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Gun Violence Must Stop
Mass shootings made me an advocate for gun control
Remi Moon
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“Did you hear about the shooting in CT?” I got in a text from my mom. I was confused. Another shooting? When I heard the details, I was with a bunch of my friends just enjoying a regular Friday. No one was prepared for the horror of what had happened.

That morning in Newtown, Connecticut, when 26 people—20 of them young children between 5 and 10 years old—were killed at school by a troubled young man who forced his way into classrooms and opened fire with a military-style rifle, shooting some victims multiple times.

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As the news sank in, my friends and I started talking about the insane number of shootings that had occurred in the past year, most of them just since the summer. It scared us to think that America was having so many of these horrible events. The violence had already hit close to home for me—one of the summer's shootings occurred on the corner of my midtown Manhattan block last summer.

On August 24th, during the morning rush in front of the Empire State Building, one of the busiest, most populated places in New York City, a man named Jeffrey Johnson pulled out a gun on the street and killed an old co-worker. Things escalated when police officers tried to stop Johnson and started firing. In the end, nine people were injured and two killed.

Though I was inside my apartment when it happened and didn’t experience the full horror of that morning, I was still scared that something so awful could happen just outside my home. The same summer, two more mass shootings occurred: In Aurora, Colorado, a gunman attacked a movie theater during a midnight premiere of the latest Batman movie, killing 12 and injuring 58 others. And in Wisconsin, six people died and three were critically wounded at a Sikh temple after a man opened fire.

When I heard about what happened in Newtown, I remembered how terrified I’d been after that shooting on my block—terrified of something happening to my parents, someone else I knew, or even myself. No one should have to worry about guns and death, especially if you’re only 6 or 7 years old.

These events have led people, including me, to ask why American society is so prone to using guns. Why do so many people seem to think that guns will solve our problems? And how should we respond to these acts of violence?

Could We Have Prevented This?

Gun violence is a big problem in our country. In 2011, 8,583 people were murdered with a firearm in the United States, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)—way more than in other developed countries, where the numbers are usually in the dozens, not the thousands.

In fact, gun violence is so commonplace in the U.S. that it doesn't usually make the national news. In New York City, for example, there were several shootings last summer that were pretty "normal" for the city: At a basketball tournament in Harlem, five people were wounded in a random shooting. At another basketball tournament the Bronx, a four-year-old was killed and two other people were injured when two gunmen exchanged fire. In a Bronx park after playing a game of tennis, a teenage boy was killed by a stray bullet from a gang fight. The list could go on for pages and pages.

Although shootings are a daily concern in some neighborhoods, we don’t usually have a national conversation about gun violence until a mass murder occurs, like the recent shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and now Connecticut.

So are there ways to prevent all these tragedies? Could taking away guns altogether stop the violence? Or do we just need to do a better job enforcing the laws that are already in place?

A Dangerous Loophole

It is pretty easy to acquire a gun in this country. The biggest gun control law right now is the Brady law, which requires licensed firearm sellers to do background checks on buyers. You are not allowed to buy a gun if you're a felon, if you've been involuntarily committed to mental institution or had a judge declare you dangerously mentally ill, or if you fit another category of prohibited buyers.

However there is a loophole to that rule. If you buy a gun from a private individual who is selling his or her personal firearm—rather than buying from a store or professional gun dealer—those Brady Act rules don't apply. That means individuals can sell their personal weapons online, at flea markets, or at gun shows without doing background checks on buyers. Gun control advocates have called for this loophole to be eliminated.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently cited a 1997 study stating that around 40% of all gun sales happen without a background check, at gun shows and online, making it easier for criminals and the mentally ill to get their hands on them. The study is out of date and hasn’t been updated, but it still shows that a lot of people are able to avoid the screening process when they buy guns.

The Price We Pay for Freedom

The Second Amendment states that citizens have the right to bear arms. The National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful pro-gun rights organization, believes that gun control laws infringe on that right. The organization says passing new regulations on buying or selling guns is just a way for the government to suppress its citizens right to bear arms.

There are also those who just like guns. They collect them, admire them, and hunt with them. It’s unfair, they say, to take that right away from law-abiding civilians who have been appropriately trained in how to use guns safely.

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But are all these gun deaths really the price we must pay for this “freedom?” The recent mass shootings have inflamed this debate. Gun rights activists say if more people carried guns, they could have shot the Colorado movie theater shooter and the Connecticut gunman as soon as they started firing. Gun control activists say that if there were stricter gun laws then the shootings wouldn’t have happened at all.

The Politics of Gun Control

Mayor Bloomberg thinks gun control laws should be stricter. Many other big-city mayors agree. They feel that the president and members of Congress have stalled the inevitable conversation about the matter, afraid that they might lose political support.

After the series of mass shootings last summer, which occurred during the presidential election campaign, Bloomberg and others urged President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, to address the problem of gun violence head on. Bloomberg accused both candidates of offering sympathy, “but no solutions for dealing with the 34 Americans who are murdered with guns every single day.” It isn’t enough to mourn the people who have died, he said; you have to try to solve the problem so mourning in the future can be avoided.

In spite of the shootings last summer, Obama and Romney played it safe and seemed to avoid the topic as much as possible. I understand why they avoided talking about the issue during the campaign. The gun control debate deals with the idea of “freedom” and the fact that people are dying—two things people have strong feelings about. It’s hard to say anything about gun control without upsetting someone. But politicians can’t just wait around to address these things; they have to do something now. How many shootings have to happen before they decide it’s enough?

There’s More Than One Solution

In an ideal world, there would be no need for guns. No one would be angry enough to kill, no one would need guns to protect themselves. But an ideal world isn’t a real one.

Sometimes people are messed up, they get mad and sad and jealous. They lose control and make mistakes. There will always be people with mental illnesses and other disorders that cause them to have distorted view of reality and to lack empathy for their fellow human beings.

I thought I lived in a perfect little world. I don’t live in a bad neighborhood, I’m surrounded by the police. But the shooting near my house really changed me. Before, I didn't have a stance on gun control. But after I saw how easy it is to be in harm’s way, I decided that we need to strengthen our gun control laws.

I feel the United States should put more resources into enforcing background checks and have all gun buyers take psychological tests. This wouldn’t butt heads with the Second Amendment; it would just make sure that everyone is as safe as possible. I believe this would reduce the number of gun homicides in America.

Taking those further precautions won’t prevent every crime, of course. The guns used by James Holmes (the Colorado shooter), Wade Michael Page (the Wisconsin shooter), and Adam Lanza (the Connecticut shooter) all used guns that were obtained legally. We need to better understand what drives people to murder. What gives them the idea that it’s their only solution?

Holmes, the Colorado shooter, called himself “The Joker,” and reportedly sought help for a mental illness from a psychiatrist before the attack. Page, the Wisconsin gunman, was a known white supremacist. Authorities believe they were both psychologically unstable.
Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Connecticut shooter, may have had Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. There has been some debate since the shooting about whether Lanza’s condition was related in any way to the shootings, but clearly someone who does something so horrifying needed psychological care.

Changing a Culture of Violence

Improving psychological services is not a complete solution, though. We need to take a hard look at our society, which glorifies guns from the time we’re little kids with violent video games, TV shows, and movies. I remember a moment when my brother was playing Call of Duty. Posing as an undercover American soldier, he had to witness Russian terrorists mass murder a bunch of civilians in an airport.

Friends of mine play violent video games like Halo and Call of Duty all the time, saying it’s “fun to shoot the bad guys.” But what happens when shooting the bad guys in a video game isn’t enough? What kind of society are we if we encourage kids to take part in and watch senseless murder, even if it’s all fake? Is it good enough to excuse this glorification of violence by convincing ourselves we are always on the side of the “good guys?”

Cases like Trayvon Martin’s, where a man named George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Martin because he believed Martin looked “suspicious,” really makes me rethink what the "good" side even is. Zimmerman truly thought he was in the right, doing a service to his neighborhood, by allegedly shooting an unarmed teenager for little more than walking around with his hood up. People call others who use guns to solve their problems “insane” and “violent,” but is it really so crazy given the kind of society we live in?

President Obama acknowledged this when he announced on December 19 that he was creating a special task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, to come up with recommendations for better gun control policies. In addition to calling for stricter background checks, a ban on assault rifles, and improving the mental health care system so that troubled people can get better and earlier help, he wants to consider ways in which we can start to change our culture of violence.

I have more questions than answers about what solutions are best, but we can’t wait until another Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happens before we take action.

(WEB-2012-12-21)