Unlock and Unload: It is time for real Gun Control Legislation

BY VINCENT CALARCO – Another day, another mass shooting in America. Just last week, 10 people were killed at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.[1] The shooter, a 26-year-old male shooter, was a student in the class where the killings occurred, and was armed with three handguns and one assault weapon.[2]

On December 14, 2012, one of the saddest tragedies in American history occurred, when 20 first graders and six faculty members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.[3] The shooter, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and semi-automatic pistol, took his own life before authorities could arrest him.[4]

It has been three years since Sandy Hook, and in that time, there have been 142 school shootings in the United States.[5] That is an average of four school shootings per month in America. In 2015 alone, 45 shootings at school environments have occurred.[6]

Since Sandy Hook, no new gun laws have passed, partly because of the strong feelings many have toward the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The Second Amendment states:

“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.”[7]

Many in the federal government have debated the interpretation of this amendment, including the Supreme Court in the Court’s 2006 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.[8] Gun control may become a real topic that could see some legislation with the next elected president. But what exactly are these candidates offering?

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio expressed that mental illness is the real issue that should be tackled, and not tighter gun laws.[9] Following Sandy Hook, Rubio, along with a bipartisan group, proposed the Excellence in Mental Health Act to expand access to mental health services.[10] Nevertheless, Rubio admitted that those with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims in shootings, rather than the shooters.[11]

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson expressed there is no need for restricting gun ownership, rather those facing the barrel of a gun held by a mass shooter should do what he would: move.[12] “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” Carson said.[13] Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush recently expressed that mass shootings are something society should be used to by now. “Stuff happens,” Bush stated, and stuff should not cause action for legislation.[14]

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also flip-flopped on the topic of gun control over the years.[15] Clinton voiced that background checks are vital to gun control and reduction of mass shootings, but no real ideas have been put together.[16] Senator Bernie Sanders (I.), from the rural state of Vermont, understands his state’s traditional views on gun ownership.[17] And despite Sanders’s D- rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), Sanders previously voted with conservatives against the 1993 Brady Act, which demanded background checks on any gun owner in America. [18]

President Barack Obama has stated that it has become routine for him to stand in front of the White House podium and talk about kids being killed at schools in his country.[19] Yet, one of the country’s allies, Australia, has passed stricter gun laws and has seen its violence drop.[20]

 Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program in May 1996. [21] This law resulted from the April 29, 1996, Port Arthur massacre that saw 28-year-old Martin Bryant gun down 35 people and injure 23 more.[22] Bryant used semi-automatic guns during the killing spree, and showed signs of aggression throughout his young life.[23]

The Buyback program includes a ban on many semi-automatic guns, requires owners to possess permits for each gun they own, and permits take four weeks to process.[24] Gun owners must enroll in a safety course, and provide a “genuine reason” other than self-defense, as to why they are purchasing the gun.[25] Only licensed firearms dealers can sell guns, with limits on the amount of ammunition that could be sold at a time.[26]

The Program cost $230 million, which was raised by a small health insurance tax increase, and has purchased back or voluntarily received over 700,000 guns.[27] In the decade following the law’s passage, the national firearm homicide rate dropped by 59 percent.[28]

Compared to Australia, the United States can look to expand background checks, especially on those who may be suffering from a mental illness. Additionally, the U.S. could try to limit the sale of guns, keeping it to strictly licensed gun dealers. From a policy standpoint, there needs to be some action and a compromise on what can be done to prevent more tragedies. When deaths by motor vehicle collisions increased, the U.S. did not just pass regulations for safety belts, but added speed limits and highway patrol officers. How many more mass tragedies have to occur before there is action? I am hopeful that it will not take too many more, as all of our lives truly depend on it.


[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/oregon-college-shooter-identified_560da1b2e4b0dd85030b5cc3

[2] Id.

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/sandy-hook-elementary-school-shooting-leaves-students-staff-dead/2012/12/14/24334570-461e-11e2-8e70-e1993528222d_story.html

[4] Id.

[5] http://www.myrecordjournal.com/opinion/editorials/7860360-129/at-least-142-school-shootings-since-newtown-massacre.html

[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/us-school-shooting_560d88bde4b0af3706dff6b8

[7] U.S. Const. Amend. II

[8] District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008)

[9] http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=d6143f9c-ecf5-44cd-9f9d-44d0309a6ef9

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/10/06/ben-carson-says-he-would-have-been-more-aggressive-against-oregon-gunman/

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/democratic-debate-where-the-candidates-fall-on-gun-control/

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/01/politics/oregon-shooting-obama-response/

[20] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/10/how-australia-and-britain-tackled-gun-violence.html

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

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