By JOHN BUTERBAUGH
I’ll admit. I don’t care for guns. I don’t hunt, and I don’t play violent video games. However, my distaste for guns has little influence on my gun policy views. I used to base my opinion on personal opposition to gun ownership, but I’ve realized gun violence is complicated and polarizing. Many argue that we should ban assault weapons, and many argue that we should arm teachers to protect children. How do we reconcile these two stances? Yes, we could theoretically have an assault weapons ban and arm our teachers. Yet, even if we could reconcile the two sides of the gun debate, the compromise can have flaws. We need to pick the best ideas from each party not just choose one party’s solution. In other words, we must select our gun policies a la carte.
Gun control advocates call for banning certain types of firearms, restricting concealed carry, and/or requiring background checks on criminal record or violent mental illness. These solutions have some flaws. With background checks, a firearms seller can check a potential buyer’s criminal or mental health record. 93% of Americans support background checks for criminal or mental health records. However, only about 5% of the guns used in gun homicides in the U.S. were obtained legally. About 14% were stolen, and that number could easily be higher seeing as that 80% of stolen guns are never recovered. Some criminals still buy guns on the black market but less often than expected. Most of the remaining guns were obtained through straw purchases, a transaction in which one person buys on behalf on someone who is legally unable to obtain a gun (age, criminal record, old friend, etc.) So, even if you implement background checks, a bad guy can easily have a buddy with a clean record buy a gun. However, because many mass murderers are loners, they might have difficulty finding a friend willing to buy them a gun. In addition, many mass shooters were or are suspected of being mentally ill. We must be very conscientious of the different varieties of mental disorders. A psychiatrist must determine if a mentally ill individual shows violent enough tendencies to preclude them from buying a gun. Otherwise, individuals with mild mental disorders are labeled as a threat when they shouldn’t be.
Another policy is to restrict concealed carry of firearms. If someone carries a gun on them where no one can see it, he or she is breaking the law. Up until a 2012 Supreme Court case, many states banned concealed carry of firearms. Now, however, all states allow individuals to carry guns on them, sometimes for a fee and sometimes for no fee. This recent change in laws shows a great deal of progress in understanding how gun crimes arise and how they don’t. Law-abiding citizens will obey the concealed carry ban and have no gun to protect themselves; criminals will disobey the law and create mayhem. Many instances have occurred in which law-abiding citizens could have stopped a shooter from taking lives, but we can’t always guarantee that someone will take on the role of the hero. In fact, only 3% of shootings were stopped by a “good guy” with a gun.
You may continue to argue the constitutionality of gun control, but we should consider violent consequences as opposed to constitutional implications. We must consider which types of guns to ban. The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 banned semi-automatic weapons that merely look like machine guns. In other words, the gun appears to fire multiple rounds in one pull of the trigger but it only fires one round with each pull of the trigger. Machine guns are already essentially illegal; so, the Assault Weapons Ban was a watered-down policy that simply banned guns that look especially dangerous. In any case, shotguns and handguns are the most commonly used guns in gun deaths, not “assault weapons.”
In Japan, civilians may not own handguns. A Japanese civilian can still legally obtain a shotgun, but he or she has to pass rigorous classes and tests. Those with a documented mental illness or a criminal record may not own a gun in Japan. The implementation of tight gun control in Japan has largely been successful. In 1994, Japan had 0.07 gun deaths per 100,000 people, most of which were due to gang violence. In 2010, the U.S. had 10 gun deaths per 100,000 people. Because Japan not only banned assault weapons but also handguns, the government was able to effectively decrease gun violence. In 1996, Australia implemented a similar policy after a long string of mass shootings.
Many Americans are staunchly opposed to the gun control policies that Japan implemented. Instead of restricting gun purchases or gun use, they offer to enhance security and toughen enforcement of laws. Schools could install bulletproof windows, lock doors from the inside, install metal detectors in entrances, hire school resource officers (SROs), and arm staff to protect the kids. SROs have been unreliable in stopping mass shooters. While the school resource officer was eating lunch in the Columbine High School cafeteria, the two Columbine shooters were running around shooting people. Even when an officer spotted one of the shooters outside the high school, the officer failed to hit the shooter every time he shot at him. Having only one SRO is a very ineffective way of protecting every classroom.
By arming teachers, you have the equivalent of an SRO for every classroom. If a shooter aims at innocent children, teachers can simply pull out their gun, shoot the shooter, and reduce the number of deaths from 20 or 30 to 1 or 2. As an educator, I would have a few issues with having to pull out a gun and shoot somebody. American soldiers often return home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because they kill people after all, and teachers are no more immune to PTSD. Also, the perpetrators can easily conceal a handgun, shoot the teachers when they aren’t looking and now the students are dead meat. To make this policy work, doors must be lockable, and teachers must have guns available to them. Still, the shooters aren’t stupid. The Aurora theater shooter was very deadly but also very methodical. Because the Aurora shooter released some irritant or smoke at the crowd, aiming a gun at him would have been difficult. If anything, you should probably buy your kids a bulletproof vest and bulletproof backpack, but the idea is rather unsettling.