“Lather, rinse, repeat.” This shampoo-inspired regimen is an apt metaphor for many of life’s processes and cycles, not the least of which being the American gun control debate. Here, the “lather” step would involve a disgruntled individual, usually but not always acting alone, embarking on a multi-victim shooting spree where the casualties are often innocent people (and sometimes children) associated with a person, institution or other entity perceived to have done the shooter wrong. CNN helicopters hover over the scene, beaming images of a newly-created warzone ringed with SWAT vans and innumerable police cars to all corners of the country. Once the suspect and victims are accounted for, the “rinse” stage commences: politicians and public figures offer thoughts, prayers and condolences to the victims and their families; gun control advocates lament another catastrophe that seemingly could have been lessened or avoided; and champions of the second amendment call out these advocates for “politicizing” a tragedy and thereby disrespecting the victims and their families. Like clockwork, the news cycle moves elsewhere, the furor surrounding the particular incident ebbs, NRA lobbyists in Washington put in a few extra hours for a couple of weeks, people on both sides of the issue go back to their everyday lives, and the process inevitably repeats itself. “Lather, rinse, repeat.”
Call it wishful thinking, but I don’t believe that horrific mass shootings like the one in South Florida on Valentine’s Day should ever be accepted as an inevitable fact of life in what many call the greatest country on Earth. In my fantasy world, U.S. gun control laws would resemble those in Japan, where gun ownership is heavily regulated and annual gun deaths in a country of 130 million people sometimes remain in the single digits (there’s a great BBC News article about it, go take a look!). Somewhat sadly, the realist in me sees what the idealist cannot: we live in the United States of America, which, unlike Japan or Australia or the U.K. or any other developed nation, was founded in part on the right to bear arms and maintain a well-regulated militia (not sure what’s become of our well-regulated militia, though).
I believe that to make any progress on gun control, we must concede that guns aren’t going to disappear from this country or its culture at any time in the foreseeable future, and that we must take little steps before we can take big ones.
The shooter in South Florida is reported to have used an AR-15 style rifle. For those like me who know very little about military-grade weaponry, an AR-15 is a high-powered, semi-automatic rifle that supports magazine sizes ranging from 5 to 30 rounds. In my opinion (the manufacturer might disagree with me here), weapons like the AR-15, especially those with high-capacity magazines, are primarily designed to take human life as quickly and efficiently as possible. I don’t believe that either of the two major motivations for individual gun ownership — self-defense and hunting/recreation — merit owning such a weapon. You may argue that not being able to acquire this kind of rifle would not have deterred the gunman, that he would have used a pistol or hunting rifle instead.
Maybe yes, and maybe no, but I would argue that in any case many fewer lives would have been lost given the less aggressive capabilities of his chosen weapon. If this seems a bit pedantic — “If there’s still going to be a mass shooting, do numbers really matter?” — consider the victims and their families. Every victim has a story, hopes and dreams, a family and friends; I often wonder how many of those opposed to this kind of gun control have a personal connection to someone victimized by a mass shooting (my guess would be not many).
If even one life is saved or shooting prevented by curbing the availability of weapons like the AR-15 (and accessories like the bump stocks used in the Las Vegas shooting) that seem to have no purpose outside of ending multiple lives at once, legislative steps should be taken.
Simple steps include limiting available magazine sizes, more closely regulating the sale and ownership of particularly dangerous weapons and (since I’m writing to Tech students) built-in biometric security mechanisms. If you’re as unhappy with the current gun situation here in the U.S. as I am, I would urge you to join me in engaging with our legislators and other elected officials both here in Georgia and at the national level. I learned while protesting the tax on graduate tuition waivers last year that the good ones, even if they don’t totally agree with you, will at the very least listen to what you have to say!