Mass Shootings and Gun Control: Still a Problem, Still Solvable

At approximately 10:38 in the morning on October 1st — just a few days ago — a student walked into a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, armed with a rifle and several handguns. Ten minutes later, eight students and an assistant professor had been killed and nine others were injured. The shooter took his own life after a brief firefight with police. You can find the full story here.

This is a tragic story, and it’s one that has become all too familiar in the United States, a country that has seen 294 mass shootings (in which at least four people are killed or injured) in 2015 alone. Click on that link and take a look at some of the other statistics, because they’re terrifying.

Even scarier, though, is the realization that nothing is really being done to solve this problem.

My views on gun control are no secret. In fact, I published a post on the subject more than a year and a half ago as a followup to an article I wrote for the Argosy, Mount Allison’s student newspaper. Things haven’t really changed that much since then. The statistics cited in that post still tell the same story as the ones I linked to above, and I still hold the same beliefs on the issue.

In fact, I think what’s most troubling is just how routine this whole pattern of mass shootings has become in recent years. President Obama said pretty much the same thing in his statement on the Roseburg shooting, the fifteenth such statement he has made while in office.

Obama, like so many others in the United States and abroad, is tired of hearing about all of these tragedies and being forced to watch as any policies seeking to improve the situation are stymied and shut down.

At least the current President has tried to generate some change, though, rather than simply admitting apathy. In a move that I can only describe as disgusting, Jeb Bush responded to a question about the incident in Oregon by saying that “stuff happens.” Not to be outdone, Donald Trump gave a similar response.

I’ll admit that they aren’t alone in these sentiments. Following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Piers Morgan had a rather interesting televised “discussion” with a man named Alex Jones, who argued that getting rid of guns (or even tightening restrictions on their sale) would not solve the problem or even make it better.

And in a very limited sense, he’s not wrong. The murder rate would not instantly drop to 0 if all guns were confiscated or if gun license regulations were stricter, because gun trafficking and other weapons would still exist. Some people would still hurt or even kill each other.

But mass casualty incidents like the ones at Umpqua Community College and Sandy Hook wouldn’t happen nearly as much, and the consequences would be much less severe when they did. For example, a student in Pennsylvania brought two knives to school in April of 2014 and managed to injure 25 people, none of whom died. Of course, this is only an anecdotal account, but there’s little to no statistical evidence on mass knife attacks because they happen so rarely.

And when it really comes down to it, I just want to see something change. The pattern of gun violence in the United States (and mass shootings in particular) has stayed consistent for years and may even be worsening. I fundamentally cannot understand the belief (apparently held by individuals like Bush and Trump) that this pattern is acceptable or even unavoidable; it’s just a matter of making the right policy changes.

Mental health is commonly cited as a contributory factor in mass shootings, but as John Oliver recently discussed, that’s not exactly accurate (though mental health care is in dire need of widespread improvement). The idea that some people may seek the media attention and notoriety that comes from perpetrating a mass shooting seems plausible, which is why some news outlets have started to refrain from releasing the name of the shooter.

Still, as I contended in that previous post, I think that the most effective solution lies in addressing the root of the problem: guns themselves. The firearm is firmly entrenched as a key aspect of the American identity, as evidenced by a rudimentary glance at statistics. The United States leads the world in guns per capita, and it isn’t even a close race. When I see statistics like that, all I can do is wonder why a nation needs all of those guns.

“Self-defence” seems like a fine enough motive for gun ownership until you consider that gun ownership is actually correlated with a higher risk of injury and death — plus, it seems to me that a concern for one’s safety would be better served by advocating for reformation and improvement of police departments.

Likewise, some gun owners claim to be preparing themselves in case the need ever arises to overthrow a tyrannical government, which might have been a significant problem for the US in colonial times, but doesn’t seem all that likely these days. If you’re really concerned about that possibility, though, I would argue that increasing the power of the UN would be the best way to go about it.

To add on to all that, here’s a list with an assortment of rebuttals for the most common pro-gun arguments. Aside from hunting, gun ownership is redundant at best and endangering at worst.

If gun owners are going to fight tooth and nail to keep their weapons, I want them to at least be honest about the reasons they want them. By and large, it can’t be a matter of safety or security, otherwise the statistics cited above would hopefully cause most gun owners to question their decisions.

Rather, I believe that most people (again, with the possible exception of hunters) choose to own guns for one of two reasons: either for the feeling of power they provide, or simply because they can.

At a basic level, those are the same reasons that underlie many of these mass shootings. Someone wants to feel powerful and has relatively easy access to deadly weapons. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that every gun owner is a mass murderer waiting to happen, but if guns in the US remain at their current level of ubiquity, these shootings are just going to keep happening.

I truly hope that the citizens of the United States realize that something has to change about this situation, that this pattern of violence is unsustainable. I hope that whoever succeeds President Obama realizes this too. If they don’t, they should be prepared to give quite a few statements about tragedies like the one that took place in Roseburg this past week.

UPDATE (10/06/15): Gawker released an article (featuring intentionally shocking images and descriptions, as a heads-up) today in which the author outlines one possibility for inciting change in the gun control movement: adopting the fanatical tactics of anti-abortion protesters. It’s well worth reading and contemplating, and I’m personally very torn on what it’s suggesting. On the one hand, I hate those tactics because of their fanaticism and their irrationality. On the other hand, they get results. Just something to think about.

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