rd mass shooting in the 336 days that have taken place in 2015. These “mass shootings” are defined as a shooting where there are four or more casualties. So far this year, President Obama has addressed us as a nation 11 times concerning mass shootings. That’s almost once a month, we hear the same thing: another mass shooting.
The United States is number one in the world in terms of gun violence among developed countries. The US averages around 29.7 gun-deaths per 1 million people. No other country even compares. The next highest is Switzerland, where the average is around 7.7 deaths per 1 million people. In 12 years, the number of deaths caused by AID’s, war, and drug overdoses combined were still less than those caused by guns.
What is the answer to America’s gun violence problem then? It is impossible to stop shootings in our country without taking away our rights given by the Second Amendment. However, it is possible to lower the number of shootings, and the number of fatalities in these shootings. There are many steps that need to be taken to fix the United States’ gun problem, and it will take time, however, it is totally possible to massively reduce the number of gun homicides in our country.
There are currently background checks in place in the United States. How these checks work is, when a person buys a gun, they are required to show their ID to the seller and then fill out ATF (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) Form 4472. This form asks for general personal information such as name, address, gender, place of birth, and race. In addition it asks questions about criminal background and immigration. After this, the dealer must send in the buyer’s information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This check takes several minutes. If the buyer passes this background check, they are free to purchase their gun.
Is enough being done? No. There needs to be more. In other countries such as Canada and Australia, there waiting periods of several weeks. During this time, extensive background checks on the gun buyer are done. These include criminal history as well as any history of violence or mental health problems. More extensive background checks like these need to be put into place.
During this waiting period, in addition to doing the background checks mentioned above, a home check should be done. Here, spouses or close family would be notified of the buyer’s interest in acquiring a weapon and would be asked if they think there is any reason that the buyer should be denied their gun license. Also the home should be checked at this point for any signs of domestic problems. Finally, the home check should include the buyer presenting the representative with a safe place where they intend to store their weapon once purchased.
Additionally, once a background check is passed and a citizen receives their gun license, their license should have to be renewed after a certain amount of time. If we make buying a gun a bigger deal, with a longer waiting period that is more of a hassle, it will be harder for guns to get into the wrong hands. Second of all, if buying a gun is a hassle and hard to do, then less people will try to do it. As a result, there would be less guns in circulation, meaning less illegal gun trade.
In the United States, it is legal to buy semi-automatic weapons. This means that they fire one round every time the trigger is pulled, but the next round is automatically loaded into the chamber and is ready to fire immediately. Unlike fully automatic weapons, or machine guns, semi-automatics cannot just have the trigger held in and fire bullets continuously. However, semi-automatics can still fire 45-60 rounds per minute. Assault rifles like the AR-15 have been widely used in mass shootings in the United States. Shootings where an assault rifle was used include Columbine, the movie theater in Aurora Colorado, Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown Connecticut, Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and San Bernardino, California. A ban on these weapons is needed to lower the number of the high-casualty shootings. It is simple: the United States needs to make it harder to kill. This may sound insensitive, but it is the truth. The only way we are going to stop mass shootings is to make it harder to kill large numbers so quickly.
Other countries have answered with gun laws and restrictions that seem to be effective. For example, in the United Kingdom, several measures have been taken in attempts to lower gun violence. First, machine guns, pepper spray, semi-automatic weapons, and pump action rifles have been banned. Shotguns, black powder weapons, manually-loaded cartridge pistols, and manually-loaded center-fire rifles are all still legal. However, to obtain one, you must first possess a firearm certificate. In order to obtain a firearm certificate, you must first of all, be over the age of 14. You must also have a “good reason” to own your firearm, and show “satisfactory security.” You must also declare all criminal convictions. With this, if you were convicted of any crime whatsoever, you are banned from handling a gun for five years. If you have been imprisoned for more than three years, you are not allowed to own a gun for the rest of your life. In addition to all of this, you must also obtain two references to support your application for this firearm certificate.
In Australia, following a mass shooting in 1996, new, stricter gun laws were put into place. First, all automatic and semi-automatic weapons were banned. In addition, stricter rules for licensing were enacted. There must be a reason for the person to own the gun they are attempting to purchase. If a reason that is deemed proper is given, then extensive background checks are done which involve a waiting period. Another step taken by the Australian government was a mandatory buy-back program for banned assault weapons. This was incentive for people to actually turn in these banned weapons to the government rather than keeping them. This was an effective way to get a lot of the outlawed guns out of circulation. Around 650,000 guns were turned in to the Australian government.
In Canada, it takes 60 days to buy a gun. This 60 day period involves getting a mandatory licence. In order to obtain this license, its pursuer is required to take a safety course, pass a background check, and obtain references from a third-party individual. (Third party means that your are not involved with either side of a transaction, but you may be affected by it.) The background checks in Canada are extensive and focus on the prospective gun owner’s mental health background as well as their criminal history and any history of addiction. Another red flag in the background check process is any history of domestic violence. In addition, the spouse or a family member of the prospective gun owner is to be notified about the attempted purchase. In Canada, all automatic weapons and any modified handgun, shotgun, or rifle are all banned, as well as most semi-automatic assault weapons.
In Japan, gun control laws are extremely strict. The laws almost seem unthinkable to many Americans. Handguns and other types of firearms are completely prohibited. A permit is required to even touch a gun for many Japanese citizens. To obtain a gun requires a good reason which is defined as “for research, industrial, or sporting purposes.” If a gun is desired for one of these purposes, then a citizen must go through extensive background checks and take a class on the country’s gun laws and gun safety. This course involves written tests. In addition to the classroom course, prospective gun owners must also attend an all day session to train them on how to safely and properly use their gun. Police also come into the house and inspect where the potential gun owner is planning to keep their firearm, and deem whether or not it is safe. There must be no criminal history or an history of domestic violence. Also, a certificate clearing the applicant of mental health problem as well as alcoholism. If a permit is obtained, it must be renewed every three years.