Since the beginning of the 2012–13 school year, six shootings have been committed by American students on or in proximity to their school’s campus, totaling more than thirty student and faculty deaths. These high-profile killings are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gun violence, which claims 30,000 lives a year, as illegal and legal guns are increasingly finding their way into the hands of young people.
As members of the Millennial generation, we know that gun control is in desperate need of reform in this country. We’ve lived it. Yet many politicians still refuse to consider revision in any measure. Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas neatly summed up the argument against gun reform in an appearance on the MSNBC political talk show Morning Joe: “It’s not a gun problem,” he said, “it’s a people problem, it’s a cultural problem.” This claim is not supported by the data.
Over the past two decades, the United States has experienced a nearly universal decline in crime. The FBI crime statistics report of 2011 shows that from 2003, there have been substantial decreases in the rate of violent crime, property crime and nonfirearm homicide. At the same time, the rate of firearm homicides has remained essentially stagnant. Ignoring these data, opponents of increased gun control insist that the conversation shouldn’t be about guns but rather about the influence of the culture we’ve bred through our media.
Is the notion that our films, television and video games portray violence as devoid of any real consequences valid? Absolutely. But is anyone prepared to argue that American teenagers spend more time playing violent video games than the teenagers of Japan or South Korea, where the rate of firearm-related homicides in both nations is averaged at zero? Blaming a problem as systematic as the high rate of gun homicides in the United States on something as broad and ever-changing as the entertainment industry is simply blatant scapegoating.
This isn’t to suggest that those gun reform opponents haven’t come up with policy suggestions of their own. In an NRA press release following the Sandy Hook shootings, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the group, declared: “We care about our money, so we protect our banks, yet when it comes to…our children we as a society leave them utterly defenseless.” A stirring declaration, no doubt, but would armed guards solve the problem? In 1999, Columbine High School had a sheriff’s deputy stationed at the school who even traded fire with Klebold and Harris during the rampage that killed fifteen. Virginia Tech, in addition to the armed guards stationed on the campus, had officers in position three minutes after the first emergency call was placed. Heightened security measures can’t be used to prevent future shootings.
The United States needs a comprehensive reform of its gun laws, reforms that have teeth and are not riddled with loopholes and exceptions. A total ban on assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and military-grade ammunition would prevent untrained individuals from obtaining and operating dangerous weaponry—the same reason surface-to-air weapons aren’t currently available to the general public. Mandating universal background checks, broadening the base of searched databases and extending the waiting period could prevent those with histories of violence or debilitating mental illness from purchasing firearms. Official reporting for all firearm transactions could spur private dealers to run background checks before a sale as a means of reducing their liability.
Finally, ensuring quality mental illness and addiction care for those who want it can prevent those in need from turning to violence or retribution. Limiting exposure to firearms, which are the most effective means of suicide, coupled with increased mental health care can put those predisposed to depression on a more positive track that circumvents gun violence.
Ten days into the New Year, we were introduced to 2013’s first school shooting. A student was critically shot at Taft Union High School before a teacher could talk the shooter down. Ironically enough, as all of this was taking place, Vice President Joe Biden was giving a televised press conference on gun violence. Events like these have become so commonplace that outrage was short. At least we could find solace in the fact that it wasn’t nearly as bad as last month’s school shooting, when twenty elementary schoolers were gunned down.
Until we address gun violence as a policy issue and not as the inevitable product of American individualism, school shootings will remain as morbid reminders of our own failure to address the issue. That is why the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network has launched the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force—an effort to delineate reasonable solutions, including firearm and ammunition regulations, more complete background checks, improving mental health coverage, and addressing the role of the media, to limit ongoing violence.
Millennials cannot afford to bury any more of their peers because of an irresponsible society's neglect. From this moment onwards, we commit to the goal of planned obsolescence of the term “gun violence.” To that end we submit the recommendations and commentaries of our working group to curb gun violence in America. May it be the start to the end of the epidemic of senseless killing in our country.