Most Americans agree that we need better control over access to dangerous weapons, yet, those fighting for solutions consider the words “gun control” somehow anti-Second Amendment. I disagree. We can support the constitutional right to bear arms while simultaneously demanding that not every weapon is accessible to every person.
Earlier this month, Sen. Pat Toomey visited Lewisburg for a town hall gathering. The event was attended by his supporters as well as a small, vocal group of activists called Everytown for Gun Safety. The activists expressed support for Toomey’s position advocating a required background check as a part of the gun purchasing process. This position, although not supported by the gun lobby, reflects public opinion. Surveys consistently show some 90 percent of Americans favor stringent background checks for firearm purchases. This shouldn’t be controversial, especially given the horrific spate of mass shootings.
As someone who attended the rally demanding tougher gun control, I was intrigued by one activist’s objection to my sign demanding ‘‘Gun Control.’’ She claimed that although her organization demanded background checks for potential gun owners, her organization was reluctant to use the words ‘‘gun control’’ for fear of dissuading potential supporters from donating to or participating in the group’s activities.
Which leads to the logical question: is the very concept of ‘‘gun control’’ taboo in America’s political culture? Apparently, some people see these two words as fundamentally un-American, thanks to the NRA’s broad and inaccurate reading of the Second Amendment and its often divergent interpretations. Yet, aren’t most, if not all rights guaranteed by the Constitution limited and regulated in some way?
We must be able to freely discuss and debate the issue of gun violence and the unacceptably high human and psychological toll it has taken on American lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 39,773 people lost their lives to firearm violence across the U.S. in 2017 alone. This included not just mass shootings, but also suicides and homicides on a smaller scale. Every life lost is a human’s existence cut short in a potentially avoidable death. Plus, we must consider all the people who are forever wounded, physically and emotionally, from gun violence.
Why should controlling weapons that cause so much loss of life and limb be considered politically or socially unthinkable? Governments legislate drugs with side effects, food products, vehicle safety standards, airport security and repair mass transit. They pass rules and regulations to save lives and prevent accidents and injuries to the public all the time.
Other nations have enacted gun laws to protect public safety. In 1996, Australia was horrified by a mass shooting in Tasmania which claimed 35 lives. It took an intense national debate, opposition from gun advocacy groups and a costly scheme to buy and destroy some 600,000 civilian owned firearms, but Australia was able to pass some of the world’s toughest gun control laws, including a 28-day waiting period to purchase guns and a comprehensive ban on automatic and semiautomatic firearms. According to The New York Times, the gun violence in Australia, estimated by the number of homicides and suicides per 100,000 population, dropped by a staggering 59 and 65 percent respectively, between 1995 and 2006. Equally pertinently, Australia has not experienced a mass shooting since 1996.
Similarly, nearby New Zealand, which until recently lacked Australian-style regulations, passed a comprehensive ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons within a month of a massacre in a Christchurch mosque, a measure that garnered near universal political support.
Most industrialized countries, regardless of their level of cultural similarities or differences from the United States, have tough (some would say draconian) gun control laws that restrict who has access to firearms, the types of weapons civilians can own, and the conditions for retaining them. It’s no accident, no coincidence that the rate of gun violence in almost all those countries is a fraction of that of the U.S.
Which leaves us with the question: If sensible gun solutions save lives, why can’t we freely discuss it and debate in this country? Why is the very mention of “gun control” considered taboo?
Suhail Shafi is contributing writer for Susquehanna Valley Progress, a nonpartisan organization advocating around issues that unites and empowers residents of the Susquehanna Valley.