America’s unique gun problem
How the Parkland tragedy may finally change things for the better
By Hayden Koch, Staff Writer
In the almost two decades since the Columbine high school massacre horrified the nation, mass shootings in the United States seem to have only gotten more deadly and frequent with each passing year. Of the 10 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, three have occured just within the past six months. The most recent was the tragic event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas which saw a previously expelled student allegedly kill 17 of his former peers.
Disturbingly, the narrative is almost identical to other recent shootings. A young man with a history of violent and antisocial behaviour decides to carry out an assault with an AR-15 he was able to legally acquire. This time, however, there seems to be a distinct difference in the reaction. The cultural and political sentiments about guns finally seem to be making a significant shift against the status quo.
Enter #NeverAgain, a movement largely started by teenage survivors of the shooting. These young activists and their allies seek to finally spur some meaningful changes to long-standing gun policies in the United States.
The main target of their rage has been Republican lawmakers. GOP politicians are generally opposed to the banning of semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15, and only few will concede to lesser provisions such as improving the background check system and banning high capacity magazines. Generally, their rationale is that such actions would logically do nothing to curb the threat of a individual who is willing to break laws and kill people anyway and that gun control legislation only serves to punish law abiding citizens. People in the pro gun-control movement feel that the Republicans are just encouraging deadlock and lack of action due to their strong monetary ties to the National Rifle Association, and that there is no reasonable excuse for a civilian to own a weapon such as an AR-15.
Regardless of whichever side you agree with, there is one certain fact that everyone seems to be able to admit to: America’s issue with guns is as unique as it is rampant. This inevitably stems from the fact that it happens to be one of the only countries in the world where the right to keep and bear arms is entrenched in its constitution. The point of contention has always been to what degree the second amendment applies to modern armaments that are far more advanced than the muskets and flintlocks of 1776.
In the U.S., it is illegal for civilians to purchase or possess any weapon that can fire at a fully-automatic rate. These firearms are generally only permitted for use by military and law enforcement, with a few exceptions. The AR-15 does not fall under this category, but in the U.S. there is actually legal precedent for banning it. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, passed under the Clinton administration in 1994, prohibited the manufacturing and civilian possession of guns defined as an “assault weapon” and prohibited large capacity magazines. The bill was popular among the public, with a 1993 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll showing that 77 per cent of Americans were in favour of it.
Studies have shown that the ban was generally effective in curbing the deadliness of shooting incidents. However, due to one of the provisions in the act, the ban expired in 2004, and the primarily Republican electorate at the time prevented all of the immediate efforts to renew it. Efforts to reinstate a permanent version of the ban were renewed in 2012 after the horrific Sandy Hook shooting. It was struck down in the Senate after a 40-60 party line vote.
It seems clear at this point that an outright ban of the AR-15 and other semi-automatic rifles is not currently feasible. This begs the question: is there some sort of compromise that can be made by US politicians that would result in meaningful change?
Some propose looking at countries with low gun crime rates. The gun laws here in Canada may be the best example to follow.
Canada does not have any constitutional provision that guarantees the ownership of firearms, but it is still legal to do so. Gun ownership in our country may be more common than you think, even though our gun crime rate is still among the lowest in the world.
To own a gun in Canada, you must have a license, which is hardly the case for all 50 states. The complete licensing process in Canada requires an application, multiple safety courses and a thorough criminal background check.
Guns in Canada are separated into three columns: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Non-restricted and restricted firearms are available for civilian use, but an additional license with more hoops to go through is required for the latter. Restricted guns include handguns and semi-automatic rifles. It is technically not difficult to own an AR-15 and many of its near identical variants in Canada. There are just more safeguards in place to make sure the individuals that want them does not have bad intentions. There is also a limit on magazine capacity, at five rounds.
The cycle of public reaction to shooting tragedies in the United States has seemed the same for years. First the incident occurs, it’s covered vigorously by every news outlet, there is intense outrage, commentary from both sides of the political spectrum and then the tragedy fades into the past until the next one occurs. Things feel different this time. The frustration of the public has grown to a deafening point, and this will likely be reflected in the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections. One can only hope that an effective solution exists and will soon be implemented.