April 23, 2019 | 61° F

CASTELLI: Gun debate deserves to be looked at with more nuance

Opinions Column: Conservative Across the Aisle


The news cycle in the past two weeks has been dominated by testimonies from survivors in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. Instead of promoting honest and productive dialogue, conservatives and liberals alike continue to vilify each other on national television. In the wake of this horrific event, high school students, championed by Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, from around the country are taking to the streets on March 24 to spark a conversation about gun control, called March for Our Lives, hoping to enact some change. 

When it comes to gun control, I have always chosen to suspend my judgement. Solutions are not as common sense as Democrats and Republicans paint them to be. The subject is much more complicated and requires more nuance. There is a combination of issues with the accountability of law enforcement, mental illness and history of abuse and crime. One piece of legislation will not resolve this issue. Until I understood the entire picture, I refrained from speaking. But, recent events have prompted me to reconsider remaining neutral on the subject.

On Monday, a sophomore at Dumont High School threatened to “shoot up the school” on social media, forcing the school into lockdown. The student was promptly taken into custody and is suspended from the school indefinitely until the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office has fully investigated. Authorities found a rifle in the students home. My younger brother, a sophomore, knew the student who was arrested. Those kids were saved from what could have been another tragedy. What prevented Dumont from becoming another statistic, another Parkland? With the information and limited space I have, I will attempt to explore the possibilities. 

What distinguishes Dumont and Parkland was the promptness with which the local authorities responded. In Dumont, police received a call about an online threat and immediately responded with the regional SWAT team as well as neighboring police departments. The police reacted quickly and made no hesitation entering the school in the event of an active shooting. The police in Parkland received calls and complaints since 2008 about the suspect’s increasingly violent behavior, yet did not take action. During the shooting, three sheriff deputies remained outside and failed to quickly neutralize the event. This is not a common reaction from police officers, who rarely freeze during high stress situations. Because of their hesitation and negligence to pay attention to various red flags, 17 children are now dead. I do not think this is an unfair criticism. Becoming a police officer means coming to terms with the possibility of being injured or killed in the line of duty. Their job is to keep citizens safe, and if those deputies have any doubts about that, then perhaps being a police officer is not for them. The lack of officers during those crucial moments in respect to Parkland were not the fault of a gun, but of people.

The correlation between gun violence and mental illness involves a multitude of factors that require several different reforms, a study shows. Recommendations include clarification and refining of “existing mental health firearm disqualification criteria” and “new restrictions on purchase and possession of firearms by individuals whose behavior presents evidence-based risk factors for violence.” With all the facts in the world, though, gun owners and non-gun owners are seemingly at odds with each other, right? But this is a common misconception. A study from The New England Journal of Medicine found that there were smaller differences between gun owners and non-gun owners: 85 percent of respondents supported requiring states to report on persons who are “prohibited from having guns because they have either been involuntarily committed to a hospital for psychiatric treatment or been declared mentally incompetent by a court.” An overwhelming majority of Americans are in agreement that mental illness plays a role in shootings. To call the NRA and subsequently gun owners “child murderers” is not only a gross mischaracterization of 42 percent of U.S. households, but it stifles conversation and does not lead to any solutions but rather leads to further divide. Resorting to name calling does not convince the other side of your view. This demagoguery needs to end if we are to have a productive conversation and enact change. Emotions are high, but it should not be exchanged for respect and courtesy. 

The debate on gun control involves numerous factors, few of which I examined due to a limited word count. For advocates on both sides of the argument, looking critically at various sources from different points of view will only help you better understand the issue. The answer is not to ban all guns nor is it to do nothing, but it lies somewhere in the middle.

Giana Castelli is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science. Her column, "Conservative Across the Aisle," runs on alternate Fridays.


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Giana Castelli

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