April 20, 1999: Columbine High School, Colorado. 13 deaths. April 16, 2007: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 32 deaths. December 14, 2012: Sandy Hook Elementary. 26 deaths. How many more lives must be lost because of gun violence before the U.S. government takes action?
In 2011, 8,583 people in the United States were killed with firearms. This statistic is hardly surprising for a nation with the highest gun ownership rate in the world, with 89 guns for every 100 Americans. American history is no stranger to gun violence. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings in the United States, 25 of them occurring since 2006. In 2012 alone, 151 people were either killed or injured in a mass shooting.
Year after year, Congress continues to ignore the problem. President Barack Obama has promised to make gun control a priority during the first year of his second term. He has already assembled a task force, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, to come up with some solution to end tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting.
However, the President has a tough battle ahead. The National Rifle Association has spearheaded efforts against gun control, and with approximately 90 per cent of its political contributions going to the Republican Party, the Republicans will in no way want to risk their relationship with such a major benefactor. The party will likely dig in their heels as much as possible (as is almost tradition in American politics), and that lack of action is probably the biggest roadblock in America’s fight against gun violence.
There are a lot of excuses that are thrown around in the argument against stricter gun regulations. Some say guns keep people safe, and that restricting gun laws will make it harder for innocent people to defend themselves. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, it was even suggested that teachers be trained and have weapons at schools in order to combat a gunman. However, as the shooting at Fort Hood Military Base on Nov. 5, 2009 showed, even against armed, trained military men, a shooter can do a lot of damage. In that shooting, 13 people were killed and 29 others were injured.
Another argument used by gun enthusiasts is the protection of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Many people in the United States take that to mean the government has no right to organize any form of gun control, but in the context of the amendment, it seems more likely that the founding fathers and writers of the Constitution related the right to bear arms with being a member of a militia.
So much evidence has piled up in favour of gun control, it’s not clear how long-gun enthusiasts will be able to keep up this fight. One convincing example of the positive effects gun control has is evident in Japan, a country which has implemented strict laws and many requirements for gun ownership, including a rigorous written exam. Japan has had a large amount of success in keeping gun violence low, and because of their gun laws, they have the second lowest murder rate in the world. While the exact techniques Japan uses may not be effective in the United States due to the difference in population, the overall concept should help curb American gun violence.
It may be too late for the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary, or the many others who have met the same tragic fate, but we can honour their memory by doing everything in our power to stop these tragedies. Obama has his sights set on assault weapons, and while that’s going to help, the United States needs to focus on improving gun registration techniques and making it harder for people to acquire weapons. The harder it is to obtain a firearm, the less tragedies will occur. The time to act isn’t after the next school shooting — it’s now.