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Jumping the Gun - March 2018

posted Mar 26, 2018, 4:11 AM by RSO The Fenwick Review

By Seamus Brennan '20

When news of last month’s tragic school shooting in Parkland, FL broke and details surrounding the calamity began to emerge, everyone was left in a state of shock.  We all bemoaned the shooter, we all prayed for the victims and their families, and no one was content.  Despite some Democrats’ assertions that Republicans don’t care about dead children and some Republicans’ claims that members of the media look forward to and secretly commend mass shootings, any loss of life—especially that of innocent children—is appalling and distressing, and everyone, regardless of political leaning, is left with an aching heart.  In times of heightened emotion and grief across our national landscape, it is natural to seek change, and almost all would agree that change in some form is necessary.  However, heightened emotion rarely translates into effective policy, and level of passion has no correlation to one’s level of moral authority or political expertise on any given issue.  Members of both sides of the political aisle are distraught by last month’s shooting: Republicans and Democrats both mourn the loss of the victims’ lives.  Everyone simply wants what they think is best for the country, and we owe it to one other to assume the best in each other’s policy proposals.  Unfortunately, the national conversation on the topic of gun violence has been permeated by the shaming of blameless politicians, the denigration of those with differing viewpoints, and the blatant mischaracterizations of opposing voices.  Nearly every American recognizes the need for change, but change can only prosper when standards of civility and decency are upheld and when we learn to assume the best in others.

Throughout CNN’s town hall on gun violence the week following the Parkland tragedy, survivors of the shooting directly compared Florida Senator Marco Rubio to the shooter himself, suggested that NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch doesn’t care about her own children, and lambasted both figures as “murderers” for refusing to succumb to some of their political demands.  Of course, everyone sympathizes with these children: it is difficult to imagine having to endure what they did.  But they are children.  No matter how much sympathy one may have for them, their suffering does not confer to them any sense of knowledge or proficiency pertaining to the gun debate.  They certainly have the right to voice their opinions and I am not claiming that they should be silenced, but the media’s tendency to rely upon the shooting survivors as if they are political experts is irresponsible and manipulative.  When CNN allows Rubio and Loesch to be slandered as “murderers” and equated to a school shooter without any warnings or repercussions, they are failing in their duty as objective and unprejudiced journalists.  Both the students’ falsified sense of authority and the media’s unquestionable one-sidedness are important to note before exploring some of their actual policy proposals, many of which are misinformed and overly broad.

The most common policy proposal advocated by members of the media, Democrats, and shooting survivors has been a ban of AR-15s (“AR” stands for “Armalite Rifle,” not “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle”), the weapon used in the Parkland tragedy as well as in other mass shootings in recent years.  As simple as such proposals may seem, they are utterly impractical and idealistic.  Essentially every rifle currently in circulation in the United States possesses the same key features as the AR-15, there are currently 8 million AR-15s already owned by Americans, and for every death caused by a ‘long’ gun like AR-15s, four deaths are caused by handguns; thus, even if such a ban were implemented, gun violence rates would not change drastically and millions of guns would still be in circulation.  Thus, any attempt to ban AR-15s would have to result in a ban of all semi-automatic weapons, which accounts for nearly every gun currently on the market—leading to what would fundamentally be a full repeal of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Would a blanket gun ban and full repeal of the Second Amendment have prevented the tragedy in Florida?  A 2007 British Journal of Criminology study and a 2008 University of Melbourne study concluded that Australia’s gun ban had no effect on the gun homicide rate.  Similarly, the Crime Research Prevention Center found that after the implementation of the gun ban in Britain, there was initially a significant increase in the homicide rate, followed by a gradual decline once Britain expanded its police force.  However, there has only been one year where the homicide rate was lower than it was pre-ban, indicating that blanket gun bans are generally ineffective and do not reduce levels of gun violence.

In early March, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a gun control bill providing nearly half a billion dollars to train certain school officials to carry weapons, raising the age at which Florida residents can legally purchase rifles to 21, extending the mandatory three-day waiting period to both handguns and rifles, and improving the ban on firearms ownership by the mentally ill.  The bill encompasses policies endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats, and emotional and political pressure from families of the victims ultimately coerced Scott into signing the bill.  To be sure, the bill is not by any means ‘bad’ – training of school officials and enhancing the mentally ill’s restrictions to firearms are concrete measures that could prevent shootings in the future.  But, raising the age to purchase guns to 21 and implementing a waiting period are not necessarily constructive.  If an individual is deemed mature enough to serve in the military, to vote, and take on other responsibilities for adults, why should that individual need to wait three years to exercise his constitutional right?  Furthermore, waiting periods have proved to do nothing of consequence to prevent shootings.  The pressure Scott faced to “just do something” and “get something passed” has translated into a half-baked piece of gun legislation that will not only hurt Scott politically, but also do little to prevent shootings like in Parkland.  President Trump has also fallen prey to emotional pressure from the media, suggesting that law enforcement should “take the guns first, go through due process second,” a brazenly unconstitutional proposition that will more than likely not manifest in anything of real importance. 

The point is that when politicians are pressured into passing legislation for the sake of passing legislation – especially when their political popularity is at stake – such legislation will almost always do very little to confront the issue at hand.  Impulse and policy proposals do not mix well, and in an emotionally heated and politically hostile national landscape such as our own, those who rely on instinct tend to mistake the passing of legislation for emotional relief, when in reality, such policies do very little to prevent similar tragedies.  In times of uncertainty and fear, we are best equipped to confront our nation’s most pressing concerns when we all come together, respect one another’s voices, and weigh all possible options.  Meaningful change takes patience, patience takes effort, and effort takes faith.  As we continue this crucial conversation, let’s learn to have a little more faith in each other: after all, we’re all on the same side.