By Asah Whalen
The Las Vegas concert massacre was a devastating event for our country. The underlying societal problems that cause these issues cannot be fixed via gun control, but through strong improvement to the services government provides. Gun control measures are typically meant to curb murder using firearms. Murder includes mass shootings, gang violence; more broadly the unlawful, premeditated killing of one human being by another. The reason there are so many gun deaths isn’t the availability of firearms in America, it is the lack of adequate social services for those who need them.
The 2015 FBI report on crime in the United States, counted 13,455 murders across America that year. The FBI reported 71.9% of the murders were committed with a firearm. Of these murders, 6,447 were committed with handguns, which are not classified as assault weapons. Rifles on the other hand, are classified as assault weapons and were responsible for 252 murders. Why are handguns used significantly more than rifles in these statistics? Handguns are typically used more prevalently in gang related violence.
The 2015 FBI crime report also noted that 56% of murder related arrests in 2015 were of black men in impoverished areas. Unfortunately, 51% of the murders in America involve black victims, even though only 13% of the population is made up of black people. It is a double standard to have the circus that comes after a mass shooting that killed 59 people, but silence after another 500 young African Americans die in the streets of Chicago.
The Huffington Post published an article detailing Boston’s significant reduction instances of gang violence and murder, through a program called Operation Ceasefire. The program brought together law enforcement and leaders of civil societies in the most dangerous parts of the city. Leaders approached local youth at risk of becoming involved in gang violence, promising “an immediate crackdown on every member of the next group that put a body on the ground — and immediate assistance for everyone who wanted help turning their lives around.” The program reduced the number of murders by 63% between 1996-1998, saving countless young lives in urban areas. The program accomplished this without enacting stricter gun control laws in the process.
This example–one of many–shows that taking away guns is a knee jerk reaction, avoiding the real underlying issues. Underserved populations, and people who don’t have a healthy and accepting community are most at risk for committing violent acts. These acts aren’t the problem of guns, but of people that have been underserved by their community throughout their entire existence. Adam Lanza, the man who committed a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School had untreated depression, anxiety, OCD and was autistic. He killed his mother before murdering the many innocent children of Sandy Hook Elementary School. He obviously really needed more medical attention and services than he received. The Las Vegas shooter was obviously not mentally well, but we will have to wait for more FBI findings to make a determination about his exact state. Banning assault weapons would not have stopped either of those shooters from committing a violent act, they would have found another way to commit their murderous rampage.
I’ve lived and been around firearms most of my life and every gun owner I’ve met and interacted with has treated their firearms with respect. It is an extreme minority of people who use firearms in a harmful manner. Politifact, a fact-checking website, determined from numerous studies that of prisoners who had a gun, 3 and 11 percent purchased the weapon at a store or gun show. Legislators need to make sure that if a person is at risk of being a violent criminal, they get the help and medicine that they need. Let’s focus on fixing our broken mental health system and social safety net in order to fix the systemic poverty and other social issues that cause gun violence. Having responsible gun owners answer for the actions of the mentally deranged will not lead to less murder, it will only lead to harsher vocal dissent.
If you have never handled a firearm I encourage you to seek out a gun range or community event night where you can shoot firearms with people who have been using them their whole life and know the responsible way to utilize them.
Asah Whalen ’19 is a political science major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.