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The Neglected Public Health Crisis

In our society, there’s always a clear distinction between adults and children. However, whenever a mass shooting happens in the United States, such definitions are immediately discarded. Of course, each one plays by a predictable script. Guy buys an assault weapon and shoots up a bunch of people in a public place which makes national headlines and wall-to-wall coverage. There are some tributes to the victims and asking for “thoughts and prayers.” But whenever someone brings up the notion of guns, pro-gun politicians always shut it down, stating that, “now’s not the time to talk about guns.” Sometimes they may state, “guns aren’t the problem, we need to talk about (mental health, violent video games, shows, and movies, bullying, rap music, and whatever lousy excuse).” Or they play the Second Amendment card, justifying why they should be able to own a military grade assault rifle that they’ll never use save as a photo op prop. Because despite that these weapons were primarily invented to kill a bunch of people in seconds, it’s well established that murder’s kind of illegal. Also, I’m pretty sure the Second Amendment doesn’t allow me to buy other military grade weapons like a fighter jet for instance.

Since the harrowing shooting at Columbine High School, mass shootings have become a very troubling aspect of the American landscape. The notion of gun control remains a highly contentious political issue that just mentioning it can ignite a cavalcade of flame wars all over the Internet. Nonetheless, given the frequency of mass shootings happening since my childhood, the price countless schoolchildren across the country have paid for them, and the scary availability of military grade assault weapons in several states, I strongly believe we need to address our relationship with guns as a country. Especially if the gun control debate has now boiled down to people wanting to frequent a public place without getting shot vs. gun collectors who just want to keep their highly dangerous toys.

As of 2022, gun violence is a public health crisis that won’t get better unless our federal and state governments adopt these common-sense gun measures. Every year, gun violence takes thousands of American lives whether through mass shootings, standard homicides, gang wars, suicides, domestic violence, accidents, and whatever else. Thus, to not do act will only get more people killed as well as result in a public that’s constantly on edge. It’s bad enough that schools have resorted to armed guards and active shooter drills. Students have been subjected to security checks and constant anxiety that one day they can walk into their school and never see home again. Gun violence takes a great toll on the healthcare industry, especially in areas where gunshot victims don’t have health insurance and/or end up disabled.

As an autistic woman, I see the notion of an armed society as deeply terrifying as my social skills aren’t the greatest. Even though I’m better than I used to be, I still make mistakes in social interaction. But one bad interaction will usually result in someone throwing a temper tantrum at worst. However, if I’m where everyone’s armed, one bad social situation might get me killed. Whenever I hear about some nutjob showing up at a Starbucks with an AK-47, it scares the living daylights out of me. When I’m out in public, I want to be able to talk to people without worrying about endangering my life whenever I mess up. And given how unpredictable people are, I never know what kind of buttons I’d push. Especially if I tell someone what they don’t want to hear. Say what you want about gun-free zones, but I don’t want them to go away just because people don’t feel safe without carrying a loaded weapon. Because while they may feel safe with a gun on them, a loaded gun makes many people feel like they’re in a room with a ticking time bomb that can blow up at any moment.

Unfortunately, federal law hasn’t much budged on enacting stronger gun laws thanks to the NRA’s constant pro-gun lobbying since the late 1970s. Not only that, but too many states have loosened their gun laws to allow certain measures that many would think as insane. Like letting people carry guns on college campuses for instance, which is utterly madness. But apparently, you can do so at any public university in Texas. “Stand Your Ground” laws have been equally problematic as they allow people to use force without a duty to retreat. Well, as long as you’re white but that’s a different story. Of course, our nation’s gun problem has a lot of similarities to what’s going on with Covid. It’s a public health crisis that can easily be fixed if we get our act together as a society. But apparently, we can’t deal with it as responsibly as we’d like because some people don’t want to make sacrifices for the greater good. Except that while Covid 19 only became a thing from March 2020 on, our nation’s crisis with guns and gun violence has gone on for decades. In fact, it’s a problem old enough for Credence Clearwater Revival to record “Run Through the Jungle,” which talks about exactly that (and not Vietnam).

Although most Americans may not always be on the same page with everything in regards to gun control, they generally agree on common-sense measures. According to Gallup polls, the most popular measure is background checks on all gun purchases, which 96% of Americans support in 2017. And this includes 95% of gun owners. Meanwhile, only 21 states have adopted such policy.

Current US federal law requires background checks for purchases by licensed gun

dealers. But it doesn’t mandate them for guns sold by unlicensed sellers like non-dealers who sell guns online or at gun shows. Called the Gun Show Loophole, this loophole enables people with felony convictions, domestic abuse restraining orders, and other people with questionable histories to buy guns no questions asked. According to a study by Everytown Gun Safety, 1 out of 9 people arranging to buy guns on can’t legally buy guns. Even more disturbing, the unlicensed gun sale marketplace is vast. A 2015 survey found that 22% of Americans reported on acquiring a gun without a background check in the 2 years before. While a 2018 investigation found there were 1.2 million ads for firearms sales that wouldn’t require a background check either. And according to the Giffords Law Center, around 80% of guns acquired for criminal purposes are obtained through unlicensed sellers. While 96% of inmates convicted of gun offenses who were already barred from owning a weapon got their firearm through an unlicensed dealer.

Requiring universal background checks has proven effective in reducing gun violence. Such state laws by point-of-sale checks and/or permit have been associated with lower firearm, fewer firearm suicides, and lower firearm trafficking. Mainly because running a background check before a gun buy helps identify people who shouldn’t have them like convicted felons and domestic abusers. Most common federal background check legislation simply requires unlicensed sellers meet their buyer at a gun dealer. While the gun dealer will run a background check in exactly the same way as for sales in the dealer’s store. Since most Americans live closer to a gun store than a McDonald’s or a post office, it’s an easy and convenient process that only takes less than 2 minutes. Besides, most gun owners are already used to this because they have to go through it every time they buy a gun from a licensed dealer. And while no system is completely accurate, FBI quality control evaluations suggest that background checks have a 99.3- 99.8% accuracy rate.

Universal background checks may not prevent every kind of gun violence, but it’s a measure we need to implement throughout the country. Any measure is better than doing nothing at this point. It was appalling enough that Congress passed no gun control measure in the wake of Sandy Hook back in 2012. Universal background checks are almost universally popular, are easy and quick to undertake, and save thousands of lives in the states where it’s law. In fact, many of the best-known mass shooters have bought guns from unlicensed sellers and have histories of domestic violence. Thus, enacting universal background checks to screen out dangerous people who shouldn’t have guns is a no brainer. It’s about time the United States takes responsibility for its gun problem. Enacting universal background checks is the least we can do.


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