White: Failure to pass new gun legislation inexcusable

The United States Senate failed to pass a gun control bill on April 17, with the parents of deceased Sandy Hook Elementary students looking on from the gallery. The vote was the first attempt by Congress to strengthen gun control laws after the horrific shootings, which claimed 28 total lives, 20 of them children. Since that tragic day, at least 3,587 Americans have been killed with a gun according to Slate.com, yet Congress continues to refuse to take action on gun violence. 

America has a gun problem. “Gun rights” advocates can pretend all they want that guns are not a problem, but they are ignoring the facts. We have the laxest gun laws of any developed nation and by far the highest rates of gun accidents, gun suicide and gun homicide of any developed nation. Our rate of gun accidents is more than four times higher than the next developed nation on the list. Our gun suicide rate is three times higher than the next developed nation. Our gun homicide rate stands at about 3.6 people per 100,000 or 10 times higher than the next highest developed nation.  

In America, we own 88.8 guns per 100 people, the highest rate of private gun ownership of any country in the world. According to the National Rifle Association, this should make us safer. After all, more guns would mean more protection. Yet, a study done by sociologists Matthew Miller, Deborah Azrael and David Hemenway finds states with high gun ownership have more than three times the mortality rate than states with low gun ownership have. More guns mean more gun deaths. 

When backed into a corner by facts and reality, “gun rights” advocates will try to hide behind the Second Amendment, which they say gives individuals the right to own firearms. It is true, the Second Amendment does state “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Of course that ignores the entire beginning of the amendment, which prefaces the statement with “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.” This preface of the Second Amendment clearly advocates a collective right to bear arms, i.e. have a military, and not necessarily an individual right. 

In fact, the first time the U.S. Supreme Court ever ruled there was an individual right to bear arms was in 2008 following the District of Columbia v. Heller ruling. If we take the individual right to bear arms argument to its conclusion – no regulations by the government – could we not then say that I can own a flamethrower, or an attack helicopter, or a nuclear weapon? Where do we cut off the definition of an “arm?”

Clearly, many in the Senate do not believe we cut it off at an assault rifle, a weapon designed to kill mass numbers of people. A ban on assault weapons was one of the amendments in the failed Senate bill. As was an amendment which would require background checks on the private sale of guns. We live in a country where we need background checks, training and license tests to drive an automobile because it can be deadly, but none of those to operate a machine specifically designed to kill. 

We have a problem and the evidence is there. Lax gun laws in this country are causing unprecedented rates of gun violence and murder. We have to begin to rein in our obsession with firearms through common sense controls. If the murder of 20 school children in their classrooms was not enough to wake us up, we may have a lot more problems than we think.