On November 5, the town of Sutherland Springs suffered the cruel fate of one of America’s growing epidemics: gun violence. A shooter claimed the lives of 26 people and occurred only 35 days since the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history. And yet, the problem never lies with the weapon whose purpose doesn’t seem to go beyond some form of violence, but with those who intend to use it for just that purpose.
President Donald Trump issued the following statement on gun control.
“This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event. A very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it.”
To put it simply, this is the same “Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People” propaganda that has redundantly plagued the national debate on gun control. The mental health problem that Trump shifts his blame to leaves any room for argument against the actual violent mechanisms left untouched.
But let’s take apart Trump’s bumper-sticker philosophy on gun control and really try to understand it, which admittedly is a simple sentiment to understand as it relies on simple semantics more than it does on any empirical foundation.
Let’s start with his very first sentence, “This isn’t a guns situation.” What does he mean by this? At the root of this tragedy, the man who sought to kill and terrorize the people of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs used one of the United States’ most widely recognized amendments as a means to his and other civilians fatal ends. The result is still the same: 26 people were killed, and while the terrorist who committed the atrocity was stopped by a civilian wielding his own firearm, it stands to reason why this should even be the requirement to stopping a mass shooting (“…an armed society is a polite society”). Regardless, 26 people were killed despite the bravery of the man who shot the shooter in a state where 35.7 percent of the population owns firearms, according to Business Insider.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are 270 million to 310 million firearms currently in circulation in the U.S., which would mean there is about one firearm for every man, woman, or child. However, the majority of Americans do not exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms. So, where are all of these guns? When the PRC decided to track down how many people in the U.S. legally own firearms, they conducted a survey that determined that 37 percent of households had an adult who owned one. This fact that becomes particularly haunting when one re-examines the total number of guns that the Las Vegas shooter had: 47 guns in total (23 of which he brought into his room at Mandalay Bay, according to CNN).
Yet, we don’t ignore this minority population’s cry to keep their Second Amendment right, which the majority of people aren’t arguing to ban entirely. Instead, many argue that those who purchase firearms be held to a higher standard with systems like universal background checks. The PRC’s survey gave further evidence that 49 percent of people in households without guns believe banning all guns would give the government too much power over its citizens. Still, they believe that stricter gun control could impact the number of mass shootings and accidents, as well as keep them out of the hands of criminals.
Gun control is an attempt to reform legislation for those who have access to firearms because the responsibility of having access to deadly weaponry must be regulated. Systems like universal background checks would enable institutions that sell firearms to restrict selling to criminals or those with mental health issues. So, why aren’t these restrictions being pushed for in Congress despite the population, both gun owners and non-gun owners, supporting universal background checks? Something that could’ve prevented the tragedy that happened at Sutherland Springs, as it wasn’t reported that the Texas shooter had domestic violence charges against him. He slipped through the cracks because of a failed report from the Air Force, according to CNN.
It’s unclear as to why the push for stricter gun access measures isn’t taken seriously amongst our representatives. The National Review posits that elected officials are much more likely to be removed from their office when they vote for stricter regulation on guns instead of against it. The general population of both gun owners and non-gun owners believe that our Second Amendment right is a point of power reserved for its citizens The American consciousness remains skeptical of their government and using this power inspires some confidence in the U.S. remaining a free nation. But if the distribution of guns is limited to a minority of Americans, it makes for an odd argument. It seems the symbolism of firearms carries more weight in the psychology of the U.S. rather than their actual participation of this particular American right. It’s a part of the American myth of Rough Riders and Cowboys that the social consciousness clings to for whatever reason.
Despite Trump’s reasoning for mass shootings being a “mental health problem at the highest levels,” he has made it easier for people with certain mental health issues to be permitted the purchase of firearms. He repealed a rule that would have had the Social Security Administration report “mentally ill beneficiaries to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.” Why skew the argument to mental illness when at the heart of every mass shooting is also the easy accessibility to guns?
The argument itself is nuanced enough to have both these topics come into play. Blame can’t be solely cast to only mental illness or otherwise when it comes to these mass shootings. It’s both mental illness and easy access to firearms that allow tragedies like Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, and Sandy Hook to occur.
Trump received the most financial support that the NRA has given during a U.S. presidential campaign, according to NBC News. The NRA spent $9.6 million “on ads and other Pro-Trump materials.” Then they spent another $12 million on propaganda that attacked Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton as they viewed her as a threat who would have nominated a Supreme Court justice that would have been tough on the accessibility to guns.
The other problem of mental illness receiving the majority of responsibility for mass shootings demonizes those who are afflicted. According to Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, little evidence shows that simply removing those with mental illness from having access to firearms would prevent mass shootings from occurring. Only 4 percent of the violence committed in the U.S. can be attributed to those with mental illness. The suggestion that violence such as mass shootings are committed by those with mental goes against the evidence. In fact, violence occurs within those with and without mental illnesses due to other factors such as a “history of violent crime, perpetuation of domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse.”
His final statement about this being “a very, very sad event” cannot be argued. This is a blight on the history of the United States, but to sum up the issue of gun control as merely a mental illness issue detracts from the fact that there is a disproportionate amount of guns to gun owners out there and a narrative that demonizes people with mental illness. It creates a two-dimensional perspective on mass shootings in the United States without taking into account the feelings of the American people. People want stricter gun control, but don’t want their Second Amendment completely banished. However, the more mass shootings occurring in the U.S. does make it harder to not talk about guns as a blameless object without persecuting its purpose. Guns don’t kill people, but their purpose to fire projectiles leaves little application for anything other than killing people or living things.
[Featured Image by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]