by Mallory Culhane
Gun control is undoubtedly one of the most polarizing topics in the U.S. today.
Virginia Beach, El Paso, Parkland, Columbine, and Las Vegas are a few of many U.S. cities and towns that are sites of mass shootings. Vox reported earlier this year that there have been about 2,244 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, killing around 2,535 people.
Mass shootings at schools from elementary to college levels have been sites of some of the most horrific shootings in the U.S. such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Columbine High School. The results have caused one of the most prominent voices in the gun control debate to be students. After the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff, a movement to end gun violence led by the students from Parkland began.
Celya Walker, a sophomore human physiology major at Boston University Sargent College, was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas the day of the shooting.
“After the shooting, it definitely became a much more personal issue and went from an issue that I just had a stance on to something I believe needs to be a movement or even a revolution,” said Walker. “I understand at a much deeper level how and why there is such a culture of and attachment to guns in this country.”
Walker became more aware of gun control in the U.S. after the shooting. She supports universal background checks and a ban on assault rifles. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 96% of Americans favor required background checks on all firearm purchases.
After every new mass shooting, politicians speak up on the topic of change in response to public outcry. With the 2020 presidential race heating up, candidates are laying out their plans for gun control – including Texas Representative, Beto O’Rourke.
O’Rourke’s plan has sparked controversy–his plan rolls out significant changes that are very different from current gun laws. For example, O’Rourke has called for mandatory buyback of institutes universal background checks.
The buyback has been of concern for many. The Gallup poll shows that 47% of Americans are for illegalizing the manufacture, sale, or possession of semi-automatic guns and 51% are against.
Earlier this month at the third presidential debate in Houston, TX, O’Rourke said, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” which only ignited the controversy further.
Although Walker supports stricter gun laws, she still believes in the right to bear arms and stresses that her goal, among many others, isn’t to take away the second amendment.
“What most activists want isn’t to abolish [the second amendment], it’s to adapt it to modern times and technology, which means limitations because of how lethal weapons are now and how accessible,” said Walker. “We don’t want to take guns away, we want to stop the culture of enabling dangerous people…by giving them access to lethal weapons.”
With such drastic changes to current gun laws, and a very divisive country, some believe O’Rourke’s plan is problematic and unrealistic. Others believe it’s a step that needs to be taken to end mass shootings.
Experiencing a traumatic event such as a shooting, some would assume the victims would call for stricter gun laws and rally around more regulation. On the other hand, this isn’t always the case.
“After witnessing such devastating horror, I asked a lot of questions of myself about this issue; after a lot of research and soul searching I realized, guns are not the problem,” said Evan Todd, a survivor of the April 1999 Columbine High School shooting. “There seems to be a lot of people who have experienced these types of tragedies who naively believe that gun regulation is going to stop these types of events. I understand the strong emotions that would lead someone to believe that more regulation would somehow help.”
The Columbine shooting, which killed 13, left Todd himself wounded. Recently, he has made headlines for questioning O’Rourke’s proposed gun plan and advocating for the protection of gun rights. Todd calls O’Rourke’s plan, “100% unrealistic and dangerous.”
Todd points to the fact that many Americans own guns for a matter of protection. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey indicates that 67% of gun owners say protection is a key reason for ownership. Instituting stricter gun laws could pose issues for those who use guns for protection purposes.
“I think we need to stop passing laws and regulations that burden regular people…any law-abiding citizen should be allowed to bear arms,” said Todd. “Each and every person is ultimately responsible for their own safety and security.”
The contributing factors to mass shootings are also divided in Americans’ opinions. Forty-eight percent of Americans believe that easy access to guns is a ‘great deal’ to blame for mass shootings whereas 55% believe the failure of the mental health system is a ‘great deal’ to blame, according to the Gallup poll.
Still, each presidential candidate has their own views on how to stop mass shootings. Cory Booker has plans to require licensure by the federal government to own a gun. Other candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro support licensure as well. Many candidates also support a buyback on assault weapons such as, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, though Warren does not. However, 56% of Americans believe that the federal government should focus on improving school security measures and mental health to prevent future school shootings.
Americans and politicians are divided on how to proceed with gun control. Polls and surveys point to many different possible solutions; though gun control will remain difficult to handle with the culture in the U.S. Todd, however, believes the best thing to do: stop regulation.
“No more regulation,” said Todd. “We need to protect our schools, churches, and public places; then we need to examine our society and address the issues that create people who commit these atrocities.”
Mallory Culhane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org