Keeping people, right to bear arms safe

I am writing in response to the Dec. 3 opinion article in The Daily Targum titled, “US not doing enough to address issue of gun control.” It may surprise people to learn gun violence is not on the rise. According to the Justice Department, the rate of firearm violence in the United States was, in 2011, about a quarter of what it was 1990. You wouldn’t know it watching the news. Immediately in the wake of every new mass shooting, there is always a call for stricter gun control. Recently, there was the Marysville shooting in which one was killed and four wounded. This shooting actually resulted in the passing of legislation requiring universal background checks, due to which a person must submit to background checks every time he or she buys a gun as opposed to only the first. There are plenty of voices demanding even stricter legislation ranging from official registration of every firearm to complete bans. I believe these policies are ill-informed, reactionary and even dangerous. There is no sense or justice in restricting the gun rights of the average law-abiding citizen. What needs to change is our approach to mental health.

I am not against regulating the availability of firearms, but it must be done in the right way. Much of the fear surrounding firearms is a result of a cultural misunderstanding. Firearms are surrounded with a certain mysticism in America rather than respected as the dangerous tools they are. Do a Google search and note the number of elderly people who were able to protect their homes, the fathers and mothers who protected their families and the women who were able to fend off attackers thanks to a firearm, often without killing anyone or even firing a shot. A common argument against the possession of “big” guns by civilians is that such a weapon would only be useful in a foreign invasion — and then we have the military to fight for us. This argument forgets one more possible threat to a person’s life and liberty: our own government. The Second Amendment exists almost solely for this purpose. The Founding Fathers were all too familiar with people’s need to defend themselves in the event the government became tyrannical. Look to Maoist China and Nazi Germany: The brutal practices of these regimes were preceded by the registration and then removal of weapons from undesirable sectors of the population.

Still, something must be done to prevent tragedies like those at Newtown, Virginia Tech and Marysville. I don’t have a problem denying firearms to convicted violent felons or the mentally ill. The answer is not banning firearms or even types of firearms. The former policy leaves the common citizen defenseless against criminals who don’t care what the law says. Next time you go to a mall, consider what you will be able to do to help in the event of a shooting. The shooter will not give up and go home because he reads the sign prohibiting guns, and you will be left with few options except to run or hide. Restrictions on types of firearms are problematic for the same reason but are also constantly mired by a lack of understanding of firearms. Most of the legislation in this vein relies on aesthetic qualities that have little effect on the applications of a weapon. Assault rifles are not assault rifles because they look like an M16. Plenty of rifles with wooden parts are, in fact, far more powerful than their “modern-looking” counterparts. No, the answer is that Americans need to make serious changes in how we approach mental illness. The common thread in many of the shooters that our media has made famous is that something was clearly wrong with them and proper action wasn’t taken. Even if their problems were diagnosed and well-known, their relatives and caretakers always stopped short of doing what was necessary to keep them and their fellows safe. Fear of hurting the feelings of patients and families and fear of being ridiculed for being over-concerned prevented health professionals from making the recommendations they needed to and authorities from carrying those recommendations out. Connecticut has a law I admire that allows relatives, friends, neighbors and law enforcement to recommend the seizure of firearms from people likely to harm themselves or others. The law is overwhelmingly successful. I would like to see similar legislation throughout the country keeping people safe without jeopardizing the fundamental right of the people to defend themselves from any threat to their life or liberty they may encounter.

R. Ralston Hough is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.

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