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Davis, California

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

When will lives be more important than gun ownership?

Our political leaders need to pass gun control laws that limit the access to and use of guns

The members of this Editorial Board cannot remember a time before we were required to participate in school shooting drills or lockdowns due to a threat. We don’t know what it’s like to not always have an exit strategy when entering any public place—movie theaters, schools, malls, grocery stores and even on our own campus. We have become so desensitized to gun violence in the U.S., we often wake up to the news reporting another mass shooting and we are horrified but not surprised. 

Shootings have been so normalized that instead of trying to fight the disease, we’re trying to treat the symptoms (to put it in words familiar to those of us who thought we were escaping mass shootings in a COVID-19-stricken world). In fact, mass shootings have still been consistently occurring despite the fact that the world we currently live in presumably lacks crowds. A mass shooting is typically defined as an incident involving a firearm in which four or more people are wounded or killed. Only four months into this year, there have already been 125 mass shootings in the U.S.—that is a problem. 

We do not believe there is a rational argument for owning assault-style weapons, like AR-15s, and we believe Americans should not be allowed to own them. A bill passed in 1994 that banned these weapons was associated with a reduction in mass shootings during the time the bill was in effect, but it was not renewed at its sunset date 10 years later. Since then, research has shown that mass shootings using assault-style weapons have dramatically increased. This seems like it should be obvious—easier access to guns means a higher likelihood that these guns will be used in gun violence incidents despite claims from the National Rifle Association (NRA) that the ban had no effect. 

It is clear that when countries—including the U.S., as evidenced by the assault-rifle ban—take action to regulate guns, incidents of gun violence decrease. In 1987, 16 people died in a mass shooting in the U.K. A year later, legislation that outlawed semi-automatic weapons and restricted some shotgun sales was passed by a parliament overwhelmingly controlled by the right-wing Conservative Party at the time. When another mass shooting occurred in Scotland 10 years later, legislation was immediately passed to restrict the ownership of most handguns, many of which were bought back by the government at market value. 

Not only could stricter regulations on guns decrease mass shootings, but also they could even decrease the number of individuals dying in police shootings, which disproportionately affect Black Americans, because police would no longer need to carry guns (more than 90% of British police do not carry guns).

Australia had a similar buyback program which was part of broader legislation to limit the ownership of automatic and semi-automatic weapons after a deadly mass shooting in 1996. This was also instituted under the governance of a center-right political party, the Liberal Party of Australia, led by then-Prime Minister John Howard. In fact, Howard called on former President Barack Obama to follow the country’s model after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults. 

After a horrific mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced temporary measures in less than 24 hours that came into effect just days later, including a buyback program and restrictions on semi-automatic weapons. These measures were formalized by the national parliament a month later and overwhelmingly supported by members of right- and left-leaning parties.

Despite the fact that this issue has had bipartisan support in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand—with the first two nations passing gun control legislation in legislatures held by right-wing or right-leaning parties—the Republican Party’s platform strongly opposes gun control measures. Furthermore, in 2020, a majority of Americans (57%) said they wanted stricter gun control laws. This shouldn’t be a political issue and it clearly has not been for other nations.

Understandably, there are many more barriers to effective gun control measures in the U.S. than there may be in other countries—notably, the Second Amendment of the Constitution and the nation’s extremely powerful gun lobby. As noted earlier, however, the U.S. has passed gun control legislation before and we believe in American political leaders’ ability to resist political pressure when countless lives are at stake unnecessarily. 

We believe lawmakers have the capacity to enact comprehensive legislation that outlaws semi-automatic weapons; institutes universal background checks for prospective gun owners and red flag laws that allow people to report those not fit to carry guns; creates federal licensing programs; and closes loopholes that allow individuals prohibited from purchasing guns to do so through gun shows or private transactions. 

If you own a gun, you are increasing the risk of accidentally injuring or killing yourself or using it to die by suicide. If you have children, you are increasing the risk they could die by an accidental shooting—the second leading cause of children’s death in the U.S. is gun injuries. If this information makes you uncomfortable, consider investing in an alarm system or pepper spray instead. 

We want to live in a world in which we do not have to carry the mental load of being legitimately scared for our lives when we pick up food at the grocery store. We want to be able to enjoy our time at the movies without having to sit in an aisle seat so we can jump up and run out at a moment’s notice. We want to be able to learn effectively, which will in turn help us to become more productive citizens, without constantly wondering whether we’ll have to duck under a table in the library. 

These should not be outlandish desires. It is up to eligible voters to elect candidates who are determined to prioritize lives over unregulated gun ownership and it is up to those representatives to put lives over political gains or pressure from powerful organizations like the NRA. At the current rate, there will be 500 mass shootings before the year’s end. The Editorial Board wants to see a country in which most of those shootings are prevented with the passage of significant legislation. 

Written by: The Editorial Board


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