Viewpoint: Gun Control Now!

J.B. Sivanich

(Brent Schwert)

Large-scale tragedies like Virginia Tech are unpleasant reminders of a much bigger problem that affects America on a daily basis.
The United States has a gun problem. Estimates on the number of guns in America range from 200 to 240 million, which means there are more guns than adults. In 2005, the total number of Americans who died in gun killings was 14,000, which doubles when added to the counts of suicides by firearm and fatal accidents, 16,000 and 650 respectively.
Today, only cars cause more fatal accidents, but some experts predict that fatal accidents involving guns will soon surpass them in number. Since the JFK assassination in 1963, more Americans have died by American gunfire then in battles on foreign soil in the whole of the 20th century.
In 1997, firearms were the cause of death for 5,285 American children, which is considerably more than the second-highest industrialized nation in this category, Canada, with 153 deaths.
The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. I agree that sportsmen and recreational shooters have the right to weapons appropriate to their hobbies, and that if a law-obeying American citizen feels that the police are not sufficient and that they need a handgun for proper protection on their property, then they should be entitled to one.
Our gun laws, however, are only remarkable in what they do not do. Semiautomatic – or “assault” – weapons, like the ones VT killer Seung-Hui Cho and the Columbine killers used, are available only to law enforcement agents in practically every other country but can be found in gun stores throughout the United States.
Today Americans can go on the Internet and with the successful completion of a background check can purchase a semiautomatic AK-47, allowing them to fire as many bullets as the number of times they can pull the trigger (if you have a fast trigger finger, that can mean 30 bullets in five seconds).
There are over one million semiautomatic assault weapons in America today; these guns were built for combat. As Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said, “Assault weapons are designed to be easily concealed and kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had this to say about semiautomatics: “They are mass-produced mayhem.”
Semiautomatic weapons have no valid reason to be legally available on American markets. They are ill-suited for hunting and self-protection and unnecessary for recreational shooting. According to law enforcement reports, assault weapons are the main “weapons of choice” for gangs, drug traffickers and terrorists. Studies conducted by the ATF show that assault weapons are used disproportionately in criminal acts in comparison to other types of firearms.
Under a 1994 bill, called the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the manufacture – not sales – of 19 different models of semiautomatic weapons were banned unless contracted for military purposes.
The effectiveness of this ban was widely disputed with studies supporting both sides. In the end, Congress failed to renew the bill in 2004 even though President Bush vowed to sign the renewal if Congress did approve it (President Bush has a less than exemplary record of gun control; on his watch, laws have passed making it harder to trace illegal weapons and require the destruction of information gathered during background checks for potential buyers after 24 hours).
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban needs to be renewed and strengthened; the 1994 version of the bill was weak and flawed. Shortly after it passed, gun-makers made newer models that easily evaded the restrictions while still having the same capabilities. Post-ban assault rifles were used in one out of every five police killings and in the 1999 Columbine massacre. Not only do semiautomatic weapons need to stop being manufactured, they need to be taken completely off the market.
Background checks need to be performed before all gun purchases, not just ones from federally licensed dealers.
Other measures need to be taken to reduce the number of gun-related deaths in America. Guns are the only products in America that have no safety regulations, which is ironic seeing that they are one of the most dangerous products.
Every year tens of thousands of Americans die due to gun-related accidents but the gun industry has never been properly held accountable for bad production – the sole responsibility falls on the user, even when that user is four years old.
Gun control is not the solution to events like the one this past month at Virginia Tech. At best, it is an effort to protect innocent lives, which is the government’s duty. If Cho did not have semiautomatic weapons, the number of people dead and injured would have most likely been lower.
One last point: If this young man had been a radical Muslim declaring jihad on America instead of a psychopathic college student, reactions to the Virginia Tech tragedy would have been very different. It is a sad fact that this may be the only thing that could force our nation’s leaders to take action.