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Weingarten: The gun issue

Opinion+Editor+Caleb+Weingarten+discusses+why+more+conversation+on+the+gun+issue+is+more+needed+than+ever.%C2%A0
Opinion Editor Caleb Weingarten discusses why more conversation on the “gun issue” is more needed than ever. 

Content warning: The following story contains mentions of gun violence, suicide.

Over the past few weeks, two young men I attended high school with were fatally shot. These incidents are part of a theme that has become all too common in America: death by shooting. In fact, anyone who spends time on social media has seen that the “gun issue” has become a fundamental descriptor of American culture; not the Second Amendment, but the reality that almost anywhere we go is not safe from anyone using that right in public. This is indisputable.

So what do I propose? To the surprise of some, I am not in favor of overturning the Second Amendment. I believe it represents a certain barrier between the government and the people that is necessary. However, to be concerned about this issue need not have a partisan commitment behind it. To feel perturbed by the continuous killing of Americans by guns is no less of an issue than drug overdoses or car accidents. When people die, we should always investigate why, regardless of one’s worldview.

According to the Pew Research Center (PRC), “More Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2021 than in any other year on record.” Moreover, “that included record numbers of both gun murders and gun suicides.”

The study shows that 43% of gun deaths in America in 2021 were murders and 54% were suicides.

“About eight-in-ten U.S. murders in 2021—20,958 out of 26,031, or 81%—involved a firearm. That marked the highest percentage since at least 1968, the earliest year for which the CDC has online records,” it reads.

What is so appalling about these statistics is how they continue to rise.

“The record 48,830 total gun deaths in 2021 reflect a 23% increase since 2019, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic,” the study reads.

The first way to approach an issue like this is to ask why. Is it a legal problem, with laws too relaxed or too stringent? Is it not a legal matter at all and strictly a mental health problem? Is it guns that are the problem themselves or that too many people who shouldn’t have access to them do?

One can say simply that the problem is a mix of all of the things listed. I am no legal scholar or gun expert and am not attempting to make a political case either way. I do believe that guns, at the end of the day, are killing people. Sure, someone with severe mental health disorders is the one who pulls the trigger, but the trigger is attached to a machine that clearly serves the interests of that individual. Guns reward impulsive behavior with shocking results.

It is hard not to want a full stop on guns when people close to you die because of them, but this is certainly an overly simplistic outlook. By contrast, I support the legal ownership of weapons, especially for responsible Americans who are concerned with self-defense or have varied sporting interests such as hunting or marksmanship. I am not detached from this world either. A large part of my young life was spent in the Rocky Mountains hunting and learning how to properly use a gun. I also completed courses in both gun and hunting safety. To see these hobbies and sports stripped from people is not what I wish for.

On the other hand, I believe human life is far more valuable than our hobbies and guns are the core of the issue, along with mental health. I want to bring more awareness and discussion around this topic. Every debate around guns results in two antithetical positions: either guns are the problem or they are not. I have written about this in the past with a more urgent tone for our lawmakers to actually do something. I still push this agenda intensely. However, I aim for nuance, not the same recycled chatter.

This means we all must do our best to educate ourselves on the issue. Guns are not ever going to magically disappear, nor should they. Shootings have not always existed at the level we have seen, so we know there is an alternative. I, and many others, are tired of seeing our friends and loved ones be slain for no reason. The startling amount of people who use guns to commit suicide must also be at the center of our conversations if we are to truly address the issue. As the PRC data above showed, most murders are committed with guns, and so are suicides, which account for over half of gun deaths overall.

To make progress, there must be a basic acknowledgment of all the factors involved, not just a single-minded approach to one. The latter approach is all too common in debates around guns.

The bottom line is that if we care about our fellow Americans, then guns must be treated with the same caution and respect as other tragedies such as drug overdoses. A common retort would be that since guns are afforded to the population via the Second Amendment, there is no discussion to be had. The verdict is final.

However, when gun violence gets too close to home, this view suddenly becomes a little less important. When tens of thousands of Americans are needlessly dying every year, I am unapologetic in saying that something needs to change. What these changes are, I do not know. None of us do without dialogue.

Note: If anyone has any good educational resources they would like to suggest, please leave them in the comments. It would be beneficial for my interest, but also for the interest of the reader. 

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  • A

    Adam and eve | Nov 29, 2023 at 4:47 pm

    I believe this is the exact situation the U.S. has fostered and thrives upon. Our society has withered away to isolation alienation and infighting. Whether it be through class struggle and consumerism, through homegenization of culture and ideas, the obvious social media and technology, but also the idea of our democracy. Everyone has an opinion on everything (that’s what democracy is about), and with ready access to everyone’s opinion through the swipe of a thumb, people are reduced to that exact thing, one swipe and your life has no meaning. I believe this to be the factor in tearing our connectedness as a people apart, when we want true connection but no one will entertain each other for it. You walk through a grocery store and no one looks up to you, food is the least of our priorities, it’s rush into the store and grab and go. When someone does speak to you, more than likely they will bring up a sort of passive income within a minute. We have lost the humanity in our neighbor, and then we wonder why people slaughter others. When dollars run the world, life, and death (through guns or other ways) will be reduced to that green bill in someone’s pocket.

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  • T

    Tia Blansett | Nov 29, 2023 at 11:37 am

    If we explore the mental illness angle, we can expand the analysis to include other issues in America. These issues include the homeless population that has made national news. In the middle of the last century, the mental hospitals started to close and this closure has been linked to increasing the homeless population. Using the data on mental illness in death by firearms and the numbers of the homeless population, we have to ask what possible solutions are there for caring for those with severe mental illness?

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