2/14/18: the day we failed to take action

In the face of rampant gun violence, we as a nation have turned a blind eye to an ever-present threat


Maddie Cooke

On the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, April 20, 2018, a student holds a sign at a protest against gun violence in downtown St. Louis.

Exactly one year ago today, my parents, like millions across America, hugged their kids a little tighter when they returned home from school. Some 1,200 miles away, families in Parkland, Fla. would never get the opportunity to enjoy one final embrace. That fateful afternoon, 17 promising lives were cut short at the hands of the ninth-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

From Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to a Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas to a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., the rapidly increasing frequency of gun violence in the United States has had a numbing effect on our national dialogue.

Yet despite bearing witness to tragedy after tragedy, we as a country have offered far more thoughts and prayers than tangible action in response to this growing epidemic.

For the 39 states that do not require universal background checks for all firearm transactions, loopholes in the law allow for unlicensed private sellers to disproportionately enable disaster, as their unregulated sales account for 96 percent of eventual gun-related crimes.

We don’t even need to look beyond our own backyard to observe the effects of excessively lax gun policy. Missouri repealed its background check mandate for unlicensed sellers in 2007, prompting a 23 percent spike in firearm homicides rate in the three years to follow.

Opponents of gun control have cited a myriad of excuses ranging from video games and school entrance doors to girls rejecting unwanted advances by their male counterparts as alternative causes of mass shootings. To this retort that “guns don’t kill, people do,” we see the soar in bloodshed is largely exclusive to guns. Keeping these firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals through a bolstered background check system is the lynchpin to ensuring safety.

The statewide non-firearm homicide rate remained flat, showing a strong correlation between more open firearm access and subsequent acts of violence. Similarly, the firearm suicide rate in Missouri rose by 16.1 percent–again with no noticeable change in suicide rate by other means. Overall, a Johns Hopkins School of Public Health compilation of 130 primary studies across 10 countries concluded that the “implementation of laws targeting multiple firearms restrictions is associated with reductions in firearm deaths.”

Simply put, the empirical evidence suggests that looser regulations are not the solution to curbing gun violence. Regarding the argument that gun ownership enhances one’s safety, homicide and suicide rates skyrocket by 41 percent and 244 percent, respectively, when a gun is kept in the home. And if you still aren’t convinced by this data? At the very least we ought to begin by undoing the National Rifle Association’s successful lobbying efforts to suppress the dissemination of and funding for gun violence research. Under the guise of supposedly “protecting freedom,” the infiltration of the gun control debate by corporate interests has restrained the amount of available information and drastically hampered the ability to devise insightful, effective policy.

While it would by no means be an ultimate panacea, H.R.8, colloquially referred to as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, seeks to require background checks for any sale of firearms. Of the bill’s nine original sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives, five were Republicans; four Democrats.

Various common sense gun control action has been introduced within the confines of Missouri’s state legislature as well. Missouri State Senator Jill Schupp (Senate District 24 in St. Louis County) and State Representative Peter Meredith (House District 80 in St. Louis City) have filed numerous pieces of legislation in the wake of the fatal shooting at a local Catholic Supply store. Among them are Schupp’s proposals to require firearm transactions to be processed through a licensed dealer and institute a 72 hour waiting period–which could contribute to limiting the number of impulsive suicides–on handgun transfers. If nothing else, Meredith’s HJR 21 would give Missourians the autonomy to decide for themselves at the upcoming general election in 2020 by bringing the questions of background checks and concealed carry permit requirements to the ballot.

These laws aren’t a repeal of the Second Amendment. Rather, they are bipartisan solutions that polling suggests roughly 90 percent of Americans support. During the time you have spent reading this article on your lunch break or in between classes, someone in America very likely lost their life to the barrel of a gun. We will never be able to reverse the unthinkable grief that became reality a year ago, but our obligation to actively prevent the next instance of gun violence is one that for many Americans will make the difference between life and death.