Why is it always the wrong time to talk about gun control?

Sydney Winkler
COL ’16

When ten people were killed and nine others were injured in a shooting at Umpqua Community College in southwestern Oregon this past Thursday, people criticized the President for making the issue “political.”  But there is no time to spare when it comes to saving lives from the next mass shooting.

Sadly, many predict that once again, nothing will be done.  Some have grown pessimistic of meaningful change in gun control.  Others have grown more protective of their right to bear arms.  Both sides refuse to meet in the middle and gridlock occurs.  So what is the result of our inaction?

Experts across the board believe that the consequence of America’s soft policy approach to guns is making more guns more accessible, which means more gun deaths.  Research has found that this is true for many types of gun violence: gun homicides, suicides, domestic violence, and even violence against police.

Looking at mass shootings in particular, like the one that occurred at UCC, there have been at least 986 mass shootings since Newtown in December 2012.  Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced database, defines a mass shooting as “shootings in which four or more people were shot at all, not necessary murdered.”  This broader definition is essential to truly capture the threat of mass gun violence.

Some people argue that in order to respect those who have been affected by this tragedy we should not talk about gun control in light of the recent tragedy at UCC.  But if we always left time after a tragedy before bringing up a possible political solution, it would also lead to a conversation that never occurs.  According to Vox, “Under the Mass Shooting Tracker’s definition of mass shootings, America has nearly one mass shooting a day.  So if lawmakers are forced to wait for a time when there isn’t a mass shooting to talk gun control, they could find themselves waiting for a very long time.”[1]

Let me also just lay down some facts that people might find shocking… States with more guns have more gun deaths [shocker]. States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun deaths [shocker].

But the second that I say “gun control,” half of you will stop reading this article.  It has become a buzz-phrase used by the left that causes the right to tune them out.

But what if I framed it in terms of how you obtain your driver’s license?  You go to the DMV, show proof of ID by presenting them with your Social Security number, date of birth, and residency.  Then you must pass a vision exam, written exam, and driving test.  Furthermore, drivers with vision, physical, or mental health issues must complete (along with their medical professionals) a Medical Report (Form DSD DC-163).  Oh, and you have to pay a fee too.

So what do I have to do to get a gun?  Nothing.

Federal law does not require any sort of licensing to own a gun. In most states, a license is not required to own a gun but is required to carry a gun on your person.

Some people will ask if permits will have any effect on gun homicides.  They argue that they are a hassle for law-abiding citizens and that criminals will still get their hands on guns.

Well, let’s look at a case in point: In the summer of 1994 in Connecticut, lawmakers passed a gun control bill in a special session after numerous gang shootings.  The bill requires a purchasing license before a person can buy a handgun. The state would issue these permits to people who passed a background check and a gun safety-training course.  Permit-to-purchase laws make it a crime for anyone to sell or give a gun to someone without a permit.

So what happened? Two decades later, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California Berkeley say that Connecticut’s law was actually a huge success for public safety.  They estimate that the law reduced gun homicides by 40 percent between 1996 and 2005. That’s an estimated 296 lives saved in 10 years.[2]

Permit-to-purchase laws make it harder for guns to enter the black market, too.  As Connecticut exemplifies, lower supply means higher prices.  If someone wants to get their hands on a gun through the black market, they will have to overcome a higher barrier to entry and invest more time and resources.

The process of acquiring a permit to purchase a gun is not to eliminate guns.  We don’t need to eliminate them; we need to make the process of owning them safer.  We require licenses to drive and we require seatbelts in cars.  Is it so different to require licenses to own a gun?  This is a public health issue and we should treat it like one.

It’s not clear that these steps would have prevented the Oregon shooting. But smarter gun policies could reduce murder rates by up to 50 percent, according to Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center For Gun Policy.

The difficult part is, while a couple states have permit-to-purchase laws, not all of them do.  And there is even a lack of credibility of permits between states.  For example, if you take your Idaho gun permit into Oregon, they won’t recognize it but Idaho will recognize an Oregon gun permit.   This type of system is disjointed and provides too many loopholes for individuals.  If an individual’s state doesn’t allow a purchase without a permit, they could just hop over to a neighboring state with more lax laws.

We need federal action.  We need Congress to act.

But we cannot only blame politicians for inaction.  It is our voices that grow silent mere weeks after a mass shooting.  If constituencies are not in favor of more gun control, then elected officials are stuck in a hard place.

After Newtown in December 2012, Pew Research Center found that “the public’s attitudes toward gun control have shown only modest change in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. 49% say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 42% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.”[3]

Seriously?!  Were you silent after 9/11?  Did you say that it isn’t the right time to talk about homeland security or the threat of terrorism?

It may seem easier to just grow numb to the issue, to make it easier to deal with when the next mass shooting occurs.  But what if we could prevent that next time and the time after that?  Will you wait until the mass shooting affects your friend?  Your brother?  Your sister?  Your child?  How would you act then?

[1] http://www.vox.com/2015/8/24/9183525/gun-violence-statistics

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/06/12/gun-killings-fell-by-40-percent-after-connecticut-passed-this-law/

[3] http://www.people-press.org/2012/12/20/after-newtown-modest-change-in-opinion-about-gun-control/

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