A group of young people stepped onto the metro, holding signs and talking loudly to one another. The hand-made posters reflected neon colors from the sun sweeping through the windows as the train lurched forward towards its next stop heading downtown to Washington D.C. The mood here was hopeful and excited and ready to be a part of something new, laced with a sense of urgency, sadness, and even anger. People were arriving from all over the country and adjacent states to see the young speakers who had started to talk loudly about the problem the US is having with mass school killings. A phenomenon which can arguably be dated back to 1764 in Greencastle, Pennsylvania to the most recent in Great Mills, Maryland on March 20th.
As the train stopped, the crowd funneled out towards the escalators making their way into the streets. “Just head straight down that way,” she said sitting on the ledge, “The march is near the Capital building. You can't miss it.” She was an elderly woman, who appeared to be homeless, with nothing much to her name except her smile and willingness to help people find their way. Even she, with the odds against her favor, felt the need to be a part of the gathering.
The wind was brisk, the air temperature a cool 48 degrees, but the sun shone bright on the faces of everyone gathered as they stared up at a TV screen showing the speakers talking to an enthusiastic crowd of thousands. At this point, it was impossible to get close to the main stage, the crowd was too thick, the streets too cluttered. And so we stopped and stared and listened to what they had to say.
After the Parkland shooting, the faces on the television of the kids who attended that school started to become familiar. And by the cheers that echoed through the crowd that day when David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez took the stage, it was clear they had risen to nation-wide recognition. It also became clear what their message was: new legislation on gun control, stopping the NRA putting money into politics, and voting out government representatives that did not match their ideology. A strong message and one delivered with passion by those who had the grave misfortune of witnessing and being a part of a tragedy no student should ever have to be.
This is the first time in memory that the gun control debate has been pushed to this limit. Where hundreds of thousands of people have organized themselves in order to force the government to start considering action in order to prevent further tragedies. This is, of course, a layered topic filled with valid arguments on both sides of the debate. And not an easy topic to come to a consensus on. However, it is our duty to at least try. With this article we are attempting to break down the debate into its basic form, deconstruct what each side is saying, and hopefully come to some sort of an idea as to how to move forward in the future. We will be doing this by discussing the different facets that have been appearing throughout the media the last few weeks. Most notably: the speakers and their merits, the NRA, legislation that already exists, possible future legislation, and other ideas which may hep the situation. Let's begin.
After the Parkland shooting a few students attending the school began to speak out against what happened and ignite the gun control debate. They forced the issue by finding themselves in front of a camera and speaking passionately about their experience to an audience willing to listen. As soon as they began to gain a following and some notoriety, the opposition started to denigrate them as too young, ill-informed, naive, emotional and even those on the fringes claiming they are paid actors put forth by some puppet wielding force to disarm the nation.
Instead, the first reaction should be instead to listen to what they have to say. That is the attitude we must adopt in order to solve complicated problems such as this. We must face those speaking head on, listen to what they have to say, repeat back to them what their position is and only then are you qualified to propose an opposing view. Because, only then have you fully understand what it is they are trying to say. Otherwise we are just waiting to prop their ideas up as something flimsy and utterly obliterate what their argument is and gain some sort of power over those you are arguing against. This is what is happening on the fringes of the political spectrum. It leads nowhere. And this should be a major cause of concern for both sides.
To look at the situation of the march with an unbiased perspective, a few of them saw their own friends murdered right in the halls they use to walk to class. That alone justifies, at least, their right to talk. We would not say to an 18, 19, or 20 year old soldier coming back from combat that he has no idea what he's talking about when it comes to pain, suffering, and feelings of PTSD, would we? Then why do those who hold opposing views feel the need to attack these young students for trying to make a change? Who could blame them?
Yes, at times they have been misinformed. They have spoken passionately and without clear judgment or tact. A most recent case would be Cameron Kasky tweeting about the second amendment. He stated, "The first amendment has restrictions. The second amendment has no restrictions. These weapons are not in the hands of “well-regulated” militias. The changes the people are demanding do not desecrate the second amendment, they just make it a safe addition to our constitution." Of course, this is not true, the second amendment has numerous restrictions such as the National Firearms Act, the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, the Gun Control Act of 1968, and the Firearm Owner Protection Act, just to name a few. Yes, these students make mistakes, as we all do. And they are not immune to calculated criticism. But maybe during these times, it is our chance to inform them in a compassionate way in order to help them understand the opposing position as well as maybe allow them to strengthen their own. These mistakes, however, do not discredit what they went through, what their experiences are with guns, and do not allow people to dismiss them as being ''too young'' to understand the debate. The first issue in gun control is the unwillingness of either side to actually listen to one another. That, is the first aspect in which needs to change.
The NRA have steadily become the target for those clamoring for new gun legislation and control. The belief has become that they assert power over certain members of the government through their campaign donations, thus securing any thought of new gun legislation null and void. It is, of course, easy to imagine a large organization consisting of millions of members using their main resource to secure their interests and the interests of their constituents. It has been happening in government and especially in the United States for a very long time. According to the Center of Responsive Politics the House and Senate members receive the most money from the NRA. The top 5 recipients and what they received in 2018 are as follows:
Chamber Member Amount
House Ryan, Paul (R-WI) $9,900
House Cramer, Kevin (R-ND) $5,000
House Culberson, John (R-TX) $4,950
House Goodlatte, Bob (R-VA) $4,950
Senate Strange, Luther (R-AL) $4,950
The amounts for individual donations are not exactly revelatory. Nine thousand dollars to Paul Ryan does not make for a strong case against the NRA swaying politicians to uphold the 2nd Amendment and not introduce further gun regulations. And the NRA themselves have made this clear. From 1998-2016 they claim that they have only spent $14 million in donations to elected officials. And while this may seem like a large amount of money, compared to other outside organizations, such as say the pharmaceutical industry (+ $100-200 million), it is incredibly small.
Another point to consider happened during CNN's Town Hall featuring the students of Douglas High School and Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio made a valid point when one of the students asked if he would stop taking money from the NRA. According to Rubio, the NRA does not ''buy'' his loyalty. Instead, Senator Rubio holds positions on policies, most of which he has been consistent on throughout his career, and organizations such as the NRA who line up with his positions then offer him help. It isn't so much of a game of control but a game of support, at least according to Rubio. And this point of view is again, not hard to imagine. Politicians run on certain beliefs and ideas in which to their understanding would benefit the prosperity of the United States. Often times, they hold these beliefs based off of their own personal experiences and how they conduct themselves in the world. And by broadcasting what they believe in, then outside sources tend to offer support. Such as the NRA's support of certain politicians like Marco Rubio.
However, and this is where the exact numbers are tough to come by, the NRA does indeed spend millions of dollars on indirect campaign contributions on candidates as well as on organizations opposing who they would like to see win. Taking that into account, according to PolitiFact, from 1998-2016 the NRA spent over $144 million dollars in lobbying fees for the candidates who they believe would fully support their agenda. This includes running ads on TV, sponsoring videos on the internet, and in some cases purchasing advertisements in hard-copy publications- all urging voters to oppose anyone who is for gun control reform. And that is where the true problem lies. It isn't so much that the NRA directly pays politicians to hold certain stances on issues, but instead they sway the population's votes by manipulating certain media platforms to push their agendas and their beliefs onto the population, thus insuring how the voting will turn out. So yes, in an indirect way the NRA can sway politicians with the offering of their help as well as voters in certain regions of the country, all by funneling money into campaigns and advertisements.
With this understanding then, is the money the NRA uses on campaigns and advertising a problem for our government officials? Are they corrupting the system by wielding their influence in Washington? Well, the obvious answer is yes. It is likely the NRA does not have as much influence on politicians as what some people who are fighting for gun control would like to think. It is more plausible that certain members of the House and Senate wholeheartedly believe in the right to bare arms and any encroachment on that right is an encroachment on freedom. However, the money being funneled into campaigns against certain candidates who are for gun reform and especially on advertising is troubling. The NRA represents about 5 million people (registered members according to the NRA) which is a very small percentage of the entire population. Comparatively, the amount of influence they have through their own campaigns is widespread. They simply do not represent a vast majority of the United States population (according to PolitiFact around 85-90% of the population support stricter background checks for gun buyers) and therefore should not be able to funnel as much money into campaigns and other organizations as much as they do. Our focus then, should be on the campaigns they represent, both for certain politicians and against others.
With money, comes power, and with power, more times than not, comes corruption. So yes, the NRA should not be allowed to put their money into Washington- whether be for political campaigns or advertising. But this also means all other major lobbying organizations should not be able to as well. It is the system as a whole which needs to be amended. Outside money creates both indirect and direct influence on policy. And these policies often do not represent the vast majority of the United States population, instead putting into legislation laws which benefit certain industries. If we are then to go after the NRA in regards to their meddling in policy, we also need to go after the pharmaceutical lobbyists, insurance lobbyists, fossil fuel lobbyists, manufacturing lobbyists, and the list goes on. These organizations represent themselves and others, such as gun manufacturing companies in the case of the NRA. And because of this narrow outlook, they see the rest of the bulk of the population as the enemy, waging a war against what they believe. And to combat this war, they will insure that no legislation be passed that would hinder their way of life by helping officials come into power who align with their beliefs (by indirectly funding campaigns) or defaming those who go against them. It's a dirty game. But, to point the finger solely at the NRA is only a small portion of the answer. The answer then, is to work towards having a political system in which outside money does not have an influence on new legislation and what the vast majority of the population believes. Work towards getting money out of politics- that is the second aspect of change. And it is obviously not a grand revelation. Many people, and many people with greater influence, have been saying just this for decades. It might be time to take a look at how to change this phenomenon so that we can start to see legislation that benefits the people and not industries.
Legislation in Existence
Major gun legislation existing at the federal level today are as follows:
National Firearms Act ("NFA") (1934): Taxes the manufacture and transfer of, and mandates the registration of Title II weapons such as machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, heavy weapons, explosive ordnance, silencers, and disguised or improvised firearms.
Federal Firearms Act of 1938 ("FFA"): Requires that gun manufacturers, importers, and persons in the business of selling firearms have a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Prohibits the transfer of firearms to certain classes of persons, such as convicted felons.
Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (1968): Prohibited interstate trade in handguns, increased the minimum age to 21 for buying handguns.
Gun Control Act of 1968 ("GCA"): Focuses primarily on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.
Firearm Owners Protection Act ("FOPA") (1986): Revised and partially repealed the Gun Control Act of 1968. Prohibited the sale to civilians of automatic firearms manufactured after the date of the law's passage. Required ATF approval of transfers of automatic firearms.
Undetectable Firearms Act (1988): Effectively criminalizes, with a few exceptions, the manufacture, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, transfer, or receipt of firearms with less than 3.7 oz of metal content.
Gun-Free School Zones Act (1990): Prohibits unauthorized individuals from knowingly possessing a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993): Requires background checks on most firearm purchasers, depending on seller and venue.
Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994–2004): Banned semiautomatics that looked like assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. The law expired in 2004.
Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (2005): Prevent firearms manufacturers and licensed dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products.
It is clear, all of these laws are necessary to prevent the movement of certain types of firearms as well as the distribution of others. For the purpose of this article though, we will be focusing on the Federal Assault Weapons Ban which expired in 2004. It was put into federal law to prevent mass killings which can be enacted by shooters wielding high capacity cartridges and semiautomatic rifles. Since we have compiled figures and statistics about gun violence during this time period, the question then becomes, did it work? Like everything else regarding the gun issue, it's complicated. According to a study conducted by Chrisopher S. Koper at the University of Pennsylvania entitled “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003,” gun crimes involving assault weapons declined during this time period. However, this is an incomplete view. The gun violence and crime numbers committed through the use of assault weapons is, “offset throughout at least the late 1990's by steady or rising use of guns equipped with [large-capacity magazines].” Gun violence was still being committed by those with pistols and other firearms. Also, a huge asterisk is needed as the Columbine shooting took place in 1999 where the use of assault weapons was prominent. That is, however, not the only problem with the law. Ultimately it was incomplete in its interpretation of what exactly constituted an ''assault weapon.” The law itself explicitly outlawed only 18 models, but with careful and easy modifications to these banned guns, it would turn them from illegal to legal. It also did not make it illegal to own or use an assault weapon or high capacity magazine that was purchased before 1994. At the time, it was reported that upwards to 1.5 million assault rifles were in circulation as well as 24 million high capacity magazines were also held in private ownership. The results of the study as to the efficacy of the law then, are obviously skewed.
The problem with the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994-2004 was the scope of what the law was trying to do. In theory it was put into place in order to ban assault weapons that can be used to kill large numbers of people in a short amount of time. The idea behind the law was therefore noble. The way it was drafted though, and the short amount of time it was put into place, reduced the viability of it working or achieving was the lawmakers set out to do. In order to have a correct Assault Weapons Ban, one must first explicitly define what constitutes an assault weapon. What must it have? Does magazine size come into play? Automatic weapons have been banned since 1934 so are we talking about ones that are semi-automatic? That includes almost every gun manufactured today. What about high capacity magazines? How many bullets at once is too many bullets? What about the amount of magazines one can purchase and carry? The debate then becomes very nuanced. Are we banning certain models such as the much maligned AR-15? After all the AR doesn't stand for Assault Rifle as many people seem to believe, rather it stands for Armalite Rifle, which is just the brand that produces the gun. And it fires at the same rate and very similar ammunition as most pistols on the market. What makes the AR-15 different from a Glock or other popular pistols? If we are to have any new legislation banning certain models the details of the law must be clear, precise, and understood by the lawmakers, the police force enacting them and the general public who are looking to purchase guns for personal use.
It has been put forth by some protesters to look towards Australia and their gun regulations as one of success in reducing gun crime. After a mass shooting took place in their country, lawmakers crafted a law that clearly banned all semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, going as far as spending $500 million buying up over an estimated 600,000 guns from private owners to clear them from public circulation. On top of that, twenty-eight-day waiting times were introduced for firearm purchases. All gun buyers were required to have a genuine reason to qualify for a license (self-protection doesn't count). And a national gun registry was created. As a result, mass shootings have been largely eliminated from Australia. Would this work here?
The answer is a definitive: no. Americans have a different relationship with guns compared to Australians. Our country and our culture has been largely defined by the use of the gun. We fought a war against an imperialist country on our soil and the history of that struggle has been widely taught to every generation since. The West was conquered at gun point. Manifest Destiny called for the use of arms to create the life we wanted to live. The Right to Bare Arms was instilled as a natural, God-given right to protect from government encroachment. Suspicion of power is built into the system that was created. Whether you believe this to be right or wrong is of no consequence, this is the history of our nation and part of the reason why it would be nearly impossible to impose such strict gun laws here. The resistance would be incredibly powerful. Australians have no such love affair, most were happy to give up their guns to the government if it meant less killing. Here, the idea of America is built on the back of the power of the individual, not the community. We are a powerful nation of individuals living under common values inside a subset of a community. Not a powerful homogeneous community of which we all belong. And to give up this right is to give up our autonomy. It is to change the nature of America itself. A change, many people would forever resist. So then, that begs the question, what can be done to alleviate mass school killings without changing the entire culture of America?
Walking through the March for Our Lives crowd, seeing the signs most young people were holding, listening to the chattering of voices skipping through the mass of people, it became clear what most were looking for: raise the age limit to 21 to buy a rifle, which is the same age limit as that of a pistol, and stricter, more comprehensive background checks for buying a weapon. It also became radically clear that only a very small percentage of people want to ban guns outright. Whether these two legislation proposals are just a quiet tip-toe towards a complete ban is yet to be seen, but the feeling of the crowd was that they just wanted to see some regulation enacted and open the conversation to a dialogue of what can be done, instead of just normalizing students being shot in school.
Would raising the age limit and enacting stricter more universal background checks achieve what most are looking to do? Let's start with raising the age limit.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety there have been 156 mass shootings (defined as 4 or more people killed not including the shooter) since 2009. Of those 156 mass shootings only two of those mass shootings have been committed by a person under the age of 21 with a semi-automatic rifle or long gun. And out of those two mass shootings only one of those guns was purchased legally. So, thinking logically, raising the age limit would have only prevented one of the mass shootings that took place since 2009. Not exactly a stellar selling point in enacting this new legislation. Indeed, most of the shootings which take place are done using pistols. Which then puts into focus the existing legislation on handguns.
According to federal law anyone under age 21 is not legally allowed to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer. However, and this is where it gets muddled, it is not unlawful for an 18 year old to buy a handgun from an unlicensed dealer, online, or at some gun shows. Nor is it illegal for an 18 year old to possess a handgun in certain states. States have different regulations in regards to owning and carrying guns so it varies quite a bit. But an 18 to 20 year-old cannot obtain a concealed carry license in any state, as they all set the threshold at 21. It all becomes very confusing. But the point of any new legislation is to prevent young people from acquiring weapons used in mass shootings. Which, according to Everytown's research, “Eighteen- to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at a rate nearly four times higher than adults 21 and older.” So, it would make more sense to raise the age limit across the board to 21 years old, close the loopholes, and maintain the already state-to-state laws of limiting concealed carry licenses to anyone 21 years or older. With emphasis on the loopholes. If most shootings are done by those 18-20 years old, then limiting handguns, as well as assault rifles to these people would make for a much safer community as a whole. The problem then isn't the difference between handguns or rifles, it is the relative ease in which these kids can obtain any gun. Of course, this isn't going to eliminate every aspect of gun violence. As many people say, criminals don't follow the law. But, if we can create at least a few speed bumps along the way, it may deter some potential shooters from engaging in homicidal tendencies at schools. After all, most of the school shooters were depressed teens and not master-mind murderers. In the state they often find themselves in, just one roadblock may deter them from continuing out their plans. And, if it only stops a few, it is ultimately worth it. The counter-argument though, is that there are plenty of 18-20 year old's who are responsible people that may need to carry a gun to protect themselves in certain situations. Which is a credible argument and adds another layer to the debate. However, with this first idea in mind, most everyone at the march also wanted to increase the comprehensiveness of the background checks already in place.
If the proposition is to increase the comprehensiveness of background checks then, what are the current background checks like? First, in order to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer a customer must fill out Form 447.3 which consists of questions regarding your background, drug use and criminal history if applicable. Examples of questions found on the form include, “Are you under indictment or information in any court for a felony, or another crime for which the judge could imprison you for more than one year?” and “Are you a fugitive from justice?” and so on. Once this has been filled out the licensed gun dealer sends your form to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or NICS along with your Social Security number. Once it has been collected the FBI then looks into your form at the NICS as well as any additional information they deem necessary through the Interstate Identification Index (repository for criminal convictions) the NICS Indices, which includes records contributed by federal, state, and local agencies which have flagged individuals as risks towards purchasing a gun and the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC which holds any other criminal justice records. Certain red flags they may find include any mental health history, dishonorable military discharges, unlawful immigration statues, an open-warrant, a documented history of domestic violence and drug use. The idea then is, the FBI looks into these databases, sees if there is anything on record which may be alarming, and if so, bars them from purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer.
This sounds like a good system until research is conducted into the data collection itself. Apparently, some records never make it into the system. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, at the end of 2014 there were 7.8 million active-warrant records in state warrant databases, but only about 2.1 million records collected in the in the NCIC database. That is, obviously, way too much information to fall through the cracks with a major problem concerning the data collection around mental health records. The only way to qualify someone as mentally unfit to purchase a gun is to have a record of involuntary psychiatric confinement or a judge's ruling of mental incompetence. This eliminates many citizens who are not mentally well but have no such record. But even more troubling, the only way these records show up on a background checks is if a state makes the effort to submit it to the NICS Indices (the only organization to hold such records), which has been proven in the past, to not always happen. Such was the case of the Virginia Tech shooter who had a history of severe psychiatric illness that was left unreported. And in some instances, these records have been purposefully left out by states citing privacy laws for their citizens.
If your background check is clean as deemed by NICS, which makes most reviews on an instant basis as mandated by the Department of Justice, then the FBI gives a go-ahead for the purchase. If there are any discrepancies the FBI may seek additional information in order to make their decision by transferring the request to the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, where an employee reaches out to local law enforcement and other state agencies. The process usually takes around 3 days but may be longer depending on the information found in the databases about the potential buyer. The process, however, is not what most people would like to see change. Instead, the data collection and information is what is being looked at, with emphasis on the collection of additional information as paramount.
Most gun control proponents are singling out the issue of mental health when it comes to purchasing a firearm. As already stated the only way to deter someone from buying a gun based on their mental health is by having on their record an involuntary psychiatric confinement or a judge's ruling of mental incompetence. This of course, leaves out a huge portion of the population who are suffering from mental health problems as well as those who are on psychotropic drugs. According to a compiled list from David Kupelian, journalist, vice president and managing editor of WND, there have been an alarming correlation between school shootings and psychiatric medications:
-''Columbine mass-killer Eric Harris was taking Luvox – like Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor and many others, a modern and widely prescribed type of antidepressant drug called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
-Patrick Purdy went on a schoolyard shooting rampage in Stockton, California, in 1989, which became the catalyst for the original legislative frenzy to ban “semiautomatic assault weapons” in California and the nation. The 25-year-old Purdy, who murdered five children and wounded 30, had been on Amitriptyline, an antidepressant, as well as the antipsychotic drug Thorazine.
-Kip Kinkel, 15, murdered his parents in 1998 and the next day went to his school, Thurston High in Springfield, Oregon, and opened fire on his classmates, killing two and wounding 22 others. He had been prescribed both Prozac and Ritalin.
-31-year-old Laurie Dann went on a shooting rampage in a second-grade classroom in Winnetka, Illinois, killing one child and wounding six. She had been taking the antidepressant Anafranil as well as Lithium, long used to treat mania.
-In Paducah, Kentucky, in late 1997, 14-year-old Michael Carneal, son of a prominent attorney, traveled to Heath High School and started shooting students in a prayer meeting taking place in the school’s lobby, killing three and leaving another paralyzed. Carneal reportedly was on Ritalin.
-In 2005, 16-year-old Jeff Weise, living on Minnesota’s Red Lake Indian Reservation, shot and killed nine people and wounded five others before killing himself. Weise had been taking Prozac.
-In another famous case, 47-year-old Joseph T. Wesbecker, just a month after he began taking Prozac in 1989, shot 20 workers at Standard Gravure Corp. in Louisville, Kentucky, killing nine. Prozac-maker Eli Lilly later settled a lawsuit brought by survivors.
-Kurt Danysh, 18, shot his own father to death in 1996, a little more than two weeks after starting on Prozac. Danysh’s description of own his mental-emotional state at the time of the murder is chilling: “I didn’t realize I did it until after it was done,” Danysh said. “This might sound weird, but it felt like I had no control of what I was doing, like I was left there just holding a gun.”'
Read more here.
And it has been reported by the aunt of the most recent Parkland shooter that he was on medication for emotional issues, though what medication he was on has not been specified. Of course, correlation does not always mean its the cause of the outcome. And to be perfectly clear, in some instances medication has been the ONLY factor in helping people get their lives back on track. So it's a careful line we need to balance on. We don't mean to stigmatize mental health or medication nor do we fully want to blame it on gun violence. Obviously, not everyone on medication commits terrible crimes. There are many reasons as to why people do what they do, but it is also an interesting theory to consider. And not hard to imagine why this issue is not brought up as much as new gun regulations are with the insane amount of money the pharmaceutical industry puts into campaign donations for certain politicians- referencing our previously plotted out problem that exists in our government system today. Well then, where does that leave us?
It exposes our lack of understanding when it comes to mental health, how to report it in regards to background checks, and how to handle it better as opposed to the over-medicated population which currently exists. We cannot continue to proclaim mental health as the issue and then do nothing about it. This issue needs to be thoughtfully and thoroughly studied, right now, by independent study groups who are using controlled, scientific studies, not paid for by pharmaceutical companies whose only interest it to make it seem there are no correlations between their medications and mass shootings by young individuals aged 18-25. These young people have developing brains during this time of their life and to pollute them with these hormone altering drugs is not only creating an unstable population but a reliance on these drugs as a ''cure,'' which in some instances it is not. It creates a situation in which patients who go to the psychiatrist only talk about how the drugs and the doses they are taking are affecting them instead of how to get off the drugs and live a better life. Maybe the answer then, is to include those individuals who are on psychotropic drugs in a comprehensive database in order to see which potential buyers of firearms are on prescriptions, what prescriptions they are on and the possible side effects of these prescriptions. Or it can include a psychological examination as part of the background check. Though, the counter argument to this idea is of course, privacy concerns. This is not an easy issue to find a conclusion on. Which means additional studies are necessary in order to find any possible linkage, additional relevant information, and a better way to report mental illness to the proper authorities. Whichever way one wants to look at the situation, more comprehensive information on mental health, medications, and the possible purchase of firearms needs to be considered so that agencies such as the FBI can look into additional information before allowing someone to buy a gun.
After some research and talking with some friends there came to light a few additional ideas which may be considered in regards to the problem at hand. One of the most intriguing ones we have heard involved a training period for purchasing any new gun. This would pertain spending a preordained amount of time with a licensed dealer or instructor, which could be a week, a month, or a few months, where you will meet the instructor, learn about the gun you are purchasing, practice with it under supervision and then eventually earn the responsibility of owning the weapon. This can work for the gun dealers too as they can charge an additional fee for their services of training an individual with the gun they are purchasing. It will also create a face-to-face interaction with a professional instructor so they may monitor the individual during the process in order to see if they are fit to own such a weapon. It is basically taking the idea of obtaining a driver's license into the realm of firearms.
We are trained over a certain amount of time on how to handle a vehicle, how to negotiate traffic, and how to properly navigate other drivers on the road to make sure everyone is safe. Why not consider transferring this idea to the sale of firearms? The main idea is to increase the awareness of the amount of responsibility one must endure in order to own a weapon. Yes, everyone is clamoring about their rights. The right to bare arms is the loudest talking point on the side in favor of no further gun control. And yes, it is a right worth fighting for. But the other side of rights is responsibility. You simply cannot have the conversation of rights without the burden of responsibility. And to own and operate a firearm capable of killing multiple people at one time is a tremendous responsibility. The only way to increase the awareness of responsibility is to make someone earn the right. Not to simply have it handed to you just because you exist. We must shoulder the burden of our own suffering and the suffering of those around us, and continually remind ourselves our rights must be earned based on our own merits. Are you capable of earning the right to bare arms? That is the new question. And maybe with this idea, we can create a well-armed militia that shoulders the responsibility of the power they hold in their hands when they wield a weapon. The point is to be dangerous, so that the government respects the people. But to know when to wield our power and more importantly, when not to. And the only way to do that is through education and undertaking responsibility.
This is just one idea among a plethora of ideas which have initially gained favored and lost the spotlight as the debate goes on. And maybe this isn't one that needs to be seriously considered. But, the point of all this is to stop school shootings. And in order to do that we need to understand how these kids are acquiring guns, what their mental stability is, and if they are in the legal age of purchasing a firearm, whether or not they can wield the responsibility of doing so. Of course, criminals will always circumvent the system and not follow laws. The aim then isn't to stop all gun violence, though that would be the ideal of which we should aim for in the future. Instead, at this immediate point in time, it is to reduce the availability of guns to children and the mentally unstable. The rest of the time, we must rely on our police forces to adequately do their jobs. Which, as can be seen in the Parkland scenario, unfortunately is not always the case. Creating yet another aspect of the debate to consider and discuss.
A popular saying during the time of the Old West went, “God may have created men but Sam Colt made them equal.” Sam Colt, of course, being the inventor of the famed Colt .45 revolver. That is the essence of our complicated relationship with the gun. Our country was built with it. Which is why the Right to Bare Arms is second only to Freedom of Speech in our Bill of Rights. And because of these feelings and this past, and because there exists a large population of responsible gun owners, those who are opposed to gun ownership need to learn how to live alongside the gun. Not be in combat with it. And as we all know the gun debate is layered, messy and seemingly has no end to its complexities. Lobbyists, federal laws, state laws, combined with politicians pushing their own agenda as well as our uncertain definitions of mental health all create a state of uncertainty and helplessness when it comes to stopping mass school shootings. The feeling was that the majority of people gathering in D.C. for the March for Our Lives protest wanted to be heard and seen. They wanted to start a real conversation about change. And to at least begin to move towards the idea of raising the age limit of purchasing long guns to 21 years old and creating more comprehensive background checks for potential buyers. And while some protesters might want to push their agenda towards banning all guns, this was NOT the majority of people there.
Maybe that is where we need to begin- shutting down outside lobbyists, raising the age limit to 21 to buy a long gun, closing the loopholes in certain states in regards to purchasing handguns, creating a system of more comprehensive background checks and putting a much bigger effort into understanding and defining mental health. If we can start there, we can at least begin to have a better picture of what can help and what doesn't. Gun owners are afraid of action with no thought and debate. And they should be. But continual thought and debate with absolutely no action does not lead anywhere. Children should not be afraid to go to school. Nor should they be getting killed while they are there. That is the point of the entire debate. And if we can take any small action towards alleviating that fear, we should.