Columbine. Virginia Tech. Fort Hood. Aurora. Sandy Hook. And recently, San Bernardino.
An ever-increasing list of locations which shouldn’t, but do, bring to mind great tragedy. This list is comprised of schools, cinemas and domestic military bases, all places which, in normal circumstances, would be considered safe.
Now these places, along with many more, are associated not of safety but of loss.
The question that inevitably follows in the wake of any mass shooting is what, if anything, could the government do to stop these awful, but seemingly cyclical, events from occurring.
Most contested among the possible solutions is the possibility of outlawing, legislating or otherwise limiting guns themselves. The solution offered by outlawing guns is tempting, a seemingly easy solution to the many deaths that guns cause every day.
There are, as critics gleefully point out, many problems with the idea of simply banning guns at all.
First and foremost, it’s unconstitutional. No law flatly banning guns can even be considered, due to rights granted directly from the Constitution. It gets more complicated from there. Is it, for example, unconstitutional to limit guns, but not ban them? Does the Constitution allow for the banning of some guns, so long as citizens are allowed to possess another form of firearm? The second amendment is one of the most disputed, and yet there are professional constitutional lawyers, people who dedicate their whole lives to interpreting the constitution, on both sides of the argument.
Besides the obvious constitutional problems, there are numerous other points addressed by critics that indicate that perhaps direct gun control isn’t the best answer. A famous quote by NRA executive vice-president and talking head Wayne LaPierre, “Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun,” sums up one of the arguments presented by opponents of gun control. In short, the argument is that weapons offer protection from violent crime.
The theory presented by gun-rights advocates here is that if everyone owned a gun, violent criminals would be more afraid to prey on the average citizen.
Following the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA introduced a plan to put more armed guards in every school in America, according to the New York Times. The plan was based on a report published by the NRA investigating the effects of having armed security in schools called the Report of the National School Shield Task Force. Gun control advocates, like the Justice Policy Institute, argue that more police in schools make students more insecure, and less trusting.
The issue can seem decisive, but most Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, agree on certain items, primarily broader or universal background checks. Indeed, Pew reports that 81 percent of the surveyed Americans favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks. These are common sense solutions that don’t impinge on second amendment rights, but still manage to provide the government with a way of tracking and regulating gun use in the country.
Besides background checks, proposed legislative actions are more polarized. According to the same Pew report, there is a wide partisan gap on legislative actions besides background checks. While 66 percent support a federal database to track gun sales, only 54 percent support a ban on assault weapons.
Unfortunately, both camps place high emotional values on their stances, resulting in compromise becoming a dirty word in gun-control politics.
As the partisan gap between the two ideologies grows larger, hope for any sort of compromise dims.
Even background check legislation, which is largely supported among Americans, is not expected to pass through congress successfully. This kind of gridlock, not the matter of gun control itself, is the real problem right now.
Until both parties can work together to determine the best course of action, using ideas from both sides of the aisle, we’ll be stuck with archaic and largely formless gun laws, leaving the power, and the political fallout of decision making, to the states themselves.