Our nation is obsessed with guns. I’ve known this, but after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, I saw a trailer for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest movie, “The Last Stand.” I realize it’s an action movie, but the large amount of gunfire in the trailer post-Sandy Hook made me recognize how in love with guns our culture really is.
How could we not be? Settlers took this land from Native American tribes through trickery and threat. We declared the land as our own, and defended it against the crown. When our developing country was split between north and south, many took up arms to defend their way of life. From there, we’ve fought in multiple wars and have enjoyed relative stability as a world superpower.
This past Tuesday, a reminder of our gun love occurred when a gunman opened fire at Lone Star College in Houston roughly a month after Sandy Hook. Key differences exist between the shootings, but it can’t be ignored that this is another case of an individual opening fire in public.
The shooting at Lone Star College started between two men in an argument when one of them pulled a gun and fired. You’d think there would be some law in place to prevent this from happening. The opposite is true.
Checking the college’s website, it seems they have the right to prohibit licensed individuals from carrying concealed weapons but don’t do so outright. According to a Huffington Post article from Jan. 22, even Steve Sanders, president of the gun rights group at Lone Star, “wasn’t sure” if he was allowed to carry a concealed weapon on campus. Sanders was likely thinking of Senate Bill 182, filed by Senator Brian Birdwell last week, that would allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus.
Modern firearms can fire projectiles at a rate of up to 3,000 feet per second. When a bullet careens into the body, it loses momentum as it flips end over end. Sometimes the strain is too much and it shatters. The pieces can further tear through muscles and vital organs, leaving someone gravely wounded and bleeding out or (unsurprisingly) dead.
When we think about it this way, do we really want more people carrying firearms around? Unfortunately, there isn’t a way for us to control the flow of firearms.
Part of the reason the U.S. is lacking in gun control is the National Rifle Association. In 2011, the NRA sued the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The injunction was against a new rule that would require gun dealers in Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas to report when someone buys more than one semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine and uses ammunition greater than .22 caliber within five days. This new rule was designed to stop “straw buying” and guns ending up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Although the NRA causes more problems than it solves, some can be found in the disarray of the ATF itself. Its current acting director, B. Todd Jones, doubles as the U.S. attorney for Minnesota. That’s right, two full-time jobs. Furthermore, the Senate hasn’t confirmed a director of the ATF since 2006. This is all because Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner slipped the need for confirmation into a Patriot Act renewal in 2006. This means that, with all of the other aspects of the Patriot Act, the requirement of the confirmation of an ATF director goes largely unacknowledged. Sensenbrenner received the NRA’s Defender of Freedom Award that same year.
All of this, including an amendment written by Todd Tiahrt that limits the information from a firearm tracing database to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors and prevents the creation of a national registry, just shows that the NRA has effectively castrated the ATF.
Frustrated over gun control laws, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns created the website tracetheguns.org, utilizing ATF gun trafficking statistics from September 2010. With this site it’s easy to see 10 laws that can curb gun trafficking and which states have them. For example, the main suspect in the Lone Star shooting, Carlton Berry, could have been stopped. Berry has three Class B misdemeanors which should disqualify him from a concealed-carry permit. However, Texas doesn’t have a law that prohibits criminals with misdemeanors from purchasing guns. To bring it closer to home, Kansas doesn’t have any of the 10 laws.
Take a look at how gun laws work in other countries. In Canada, applicants must take a safety course, pass a criminal records check and be certified by a firearms officer. In Japan, applicants must attend a shooting class and pass a test, pass a “mental test” to ensure they aren’t suffering from a readily detectable mental illness and provide a certificate to the police that they are mentally sound and drug free. It only gets more strict. The police have total discretion when giving out licenses in Japan.
Although I don’t think these systems are perfect, I do believe it’s time for a change in this country. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Vice President Joe Biden urged reform, and President Obama announced his plan for gun control. Obama’s plan includes:
- Criminal background checks for all gun sales
- Reinstating the assault weapons ban
- Restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines
- Eliminating armor-piercing bullets
- Allocating funds to hire more police officers
- Instituting a federal gun trafficking statute
Gun advocates are up in arms about this new push, but should they be? I can see how someone would want a handgun, rifle or shotgun for home defense or hunting, but does a civilian have any need for a gun able to pump out multiple armor-piercing rounds a second from a magazine holding absurd amounts of ammo? No.
I’ve been to the shooting range, and I’ll admit it’s a fun and thrilling experience. As I said before, I find any gun except assault weapons acceptable for ownership because they serve a purpose other than being fun and deadly adult toys.
As far as concealed-carry licenses go, I’m left a bit skeptical. I know that guns have been a part of everyday life in this country for years, but we don’t live in “untamed” land anymore. Just because we can carry a deadly weapon around willy-nilly doesn’t mean we should.
When talking to my stepfather about reform, he said, “Yeah, good luck. We’ve been a gun country for ages.” It’s this holding on to the past and fetishizing of gun culture that’s holding back positive advancement. Just because something has been a certain way for years doesn’t mean it should stay that way. History isn’t created by stagnation.
In the past 50 years, 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings have happened in our country. How much more tragedy has to occur before we do something to limit the potential for violence?
Tyler Brown is a graduate of K-State. Please send comments to [email protected]