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On the Malice of the NRA - December 2017

posted Dec 29, 2017, 4:03 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review
By Richard Ciolek '20

In the wake of shooting in San Bernardino, California in December 2015, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement strongly condemning gun violence in the United States. It called on Catholics to urge their congressmen to enact legislation such as universal background checks, limitations on high capacity magazines, and improved access to mental health care.

That did not happen, despite almost overwhelming public support for universal background checks (86% according to Gallup in 2015). To this day, federal firearm legislation remains stagnant. If this makes anything at all painfully evident, it is that Congress would prefer to take money from the NRA than ensure domestic tranquility.

And so, it happened again. On October 1, 2017, a gunman fired into a large crowd of people attending a music festival and killed 58 of them, wounding over 500 others. He is reported to have fired about one-thousand rounds, and used a modification known as a “bump stock” to allow his semi-automatic rifle to fire at a rate nearly equal to that of an automatic. Why, as a society, are we allowing individuals to buy high-capacity magazines and modifications to essentially create military grade hardware? You don’t need a machine-gun with state of the art optics and a 100-round drum magazine to kill a small deer.

The United States stands alone amongst highly developed countries when it comes to the savage frequency of mass shootings. Two researchers, Jacyln Schildkraut and H. Jaymi Elsass, cataloged data from mass shootings in eleven countries (Australia, Canada, China, England, Finland, France, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States) from 2000 to 2014. The US had more shooting deaths and incidents than the other ten countries combined. The common counter to this statistic would be the that, with the exception of China, the US is much more populated than the rest of the countries surveyed. However, when adjusted for population, only Switzerland, Norway, and Finland outrank the United States.

Writers at PolitiFact note that data here is slightly skewed, as all three of these countries have very small populations coupled with only one or two mass casualty events. The US, nonetheless, appears to have a higher than ordinary number amount of shooting incidents than other countries of a similar level of development. This is a problem. A problem that lawmakers have continually failed to address. Neither Newtown, nor Aurora, nor Orlando, nor Las Vegas, nor Sutherland Springs have resulted in any substantial, long-term gun control legislation.

Nor are mass shootings the only manifestation of America’s gun problem. As of September, The Washington Post reports that forty-three people were shot by toddlers in 2017. Meaning, on average, an American is shot by a toddler every week. It is absolutely ridiculous that children are being put in positions where they could cause serious harm to themselves or others, and US lawmakers refuse to do anything out of fear of the NRA. How many massacres, how many cases of children accidentally shooting each other, how many school shootings, before congress realizes that there is a gun problem in this country? How many more dead before something is actually done to address this problem?

Immediate legislative action is needed to prevent further deaths. I am not naïve. I do not think that stricter gun control will completely stop mass shootings, or gun related deaths. However, if even one life is saved, then we’re on the right track.

But where to start? Universal Federal background checks might be a good place to begin. They would impede and, hopefully, prevent those with a history of crime or mental illness from purchasing a firearm, but would not prevent law-abiding citizens from purchasing firearms. Prohibiting high capacity magazines, and modifications that alter the rate of fire of semiautomatic weapons should be next. Then, of course, in response to these rather modest measures, a cacophonous chorus screams out “the 2nd Amendment!” Mind you, I do not wish to scorn the US Constitution, but it’s a bit odd that some in this country are using a document meant to shield US citizens in a bid to harm them. Do we imagine even for a moment that background checks could be unconstitutional? Or that any regulation whatsoever on magazine sizes is beyond the constitutional remit of federal power? I’m no legal scholar, and it may very well be against the law to enact the measures which I have proposed. But constitutionality is not the point of this piece; moral obligation is. The Constitution does not establish moral obligation; it establishes legality or illegality. If the 2nd Amendment does, indeed, guarantee unrestricted access to firearms, and any common-sense gun legislation would be unconstitutional, then the Constitution ought to be amended. For I consider laws which protect the lives of the citizenry to be the mark of a good state. If our founding document makes it impossible to prevent some of the 34,000 firearm fatalities this country sees each year, it is our duty and responsibility to modify them. Anything else is beyond immoral.