On December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and proceeded to shoot and kill 20 children between the ages of six and seven years old, as well as 6 adult staff members.
The nation echoed the demand, “Never again.”
Since that day, 7,000 children have been killed by guns in the U.S. and our government has done nothing to stop it.
It is no secret that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most influential lobbying groups in the U.S. when it comes to policy surrounding gun control, gun violence, and research into gun-related deaths and issues.
Since 2013, immediately following the tragic shooting in Newtown, the NRA has actively, and until recently, successfully combated all efforts on the part of the federal government to fund research into gun violence.
At this point, gun violence has become so prevalent and so pervasive that school-children across the country — even preschoolers — have had to add “active shooter drills” to their list of things to practice right alongside fire, earthquake, and tornado drills.
It should go without saying that these drills can be highly traumatic for children, and most certainly detracts from their ability to focus on the business of learning afterwards.
“Every time we run through these drills, we violate [our students’] trust ― their trust in us and their trust in a safe, secure world.” – Phillip Timothy, Guest Writer for HuffPost Personal
There is no shortage of horrific stories of school shootings, the most recent having taken place in Parkland, Florida where a student was forced to use the body of a deceased classmate as a shield to avoid being killed herself. Seventeen of her classmates were murdered.
Now, she and her classmates will be forced to use clear plastic backpacks at school in a backwards attempt to prevent another attack at the cost of students’ privacy.
But the problem isn’t restricted to schools.
In 2012, then 24-year-old James Holmes entered an Aurora, Colorado movie theater during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises and murdered 12 people and injured 58 more.
In 2015, Dylann Roof, domestic terrorist and self-proclaimed white supremacist, entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina during a prayer service and murdered nine people, including South Carolina Democratic Senator Clementa C. Pinckney.
And in 2017, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire on a country music concert in Las Vegas, Nevada killing 58 people and injuring another 422.
Regardless of where or when these devastating mass-shootings take place, there is one factor that unites nearly all of them: the use of semiautomatic weapons, specifically the AR-15.
These weapons can be purchased for less than $1,000 and can be equipped with accessories that make them even more deadly — like the completely legal bump stock Paddock used to carry out the largest mass-shooting in the country’s history up to this point.
Even those shootings that did not involve the AR-15 — the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando (49 killed), the Sandy Hook shooting (26 killed), and the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting (25 killed) — still used a similar equivalent; the M-16.
But even in the wake of such tragedies — even after 20 children were killed — the assault weapons ban introduced in Congress by California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and was shot down 60 to 40.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio would not consider banning the sale and use of automatic weapons nor the refusal of NRA funding even when confronted by the survivors of the Parkland shooting and the parents of the victims. The confrontation went as follows:
“The positions I hold on these issues of the Second Amendment, I’ve held since the day I entered office in the city of West Miami as an elected official,” Rubio said. “People buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment.””In the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?” Kasky asked.”I think in the name of 17 people, I can pledge to you that I will support any law that will prevent a killer like this from getting a gun,” Rubio replied. – Miami New Times
Obviously, the most effective law one could put in place to prevent such future killings would be the outright banning of assault weapons in the United States — no access, no opportunity.
Even the children of Eugene Stoner, the man who invented the AR-15, say that the gun was only ever meant for military use, and that not even their father had owned one for personal use, used it for sport, or considered keeping it for self-defense.
And yet, government officials like Sen. Rubio insist that an assault weapons ban is not the answer — that it is doomed to failure.
Ignoring the numerous successful assault weapons bans in other countries across the world — The United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Canada, Germany, Singapore, Norway and the Czech Republic, to name a few — many continue to claim that the problem is not the guns themselves, but rather the people using them; ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’
While this is an entirely circular argument, there is a grain of truth to behold within it.
After Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in Norway using a fertilizer-based car bomb, a Ruger Mini-14 (semiautomatic), and a Glock 34 semiautomatic, the country did not revise their already strict gun laws.
It wasn’t until recently that the country introduced a ban on semiautomatic weapons that is set to take effect in 2021, a full decade after Breivik’s massacre.
However, it’s important to note that they aren’t implementing a ban now because of an increase in gun violence — in fact, in the years since Breivik’s attack, Norway has consistently maintained one of the lowest gun-related homicide rates in the world, staying below 0.4% and dipping as low as 0.1% in recent years.
Why did their rates of gun violence stay the same, and even decrease, despite the lack of stricter gun control?
Their approach to prison systems is certainly a good place to start.
Besides having one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the world, Norway also boasts one of the lowest recidivism rates — that is, fewer criminals return to their lives of crime after their time in prison there than almost anywhere else in the world.
This may have something to do with their focus on rehabilitation and restorative justice.
Prisoners are given relative freedom to move about and enjoy their days; they are taught vocational and professional skills that they will be able to use once released, and are provided with behavioral therapy and counseling.
Inmates even have the opportunity to begin working jobs outside the prison 18 months prior to their release in order to make their transition back into society as seamless as possible.
The United States boasts a recidivism rate of 76%, with 56% returning to prison within the first year of their release.
As a general rule of thumb, inmates in the U.S. don’t spend time with therapists or counselors, nor are they taught marketable skills, rather, American prisoners spend their time in indentured servitude, a legal, modern-day form of slavery cleverly called “penal labor.”
So, lack of rehabilitation and support post-release are certainly two factors contributing to the United State’s staggeringly high crime and recidivism rates. But what else is at play, what other reasons contribute to the U.S.’s unique gun problem?
One of the largest obstacles Americans face in the fight for gun control and a safer society is the systemic lack of mental health support, awareness, and treatment options and availability.
Let’s return to Norway for a moment.
See, they too have a culture that stigmatizes and ignores mental illness. The difference is that their government is doing something about it. The country aims to have clinical psychologists become as common as family practitioners — a therapist that you’ve known since birth and who cares for your whole family.
In the U.S., even states with the greatest access to mental health care fail to provide treatment to 41% of adults with mental illness.
With 1 in 5 American adults experiencing a mental illness in a given year and an average of 56% of those not receiving treatment, there really is more going on in this country than easy, if abundant, access to assault weapons.
As Americans prepare to #MarchForOurLives across the country tomorrow in solidarity with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, we should keep in mind that the problem, truly, is not just guns.
Yes, an assault weapons ban is an obvious and very necessary first step towards eliminating the problem of gun violence in the U.S., but there are other, more nefarious reasons behind our country’s unique problem with guns.
Other countries have similar rates of gun ownership, and even similar rates of mental illness, and yet no other country experiences the same extreme rates of gun violence.
History and data both show that, far and away, white men are the most common culprits when it comes to mass shootings.
White culture in America has long revolved around two things: strong men and big guns.
From the myth of the rough-and-tumble cowboy personified in actors like John Wayne, to womanizer and assassin James Bond, to the stoic and merciless Dirty Harry, our country’s history and culture are rife with white men who get what they want at the point of a gun.
America’s need for an assault weapons ban is real and imperative, but so is our need for a reexamination of the values we idealize and the culture we choose to create.