A shooting is usually considered a mass shooting if four or more people were killed or injured, not including the shooter (NPR). These happen for a multitude of reasons, but result in immense amounts of pain and destruction. According to data from NPR, sourced on May 10th, there have been 194 mass shootings in the United States since the start of 2021. Let’s dive deeper into these, the debate about the second amendment, and what the government is doing about this.
Thirty-five out of the fifty US states have experienced at least one mass shooting this year. On the weekend from the 7th to the 9th, there were eleven mass shootings, including one in Colorado (data from Gun Violence Archive). A lot of these shootings arise from domestic issues, like the shooting in Colorado Springs on May 9th. Six people, not including the shooter, were killed celebrating a birthday party when the boyfriend of one of the people there opened fire because he was upset he did not get an invite. Some are from anger, usually at a company, like the shooting in Orange, California on March 31st. The shooter killed four people, including a nine year old boy, at a real estate office because of a “business and personal relationship between the suspect and all the victims.” (New York Times). And some have completely unknown motives, like the shooting at the King Soopers in Boulder that killed ten people. The gunman there had no relationship to the store or anyone in it. According to USA Today, most of the shooters in the smaller incidents used hand-held guns like pistols. However, in the larger incidents, like the one in Boulder and Atlanta, AR-15’s were used. AR-15’s are semi-automatic assault rifles designed to hit people quickly, making it hard to escape the bullets. These were also used in the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest shooting in American history. These guns are incredibly deadly and are capable of killing multiple people in a short amount of time, but are dubbed “America’s gun” by the NRA, and can be sold to anyone over the age of 21 in the United States. This brings us to one of America’s most debated topics: the second amendment.
People fleeing the Boulder shooting. Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post.
The second amendment was ratified in 1791, along with nine other articles to the Bill of Rights. This amendment gives the right to bear arms to create a well regulated militia. The “well regulated militia” part is extremely important, yet often overlooked. This means that US citizens can create their own army for smaller things, such as invasions. The citizens could create an army using their own weapons (Constitution Center). Keep in mind that during this time, a federal military could not come to the aid of states far away for smaller things, so creating this made sense. Today, however, we have large amounts of soldiers in each state, plus the tools (such as planes and high tech machinery) to quickly come to aid. Every US state and territory has a National Guard, which are both state and federal militia. This means they come to the aid of the state first, but can be deployed by the federal government. (The Guardian). The debate is about the relevance of this amendment, should we abolish it, and does it allow US citizens to buy weapons like the AR-15 without government involvement. Republicans tend to debate that the second amendment still makes sense today, and that the shootings are due to mental health. This seems like a strong argument, but when we look at other countries with stricter gun laws, fewer people die from gun related incidents. In New Zealand, the prime minister banned intense weapons in 2019 after a mass shooting there and had strict gun laws beforehand. Because New Zealand has a much smaller population than the US, it’s easier to compare a US state with the country. Louisiana, with a population at the time of this study (2016) of about 4.7 million (almost the same as New Zealand), had 526 gun related deaths, while New Zealand only had 9. (News Hub). Mental health issues are universal, yet we don’t have this issue in countries with very strict gun laws. Democrats tend to debate that we need more laws such as background checks, but even states with those have shootings. Lots of people in generation Z who have experienced these shootings, arguably worse than any other generation, tend to fight for the complete ban of these semi-automatic assault rifles. This debate has been going for years, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
The federal government has been more involved this year in these shootings than in previous. The Biden administration has introduced numerous actions like proposing a rule to “stop the proliferation of ‘ghost guns’” (The White House). “Ghost guns” are when people can buy a gun and the things that go with it in less than thirty minutes, which makes it hard for law enforcement to track the serial number. Another one is publishing the model of “red flag law”, which allows family members and law enforcement to petition in court to temporarily, or permanently, stop someone from buying a weapon if they pose a threat to themselves or others. (The White House). This is already in effect in Colorado, and has been used more than a hundred times. (Colorado Sun). These all will hopefully help with this crisis, but some argue that we cannot stop these without bans on assault rifles. The federal government has banned these before under the Clinton administration. This was called the “Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act”, or more commonly called the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. It was in effect until 2004, but how effective it was is still a highly debated topic. (ABC News). It banned over a dozen assault rifles and some parts that go with them, but the bill had loopholes where people could still purchase dangerous guns. According to a report funded by the National Institute of Justice, the number of gun crimes involving semi-automatic assault rifles dropped by 17%. So, it helped, but was it enough? The law did not pass for renewal when it was brought back a decade later, but at the time it had bipartisan support, and even had letters signed in support by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. (ABC News).
Former Vice President Al Gore showing what weapons were banned under the new law. Dennis Cook, AP News.
One thing is clear- people are dying as a result of gun violence and the number of mass shootings is rising quickly. This is an epidemic, and people must act to save lives. The second amendment plays a crucial role in what laws go into effect and the support of those laws by both parties. The government is trying to have more control about background checks and closing loopholes, but it is too soon to see any results from those propositions. Let’s come together, and save lives.
By Hayley Withrow