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November 15, 2017

Las Vegas and the need for change

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

On Dec. 16, 2012, President Obama delivered remarks at a memorial service in Newtown, Connecticut, following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “I have been reflecting on this for the past few days, and if were being honest with ourselves, the answer is no, we are not doing enough,” he said. “And we will have to change. Since I have been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings…We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

It is appropriate for anyone to offer condolences in light of such brutality. What is equally appropriate is to have a conversation in light of such calamity—one that not only serves the families hurt the most, but works to promote change.

Last week, Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old Nevada resident with no prior criminal record, fired 280 rounds in 31 seconds using semiautomatic weapons he purchased legally, and killing 59 people before taking his own life. Between Oct. 2016 and Oct. 2017, Paddock legally purchased 33 firearms.

In the days since the shooting, many individuals have voiced their opinions on how we should move forward as a nation. But it is unfortunate how polarizing these comments have been. Congressional Democrats, rightfully so, want to take this opportunity to reflect on this country’s inertia with respect to sensible gun policy, whereas those on the right are chomping at the bit to disavow leftist arguments and profess that now is not the time.

That said, there seems to be no middle ground. Sarah Huckabee Sanders deflected questions regarding gun control in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, saying, “There will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment.” Talk of policy, according to Sanders, would not take place on “a day of mourning.”

But then she continued, shifting the narrative and saying, “I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn’t helped there.”

Sanders’ logic is flawed in the sense that there is no evidence to suggest that creating relaxed gun policy in Chicago would result in less crime in the inner cities. Staunch second amendment supporters seem to only want to discuss the violence in Chicago as a way to hide behind the realities of mass shootings.

Recent data conducted by Gallup suggests that 55 percent of Americans believe in tighter regulations regarding gun sales. Polling conducted by Gallup in the fall of 2015 also revealed that 86 percent of Americans favored a universal federal background check. When asked if implementing such a policy would help curb mass shootings in the United States, 69 percent of people believed that it would make at least a small difference. A sensible gun debate in this country should not involve polarizing arguments nor all-or-nothing conclusions.

The Supreme Court’s decision in The District of Columbia v. Heller sets the standard for private gun ownership in this country. Given the current ideological breakdown of the Supreme Court justices, especially given the fact that some members are now entering their early and mid-80s, the bench will likely have strong support for the second amendment for the next generation.

Of the last 17 mass shootings in this country, a vast majority of them were carried out with guns that were legally acquired by the killers. An AR-15-style rifle was one of the guns confiscated from Paddock’s hotel room. The Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004, failed to prevent the purchase of an AR-15, but included restrictions on ways the weapon could be modified. We know that Paddock was able to legally purchase 12 ‘bump stock’ add-ons, making his weapons work at an almost automatic rate. Senator Diane Feinstein introduced a bill on Oct. 4 that would ban the purchase of these features.

The founders could have foreseen an end to slavery, but they surely could not have foreseen the instant violence that is carried out by machines of the caliber that we have today. The time has come when this country must differentiate between weapons that are used for assault and weapons used for defense.

“Never,” is typically the response to ideas behind sensible gun legislation. “Now,” is typically the response to calls for prayers and sympathy intended for those who have been effected by the horrors of gun violence. Thoughts and prayers are gracious and necessary, but you can’t pray for legislation, nor is it ever a substitute for inaction. Thomas Jefferson believed that the constitution should change with the times. As we come up on five years since Sandy Hook, let us not only promote change but produce action.

Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at isimon@umass.edu.

Comments
3 Responses to “Las Vegas and the need for change”
  1. Nitzakhon says:

    But I don’t want to see your answer here.

    Write it on a hand-made piece of parchment, written with a quill pen, and delivered to me by a guy riding a horse.

    Oh, wait, your computer, the internet, and your iphone are not mentioned in the Constitution.

  2. Mark says:

    “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
    – Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Constitution, Draft 1, 1776
    Thomas Jefferson had a rather well defined point of view on the subject of gun rights and society.

  3. Sam says:

    It has often occurred to me in the past, as it does again now, that amongst the surest ways to produce bad public policy in nearly any domain is to produce that policy out of something like a spontaneous need for “action”. While this tendency is by no means limited to the matter of gun policy, it is amongst the very worst characteristics that have become common to the gun control debate. This sentiment, the feeling that what counts is to “move” to “act” is sometimes subtly and often not so subtly apparent in gun control advocacy, particularly as a reaction to mass shootings. I regret, that propensity is very much on display in this column. The temptation to say “we must act” the tendency to feel that we must do something, anything, provided of course that the anything is limited to one or another form of gun control. The tendency itself is a very human temptation but it rarely provides the basis of sound policy in any context. There is an appropriate question that is often asked in response to the sort of now reflexive gun control advocacy that has come to predictably characterize the immediate aftermath of nearly every mass shooting. A question that goes something like this, “Which specific gun control proposal on the table, even if we assume it would be good policy, could have effected or prevented this shooting?”. It always seems a reasonable question, given that these shootings are the proximate impetus for the renewed calls for say universal background checks among other favorites. When the posed question isnt simply being ignored, the answer is almost always something like “Well no it wouldn’t have effected this shooting, but we should do it anyway because….action”. Reflecting on this exshasting pattern, it begs the further question, what is the goal of gun control advocates and what is their most fundamental motivation?. Is it to prevent mass shooting? Or is it simply to advance an ideological objective that they would likely have in some measure even if a single shooting had never occurred in the United States. Is it simply the reflexive need to “act”?. Is it some combination of both?. I don’t know the answer, but it strikes me that it is a question to which gun control advocates must provide an answer before we pursue any of the further regulation of firearms they propose. The environment and collective feeling of crisis is rarely conducive to good public policy of any sort and the tendency to trample on the rights of people is often greater in such moments. In general we should resist the temptation to turn these horrific episodes into justification to sacrifice our freedoms or turn away from who we are as Americans, even in the name of security. In more ways than one we accept a level of insecurity as Americans in order that we retain our liberty and we accept a level of uncertainty and potential danger that would not be present in a society less free than our own. In general, advocates of expanded gun control programs would do well to consider their own motivations and tendencies and to provide answers to the obvious questions raised by the positions they take and by the time and manner in which they predictably take them. I do commend the author for the intellectual honesty in seeming to acknowledge the constitutional nature of this issue in his reference to President Jefferson and the process of constitutional amendment. Something which cannot generally be expected from many gun control advocates who would seem to prefer that the more activist members of the judiciary “interpret” the inconvenient aspects of the Bill of Rights out of existence. Sam W

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