Heckle: U.S. gun policies need update


Courtesy of IStock

Columnist Heckle believes that legislation is needed for gun control, including legislation involving background checks on gun owners.

Michael Heckle

The tragic shooting in Roseburg, Ore., is the 265th of its kind in the last year alone. No other country has the problem of 265 mass shootings. This is a terrifying reality.

No matter what one’s political stance is, it is hard to disagree that America has a problem. But what do we do to solve it? After years of watching innocent people die, our government is still gridlocked, and there is fault on both sides. What is interesting is the opposition to reasonable legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them and has little effect on an average person’s second amendment rights.

The term “gun control” is a dirty word in right-wing politics, yet control over who can obtain guns may be the only real solution. Maybe it’s time for those on both sides to redefine the issue. However, Second Amendment rights are important. Over one-third of Americans own a firearm, with ownership averages varying from state to state. Pew Research estimates that there are 310 million guns in the United States. For many, there is a real concern about self-defense and conservation of rights.

The most extreme left view seems to be that of a universal gun ban. However, with 310 million guns in the United States and a constitutional right that defends individual gun ownership, that doesn’t seem to be anywhere near possible. Not to mention the arguments made toward the ineffectiveness of a gun ban, commonly compared to the war on drugs. 

Furthermore, logic seems to portray that law-abiding gun owners, for the most part, would be left unarmed while criminals would be in possession of the remaining weapons. Though it’s hard to find solid evidence to back this claim, it is a real concern for many Americans.

Yet both gun owners and non-gun owners should be able to recognize that there are certain people in this world who should not have access to firearms — period.  In the same vein, Republicans tend to blame mass shootings and other forms of gun violence on our failing mental health system, even going so far as to revive a Mental Health Bill that would make seeking treatment easier. However, this appears to be disingenuous.

It seems that Republicans turn the table toward mental health so they don’t have to talk about real gun legislation. Though mental health is absolutely crucial to the stability of the country, Republicans aren’t addressing the issue of non-mental health related violence, which makes up the majority of gun violence in the country.

The only proven solution to gun violence in the United States seems to be the use of background checks. Though many proponents of the right argue against the effectiveness of background checks, their arguments seem to be unfounded. Gun deaths dropped by over 40 percent in Connecticut when a 1994 law requiring a background check and gun safety courses was ratified. Over 2.4 million felons and mentally ill individuals have been blocked from receiving a firearm from 1994-2012 nationally. On the other side of the spectrum, when Missouri repealed its permit-to-purchase hand gun law in 2007, murder rates increased by 14 percent. and firearm-related homicides increased by 25 percent. No such increase was found in neighboring states.

However, given the rate of gun violence in the United States, this obviously isn’t enough.

Both Dylann Roof and John Russell Houser would have been unable to purchase a fire arm if the background check system we currently have would have worked as intended. Two years ago, Republicans defeated a bill that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and internet sales, which would have been the first successful piece of legislation on gun ownership in two decades. It is hard to fathom why anyone would oppose the advancement of polices that are proven to reduce violence.

But Republicans seem to be changing their tune, at least slightly.

In August 2015, Republican Sen. John Cornyn, backed by the National Rifle Association, proposed a bill that would reward states for sending information about mentally ill residents to the federal background check system. This is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough.

Instead of focusing on the minority of gun violence in America — those caused by mental illness — our leaders need to implement new laws to better regulate private sales, gun shows, and internet transfers.

Though background checks may not be the only piece of legislation needed, as an honest conversation about what kinds of firearms individuals should own needs to happen, it is completely ridiculous that anyone can oppose legislation that has been proven effective in reducing violence.