Despite the coronavirus dominating headlines, it is still important to consider other issues in this election year, including gun violence. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wishes to ban assault weapons, limit the gun purchasing capabilities of consumers and end online gun sales. Similarly, before dropping out, Bernie Sanders wished to ban sales of assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and bump stocks, and make assault weapon ownership “essentially…unlawful.” However, the solution to our nation’s gun violence is not through infringing upon our Second Amendment rights.
Contrary to what is commonly believed, the vast majority of deaths by guns are not from mass shootings but are instead at a more individual level. While school shootings are an obvious tragedy and problem, schools are still among the safest places for students. The number of students killed in schools has actually declined by 75% since the 1990s.
While there are 110,000 gun-related homicides in the U.S. each year, mass shootings only comprise about 2% of these deaths. Psychologist Laurence Steinberg reports that these “street homicides” are much more likely to occur in inner-city areas, involve an illegally obtained handgun, substance use and an offender with a violent history. Experts agree that the best approaches to ending school shootings are to limit access to firearms for young people, incentivize tipping off law enforcement about high-risk students, and provide stronger mental health services for young people.
It is understandable why many believe that weapons of war should not be accessible to civilians. However, since the vast majority of gun-related homicides occur in individual street shootings instead of mass shootings, attacking assault weapons is not the best solution to solving our gun violence epidemic. Again, to reduce mass shootings, psychologists advocate that young people receive better mental health screenings and treatments, and have reduced access to any type of guns. Most school shooters use guns legally purchased by members of their household, so perhaps there should be better regulations about “locking up” assault weapons in houses or even purchasing assault weapons when there are adolescents in the household.
Considering that up to 20% of youth may struggle with mental health, the vast majority of mentally ill youth do not perpetrate such violent acts. However, since the FBI estimates that 64% of U.S. gun homicides are caused by handguns, and only 4% of them are caused by rifles or assault rifles, trying to ban assault weapons does not address the true root of gun violence in the U.S.
Restricting Americans’ right to bear arms will not solve gun violence. Restricting law-abiding citizens from legally purchasing guns will not prevent criminals from obtaining guns. By their nature, criminals do not obey laws; criminals will, therefore, obtain guns even if they are illegal. Instead of disarming law-abiding citizens, individuals should be able to defend themselves and others.
Chicago has some of the tightest gun restriction laws in the nation but still had 4,000 gun deaths in 2016. Despite Maryland’s passage of the Firearm Safety Act in 2013, Baltimore continues to have one of the highest murder rates in the nation and saw an increase in gun homicides in ensuing years. Relatedly, on the same day of the Sandy Hook massacre in Colorado, one of numerous mass stabbing attacks in China resulted in 24 people non-fatally stabbed. Since most gun homicides result from illegally obtained handguns, banning assault rifles or preventing lawful citizens from purchasing guns will not solve gun violence.
Our Second Amendment rights were granted to us to protect ourselves. Whether used as protection against tyranny, self-defense, hunting or recreational target practice, our Second Amendment rights are quintessential. Americans should wish to retain their Second Amendment rights just as much as any other right, as surrendering any right granted to us in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights will likely be permanent. Surrendering any right is a slippery slope to losing our other rights.
Policymakers should limit youth’s firearm access, and promote adolescent mental health services, to prevent mass shootings. To prevent the much more common street shootings, policymakers should promote inner-city education and employment, and should crackdown on drugs and black-market weapons trading. Other bipartisan solutions include stronger background checks, banning bumpstocks and not allowing flight-risk or terrorist watchlist individuals to purchase guns. Our Second Amendment rights do not cause gun violence; they help protect us from gun violence.