A different kind of epidemic haunts America12 min readReading Time: 9 minutes
Hello readers. Today’s topic is a bit serious, a bit political, but very important. So, we will start with a short story to get you acquainted with the subject.
Not just another regular Monday
Sophie, a 7th grade student at a public school in Arizona, US, woke up early on a Monday morning. She was excited about a theatre production at her school that day, which was open to everyone. The day started off like any other — classes, catching up with friends after the weekend, and a rather uneventful lunch break.
At 2pm, everyone had gathered in the big auditorium. Whispers could be heard across the hall, while teachers did their best to ensure everyone was in attendance. Once the last of the students had entered, the atmosphere grew quiet as play was about to begin.
Suddenly, Sophie heard something strange. A sound like no other. Her friends her it too. It sounded like a blast, and it was closer than she anticipated. Soon, another blast. What was this sound? A crash? A firecracker? Sophie and her friends heard the sound getting closer with every blast.
Panic ensued. In the middle of the mummers and shuffling of feet, someone screamed ‘gun’! The adults sprung into action — asking the students to stay put and calm while they investigated what was going on. Sophie, who was just as worried as her fellow schoolmates — decided to calm those near her, urging them to let the adults handle the situation.
Bang, bang, bang! The sound grew closer and now the mummers turned into screams. Somebody was hurt, the older kids decided to be brave and check what was going on outside the auditorium. Another round of loud sounds, and in the distance, police and ambulance sirens growing louder as they approached the school.
In about an hour, the sounds died down. Something was very wrong, and Sophie decided to find out what.
David, a high-schooler at her school, had brought a gun to school and hidden it in his locker the entire morning. The shy and often-bullied teenager and taken his father’s gun that morning, frustrated with the world and the constant feeling that he was not good enough.
He decided to do something about it, but his plan was extremely dangerous and criminal. He started to fire shots when everyone but his bullies were in the auditorium, as he did not intend on hurting anyone. He only wanted to scare the bullies so they would leave him alone.
Unfortunately, with dangerous weapons such as firearms, one can never predict the outcome. Not only did David’s plan result in him being taken away by the police, but also led to a fellow student to be gravely injured and plenty of damage to school property.
Worried parents had now been informed or seen the news on their TVs and phones. Cars started to pull up outside the school as parents rushed to take their kids home to safety. Sophie’s father had arrived too and told her to hurry up and jump into the car.
As expected, school was closed the next day. Sophie was confused, sad and scared all at once. She looked to her parents for some kind of clarity on this horrible situation. “Why would something like this happen to us kids?” she asked her parents the next morning at the breakfast table. Her parents, looking forlorn, told her the truth. Her mother explained, “Sophie, what happened at your school was very tragic, but the harsh reality is that in the state of Arizona where we live, people over the age of 18 are allowed to own and carry firearms without even a permit. This is very dangerous as the weapon can fall into the wrong hands, like what happened with David.”
Sophie, still in a state of confusion and shock, could not understand why the government would allow regular people to own and carry around dangerous weapons. She said a silent prayer for the injured students, and also for David, knowing now that this problem goes well beyond the walls of her school.
The firearms problem
Now, we know that short story wasn’t the easiest to digest, but what you just read, is not new. Alarming, yes, but definitely not a one-off incident. In fact, there have been 1,924 school shooting incidents since 1970 in the US, with 2021 having the most number of incidents. Since 1970, 637 people have died in shootings at schools. Additionally, 1,734 were injured and 73 suffered minor injuries.
Why are we talking about this?
These numbers are, without doubt, unsettling. So why are we talking about this? Here’s why — Team Owliver was scanning through current affairs, like we normally do, and came across a piece of news that was rather disturbing. On April 12, a shooting took place in a subway (underground railway network) in Brooklyn, New York, injuring 23 people. Five gunshot victims are in critical condition but are expected to survive. At least a dozen people who escaped gunshot wounds were treated for injuries.
What’s the current situation?
The police immediately launched an investigation to catch the shooter. Fortunately, with the help of witnesses and social media, the police were able to catch one Frank Jones. Authorities say he unleashed smoke bombs and dozens of bullets, in a train full of morning commuters.
This got us thinking about gun laws in America. How it so easy for regular citizens to possess them, how unsafe it is to keep weapons at home especially when they can fall into the wrong hands, and what America is doing anything to control this problem.
America and its gun laws
One would think that a developed country like America would not be struggling for decades over gun violence. But here we are, and the debate continues well into 2022. Mass shootings have dominated news headlines, conversations and political debate around gun violence problem for years.
This long-standing debate over both the number of guns and controls over those weapons in the US don’t seem to go anywhere. They all to end up with fighting government officials and the same old arguments about mental health, millions of responsible gun owners and the Second Amendment.
The Second Amendment was part of the Bill of Rights that was added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791. This amendment protects the rights of citizens to “bear arms” or own weapons such as guns.
(PS: Remember this, it will be useful later.)
No other developed country in the world has anywhere near the same rate of gun violence as America. The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times the rate of Sweden, and nearly 16 times that of Germany, according to 2012 United Nations data compiled by The Guardian.
The US has by far the highest number of privately-owned guns in the world. As per 2017 figures, the number of civilian-owned firearms in the US was 120.5 guns per 100 residents, meaning there were more firearms than people!
Why do regular citizens need guns?
Seeing the damage and harm that guns can do, why would an adult American want to purchase and keep a gun at home? Here are some reasons:
- Independence and security – Here, the questions of freedom and responsibility come up. Studies indicate that Americans feel that owning a gun is a right, gives them a sense of freedom, and keeps them safe from harm.
- Some state governments in America deem gun retailers as “essential businesses.” This means that stores selling guns are allowed to stay open even on public holidays — much like pharmacies and grocery stores!
- Recreational activity – Gun shooting ranges and hunting are treated as recreation activities, much ingrained in the culture of America.
Four-in-ten US adults say they live in a household with a gun, including 30% who say they personally own one!
Is the government doing anything about it?
In the US, the right to buy a gun is written in the country’s Constitution and only a few people, such as those with criminal history or mental illness, may find it difficult to own a gun. While gun ownership is a right throughout the country, laws within different states vary as to who can buy a gun.
Gun control in the US finds its roots in the Second Amendment of the country’s Constitution. According to official records, in June 2008, the Supreme Court, for the first time since 1939, issued a decision that interpreted the Second Amendment. The court ruled that the amendment gave the right to US citizens to possess a firearm for lawful purposes such as self-defence.
In 1968, following the deaths of some very important people like President John F Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the government passed the Gun Control Act (GCA). The GCA aims to “keep firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background or incompetency, and to assist law enforcement authorities in the states and their subdivisions in combating the increasing prevalence of crime in the United States.”
After this, in the 1980s when the US was experiencing high levels of gun violence, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Crime Control Act and the Armed Career Criminal Act, which increased the sentences of those individuals who were convicted of using firearms in crimes of violence.
In 1993, then President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which made it easier for persons engaged in firearms dealings to do a background check on their customers, making sure that felons and other prohibited persons couldn’t buy them.
To conclude, there is no single law in the US Constitution that determines gun control today.
What do Americans think about gun control?
According to a 2019 survey, the majority of Americans believe that gun laws should be stricter. But Americans were still divided over the idea if strict gun control laws would lead to fewer mass shootings, as per a poll taken in 2018. While 47% of the people surveyed said there would be fewer mass shootings if it was harder for people to obtain guns, 46% said that there would be no difference.
What is Joe Biden doing about it?
After the recent shoot-out in New York, United States President Joe Biden has introduced a new rule that he hopes will put an end to so-called ‘ghost guns’.
Owliver’s Obscure Observations
President Joe Biden called gun violence in the US an ‘epidemic’. An epidemic is the rapid spread of disease to a large number of hosts in a given population within a short period of time. A pandemic, like the Covid-19 one, is an epidemic that’s spread over many countries or even continents!
Why are they called ‘ghost guns’? It’s because these can be bought as kits to be assembled at home and lack tracking serial numbers. The White House says that these have been increasingly recovered at crime scenes across the US in recent years. The new rule would require manufacturers of the kits to get licenses and include serial numbers on the weapon. Rules also require firearm dealers to keep all important documents with them till the day they are in business.
As expected, there are those who oppose these new rules and others who are appreciating President Biden for his efforts. Those who oppose the rules are the ones who believe guns are their Constitutional right, and that guns provide protection and freedom. The other side strongly condemns that selling and buying of guns after multiple terrible incidents over the years.
Think with Owliver
Which side of the debate do you stand? Should regular civilians be allowed to own and carry weapons such as guns? Does the government need to be stricter about its laws?
Sources: BBC, The Guardian, CNN, Indian Express, Washington Post, ABC, Al Jazeera, Scientific American, Reuters