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The Dartmouth
June 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Truong: Inaction Figures

Not much can be done to reduce the number of mass shootings in America.

I didn’t bother to read the details of the first reports of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when they were released. The breaking — and heartbreaking — news failed to surprise me.

Mass shootings, defined as “four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter,” in public spaces like schools happen far too often in America. In the first two months of 2018 alone, there have been 31 mass shootings across the United States. But as news article after news article appeared in my news feed, and after I read an article containing short biographies of each of the 17 victims, I relented and delved into the details of the incident. My natural response to the tragedy of the shooting was, “What can be done to stop this once and for all? What can I do? What can the government do?” I came to a disappointing conclusion: not much.

Many suggest that legislative or government action can curb deaths from both mass shootings and gun-related deaths and injuries. There is evidence that tighter gun control laws lower firearm homicide rates. In Connecticut, a 1995 law tightening licensing requirements resulted in a 40 percent decrease in the rate of gun homicides and a 15 percent decrease in the rate of gun suicides. On the other hand, Missouri’s repeal of license requirements in 2007 resulted in an increase of 25 percent in gun homicide rates and a 16 percent increase in gun suicides.

Yet any proposed laws aiming for tighter gun control measures are going to have a difficult, if not impossible, time getting through Congress. Our already-polarized political climate is only becoming more divided as Democrats and Republicans fail to find a middle ground to address the issue. Democrats demand stricter gun control, while Republicans appear to blame mental health issues. Democrats fire back by insisting that while mental health is a problem, Republicans are only using this as an excuse to avoid the topic of gun control. This bickering only results in inaction. To complicate the situation further, powerful organized interest groups like the National Rifle Association contribute to the political gridlock by funding Congress members against gun control. In the 2016 cycle, the NRA spent a total of $834, 115 on 289 federal candidates, with support ranging from $250 to $11,900 per candidate. How can we expect these Congress members, who are supposed to represent their constituents’ interests, to make the right decisions when the NRA plays a part in supporting their careers?

In an attempt to move away from this political and ideological tug-of-war, others have suggested a public health approach to reducing mass shootings. This approach could include gun purchasing background checks, protection orders from men under domestic violence probation, a purchasing ban for people under 21, trigger locks and safe storage, greater enforcement on straw purchases, a ban on bump stocks, an increase in research on “smart” guns that would require a passcode to be used and more. Yet this public health approach is merely a rebranding of what the Democrats call gun control. Proposed laws for these tightening measures would likely have trouble getting enacted, especially at the Congressional level where many may want to preserve the sanctity of the second amendment.

Others look outside government for the answer, suggesting that schools, communities and individual citizens have the power to prevent school shootings. They argue that schools should teach their students social and emotional skills, hire more counselors and use reporting systems to identify troubled students. Communities can have doctors conduct mental health screenings regularly, social media companies can work on detecting threats and parents should be aware of their children’s social media presence, video game use and social lives. Yet these suggestions are dependent on citizens, many of whom are too apathetic to take tangible action because they believe that a mass shooting could not possibly affect them and assume that higher powers, such as the government, will take care of these safety measures instead. And when people are willing to put in the work, they are limited by the government itself. Public schools, which draw financial resources largely from property taxes, may not have the budget to implement these measures even if they wanted to. Teachers are constrained by the standards of their academic curriculum. Both social and governmental factors thus work against these potential solutions.

No matter which way one looks at suggestions to minimize the horror of mass shootings, choosing one will result in a loss of something else. Try to restrict guns, and citizens’ freedom becomes limited. Try to target individuals with mental health issues, and innocent people may be unfairly hindered while others slip through the cracks. Yet these potential tradeoffs cannot be used as scapegoats for partisan disagreements. To all the optimists out there proposing solutions: Please keep trying. But until people actually care enough to take action and the politicos untangle themselves, mass shootings and gun violence will continue.