Another weekend has passed, and with it, more innocent lives have been lost at the hands of domestic terrorists carrying out mass shootings.
In Texas, on Saturday, many El Paso families were enjoying a tax-free weekend as they shopped for school supplies at a local Walmart — not unlike many Arkansans who were doing the same. What was a routine, annual outing quickly turned into a heinous, heart-rending atrocity. At approximately 10:39 a.m., Patrick Crusius, a white nationalist out of Dallas entered the Walmart and opened fire on the innocent patrons inside. According to the El Paso Police Chief, Crusius’ weapon was an “AK-47-like assault rifle,” and was purchased legally.
Twenty-two people were killed and almost 30 additional individuals were injured in the nation’s worst mass shooting since Las Vegas, in 2017. The victims’ ages ranged from 2 years old to 82.
Just hours later, another tragic act of gun violence took shape in Dayton, Ohio. Connor Stephen Betts targeted a popular district with numerous bars and restaurants, armed with a .223 caliber AR-15-styled pistol he had purchased legally, and modified to hold up to 250 rounds. According to police, he fired at least 41 rounds in less than a minute.
In Dayton, the event went as “according to plan” as one could hope, from the law enforcement perspective. Officers were on patrol in the district and fired on, and killed, Betts within 30 seconds of him opening fire on innocent civilians. Even still, nine more lives were lost in the Dayton mass shooting, including the shooter’s sister. At least 27 more were injured.
In a news cycle filled with talk of mass shootings, it is important not to overlook the full scope of gun-related deaths, and not to lose sight of the challenge at hand. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, nearly 40,000 Americans died from firearms in 2017. Almost 15,000 of those were homicides; 24,000 were suicides; mass shootings represented 451.
Homicides involving guns occur at a rate 25 times higher in the United States than in other developed, high-income nations, and gun-related suicides are eight times higher in the U.S. by that same metric.
What do we do? Massive acts of gun violence like we saw this past weekend are a very American problem, as are gun-related deaths in general. Yet, year after year, these tragedies pass us by with little to no meaningful resolutions. Have we learned nothing? Are we that desensitized? Are our political divisions that steep, that we cannot find common ground anywhere to work toward preventing the loss of innocent life?
For the latter, Democrats and Republicans alike may be surprised to know just how much agreement there is as it relates to gun control. And no, phrases like “gun control” and “gun debates” are not a cause for pitchfork gathering and soapbox monologuing about rights. The “ban all guns” crowd is as fringe as those who wish for zero gun regulation at all. For most, there are plenty of agreements to be had.
Trey Gowdy, republican and former U.S. Representative from South Carolina, said this on Fox News on Sunday, after the shootings:
“The right-to-life is the most fundamental, basic, primary right that we have. It is the right from which all other rights emanate. It doesn’t matter if you have the right to a lawyer if you are dead. It doesn’t matter if you have the right to free speech if you are dead. Doesn’t matter if you have the right to keep and bear arms if you are dead. So, on a personal level, I’m willing to subrogate any of my other rights to avoid another Sandy Hook, another pulse nightclub, another day like we had yesterday. But I’m out of politics and I’m not going back. So the legislators need to look at the laws on the books, are they being enforced?”
Universal Background Checks
Universal background checks would eliminate various loopholes in the purchasing of firearms in America, including the “gun show loophole” as well as the loophole of private and online arms sales, all of which allow dealers and buyers to skirt around running background checks before making a transaction. Many individuals (including criminals) who would otherwise not be able to purchase a firearm utilize these methods. With this law, dealers would be held accountable for selling guns without first running a background check.
A 2015 study by researchers from Northeastern and Harvard estimates that around 22 percent of gun acquisitions in the U.S. happen without a background check.
A recent poll from Quinnipiac identified that 93 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun purchases. The same poll found that 86 percent of Americans, and 76 percent of Republicans, supported a bill (Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019) passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year that would have made universal background checks law. The bill was co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Pete King (R-NY). But the White House threatened to veto the bill if it reached President Trump’s desk, and it sat in Senate purgatory for the past six months; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not allowed it to be brought to the floor for a vote.
However, President Trump has often touted his support of strengthening background checks, including following these most recent mass shootings.
“Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform,” the President tweeted.
Red Flag Laws
On Sunday, Ivanka Trump, daughter and advisor to the President of the United States, tweeted her imploring support for every state to pass red flag laws. It was a retweet of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was also displaying his support for such legislation, which he is now working on with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Congress should enact Red Flag laws/ Extreme Risk Protection Orders in EVERY state and increase resources dedicated to mental health support. https://t.co/YWgccND8dH
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) August 4, 2019
In his televised address to the American people on Monday, President Trump himself spoke of his support for this “gun control.”
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” President Trump said. “That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.
President Trump also noted that last year, the Parkland shooter had “many red flags against him, and yet nobody took decisive action.”
Essentially, extreme risk protection orders — or red flag laws — allow courts and law enforcement to intervene to prevent someone who is a danger to either themselves or others from obtaining firearms, temporarily or otherwise.
Currently, there is no federal law regarding red flag laws, and only 17 states have passed them (before the Parkland massacre, there were merely five). However, a 2018 poll found that around 85 percent of registered voters supported such laws.
In Arkansas, we have our own recent history of this unnecessary hang up for what is actually popular legislation.
Earlier this year, state senator Greg Leding (D) and Sen. Will Bond (D) co-sponsored a red flag bill, SB 621, that would have added Arkansas to the list of states with these types of laws on the books. It failed in committee along party lines; with Democrats voting for, and Republicans of the committee voting against.
“Senator Bond and I tried to pass a red flag bill earlier this year,” Sen. Leding told Arkansas Money & Politics. “We worked with law enforcement officers, prosecutors, gun safety groups and others to make sure we put together a meaningful bill that protected individual rights while protecting the public.”
While the bill did not make it passed the Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs, Sens. Leding and Bond plan to bring it back to the table in 2021.
A Psychiatric Services study in 2018 found that, after adopting similar measures, gun-related suicides fell 7.5 percent over a 10-year span in Indiana, and 13.7 percent in Connecticut.
Waiting period laws require an acquisition delay, usually three to seven days, after purchasing a firearm. This has the potential to create “cooling off” periods, where impulsive thoughts may pass. These provisions do not restrict or infringe upon the rights of who can and can’t buy a gun.
A federal waiting period on handguns used to be federal law through the 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act. The waiting period law expired after just five years, in 1999, and was not renewed.
According to a 2017 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of the United States of America, enacting a waiting period of just a few days can reduce gun-related homicides by about 17 percent.
On the topic of gun suicides, the same study estimates that a waiting period reduces these deaths by 7 to 11 percent.
A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll from 2017 found 78 percent of registered voters support a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
Is It The Guns?
In response to the tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, many political leaders proposed alternative causes to the American gun-death problem that do not revolve around guns.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, President Donald Trump and many others, laid out theories that violent video games were at least of partial blame.
During his public address on Monday, President Trump also placed blame at the feet of mental health laws, asserting that “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
When looking at the facts on these issues, it is important to compare ourselves with other countries around the world to see if there is a correlation that separates us.
As it pertains to video games, there does not seem to be one, at least by the data.
Graph courtesy of Vox
However, studies have found links to physical aggression, and the World Health Organization identifies “video game addiction” as a mental health disorder. Even still, any potential detriments that some video games may pose are true across the board, not just in the United States.
In short, many countries have cultures of video games; some even more so than the U.S. Our violent gun deaths are singular to us among them.
In regards to mental health, Rosie Phillips Davis, President of the American Psychological Association, said in a statement that “routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing.”
Davis went on to say that, “the rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them.”
It is hard not to see the truth in the point she is making. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, about 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience mental health problems every year. In a country where roughly two-thirds of our gun-related deaths are suicides, further generalizing, stigmatizing and scapegoating mental illness for violent crimes may be counterproductive. We should embrace and pursue a better understanding of mental health, without vilifying our peers for crimes they have not committed.
Additionally, individuals with mental health disorders are actually 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators.
And even further, as it pertains to mental health, we must not forget the effects that exposure to gun violence can have on survivors. Just this year, two of the students who survived Parkland and one of the fathers of a child killed at Sandy Hook died by suicide.
Mental illness is a concern in the U.S., and around the world. But we should tread lightly before we shallowly make it a “boogeyman,” and move in the opposite direction of progress on the mental health front.
Like video games, mental illness is not a singular phenomena occurring only in the U.S.
There are more guns than people in the United States (around 120 guns per 100 residents in the United States) and Americans own almost half of the world’s civilian-owned guns, according to 2018’s Small Arms Survey. Yemen is a distant second in guns per capita, with about 53 per 100 residents.
From 1999 to 2016, the state of Arkansas was seventh-worst in the nation in per capita gun deaths, according to a study by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Perhaps of no coincidence, Arkansas has none of the three laws of common ground mentioned above and, in full, is one of the laxest on “gun laws” in the United States.
These laws are not restrictive. They are not infringements on the Supreme Court’s current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. Actually, most of the regulatory measures that most Americans agree on are carefully crafted in observance of that interpretation, so as not to violate constitutionality. For most Americans and Arkansans, universal background checks, red flag laws and waiting periods would have little to no effect on day-to-day life. But the numerous studies show, the effect that would occur is in a reduction of unnecessary loss of innocent life.
Let us tear down these dividing walls and be more cognizant of where we agree with each other so that we can move forward with substantive change. Lives literally depend on it.