Guest Commentary by Vincent Ottomanelli, Class of 2018
Firearm homicides claim over ten thousand lives annually in the United States. Despite the epidemic of gun violence continuing to exist at levels far surpassing those of most developed countries, coupled by an increase in large-scale mass shootings and significant media attention to the issue, the political faculties have largely failed to address it. Current regulations on the firearm industry are irresponsibly weak and should be enhanced.
The 1994 assault weapon and high capacity magazine ban was not renewed in 2004. Similar legislation has been introduced several times, but has failed. Some states currently do not require licensure for gun ownership. Federally licensed commercial dealers are required to issue background checks for gun purchases. However, private sellers are not held to this standard under current law. This is often referred to as the “gun show” loophole. Gun purchases completed in this way often do not come with even the showing of identification. A vast majority of gun homicides are committed using legally obtained weapons, so it follows that there is a possible legal response to this crisis.
Sensible reforms include universally applicable mandatory background checks for gun purchases and exchanges, training requirements, a ban on online gun purchases, and an effective ban on high capacity magazines as well as all fully automatic guns for retail. Recent Supreme Court jurisprudence has upheld an individual right to gun ownership protected in the second amendment, however there is still meaningful reform within the scope of recent reading of the law which can be enacted.
Sensible solutions to the gun violence epidemic once enjoyed some level of support from both parties. Today, however, the gun lobby opposes every attempt at meaningful reform. The last time Congress considered legislation, a National Rifle Association (NRA) backed bill failed. The NRA has grown to have its own political action committee contributing over 20 million dollars to political campaigns per election cycle, largely awarded to Republicans. The Republican Party, along with the NRA, has embraced more extreme positions on this issue such as opposition to closing the gun show loophole despite overwhelming public support and deregulation. Moderation and sound policy debate have been replaced with the political hyperbole of “rounding up guns”. As such, this issue has become the subject of significant partisan division, and no legislative solutions have been achieved.
One tactic employed by gun rights advocates in the advent of mass shootings is to claim that any call for sensible gun regulation is “politicizing” tragedy. Moments of silence traditionally convey respect for victims, and it is is surely imperative to observe them. However, this tactic by no means invalidates the need for reform. The calls for “silence” on the issue of gun control are themselves riddled with political motives. There is no true “depoliticizing” of an issue that is inherently political. Speeches about respecting the victims of gun violence by not exploiting the incidents for political purposes are really about silencing efforts for reform and for preserving the current system of regulations, and therefore are also politicizing tragedy. True respect for the victims of gun violence would be shown through working for meaningful, sensible reform, not seeking to maintain the legal and cultural issues, which are demonstrated to have caused the problem.