Roundtable: Action against gun violence

Thursday, October 5, 2017 - 6:03pm

Monday’s Las Vegas shooting, which left at least 59 dead and 500 injured, adds another tally to the United States’ dark history of gun violence. Action must be taken in order to end these incredibly avoidable catastrophes. The Michigan Daily Editorial Board believes issues surrounding gun violence should be politicized in order to enact much-needed change. In the following roundtable discussion, Opinion contributors suggest three different ways to help eliminate gun violence in the U.S.

—The Michigan Daily Editorial Board 

Local and State Level Policy

If you are older than the age of 25, you have lived through six of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in United States history. Despite our nation’s collective nausea, the shooting in Las Vegas is yet another example that disgust has failed to beget legislative changes. After all, the last time our Congress passed any gun control legislation was 2013. With NRA-backed Republicans controlling both the executive and legislative branches, prospects in the near future are grim. Because of their inaction, we clearly cannot wait any longer to consider alternative means of progress. We must start demanding change in our states, counties and cities. 

“Local” change is almost a pejorative; everybody knows nationwide change has a greater impact and a wider reach. But, if politics is the art of the possible, then we cannot keep counting on Congress to pass the kind of laws many of us can see are so desperately needed. The consequences of stalled reform become more and more fatal with every homicide and mass shooting.

While gun violence may look slightly different state by state, the violence doesn’t vary so much that policy proposals for individual states must differ greatly from the kind of policies proposed nationally. Plenty of organizations, lobbyists and policy writers can make local legislation a reality. Requiring stricter background checks, limiting the amount and kinds of guns per household, closing gun loopholes and barring felons and members of federal watchlists from purchasing guns are all viable options on the local level. Though these are frequently referred to as “common sense” gun control laws, their individual impact is unknown until implementation. Some of these laws might prove to do more harm than good, especially if the punishment for breaking these laws falls disproportionately on certain populations.

There are many potential issues with attempting change on a more local level. It’s putting a bandage on a national wound, and there are still no mechanisms to stop the movement of guns across state borders, let alone from city to city. In addition to these policy issues, there are structural issues with a local attempt, too — people simply care less about state and local issues, especially in off-year elections. But, if gun control is truly about limiting access to guns, then a local attempt is a necessary start.

With a Congress that actually enacted the will of the people, we would have already taken steps to address gun violence. After all, polling indicates that more than eight out of 10 people in the United States support some form of gun control. In light of this, the legislative paralysis we are desensitized to is even more morally repugnant. And yet, the real tragedy would be to wait in the hope that things will change without a different approach.

—Andrew Mekhail

Federal Level Policy

In the wake of the largest mass shooting in recent U.S. history, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will not talk about gun violence this week. Over at the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders has said, “It would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t fully know all the facts or what took place (Sunday night).” I have one question for our federal government: If not now, when?

This “thoughts and prayers” discourse followed by inaction is nothing new. In fact, since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Congress has failed to do anything significant to stem the tide of gun violence in the United States. While other Western nations have taken bold steps in the wake of tragic shootings, the U.S. government continues to do nothing.

While it is difficult to understand or change the motives of domestic terrorists, the federal government can change their access to guns — especially to assault rifles and large magazines. Anti-gun control sentiment is too common in our federal government, which failed to reauthorize an assault weapons ban (found constitutional in court) when the ban expired in 2004.

In a 2016 Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans surveyed said that laws regarding firearm sales should be stricter. Though the majority of the United States is in favor of greater gun control policies, our lawmakers continuously fail to act. One of the largest barriers to federal common-sense gun reform is the financial hold the National Rifle Association has on Congress. A large number of House representatives and senators — a majority of whom are members of the GOP — receive monetary incentives from the NRA. The supposed “freedoms” granted by the Second Amendment are not worth the mass murders that are becoming all too common. While the NRA and White House recently announced that they are “open” to discussing regulating bump stocks — a device one can attach to a weapon that allows it to fire multiple rounds of ammunition in a row — they have yet to make any concrete plans and the timeline of any such legislation is unclear and promise of any follow-through is hypothetical at best.

While there is a place for local and state gun control, it does very little if someone can drive to Ohio to buy an assault weapon banned in Michigan. The federal government’s mandate over interstate commerce is needed in this matter to ensure the safety of those who live in all corners of our country.

Where are our elected representatives in the face of such bloodshed? Will we finally see Congress put people over party, stand up to the NRA and get something done after what happened in Las Vegas? Federal involvement is needed to combat staggering rates of gun violence, the highest in the developed world, in the United States. It is high time that Congress acts. Should they fail, it is up to concerned citizens to elect people who will.

—Ali Safawi

Funding for Research

Las Vegas; Orlando, Fla.; San Bernardino, Calif.; Newtown, Conn.; Fort Hood, Texas; Blacksburg, Va. All have at one point been synonymous with the gun violence that has become almost epidemic in our country. Yet somehow, the notion of finding solutions to this crisis is scoffed at by many.

But why exactly is this level of violence unique to our version of freedom? A 2016 study by The American Journal of Medicine found that, compared to 22 other high-income nations, “Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns” as “the United States’ gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher.” Unfortunately, the bulk of available research on gun violence stops there.

Gun legislation in this country is not drafted through careful, pragmatic consideration of public interest, but is instead pushed by those with the loudest voices and the deepest pockets. It doesn’t take much research to grasp this fact, and any American who truly cares about our citizens’ safety should acknowledge this system as flawed.

It could not be clearer that the NRA and the “logic” it peddles should not be what dictates our laws. It should instead be based on common sense and empirical realities. The availability of such data, however, is shockingly scarce and underfunded. A 1997 spending bill amendment, dubbed the “Dickey Amendment,” has prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting comprehensive gun violence research in the two decades since. The NRA’s rationale for pushing this bill: The CDC is a biased, anti-gun organization. The reality: The CDC is an organization formed with the purpose of safeguarding the public health by identifying threats to it and lobbying for and applying solutions to these threats.

Among the many problems with the discourse surrounding gun violence in our country is the subjectivity of logic. For instance, the debate over open-carry laws in numerous states is a clash between two lines of reasoning. On one end, opponents argue the danger of open-carry is that no law is broken until shots have been fired. On the other end, many would argue the “only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Nevertheless, there is no doubt that in any discussion of gun control both sides will assert a logic they believe to be unassailable.

There are merits to a law-abiding citizen wanting to own a gun, whether it’s for security or sport. There are far fewer merits, however, to a law-abiding citizen easily accruing an arsenal of military-grade weapons, ammunition and modifications.

The idea that many of our lawmakers would rather take the word of a corporate lobby defending its own financial interests over that of a federally-funded public health institute is asinine, and it’s clearer than ever that this type of research needs to be the backbone of our legislation once again.

Maybe then we would live in a country where those suffering from mental illness couldn’t swiftly obtain guns, those on a terror watchlist couldn’t arm themselves with assault rifles and a deranged, law-abiding citizen couldn’t stockpile 23 rifles and fire on 22,000 of his fellow citizens.

—David Donnantuono

Andrew Mekhail can be reached at mekhail@umich.edu. Ali Safawi is an Editorial Board member and can be reached at asafawi@umich.edu. David Donnantuono can be reached at dwdonn@umich.edu.