In the past few months, more mass shootings have shaken the United States. In August, a man walked into a Walmart in El Paso and targeted individuals based on their race during the massacre. A manifesto was posted minutes before the tragedy, which included praise of the Christchurch shooter in New Zealand and racist language referencing a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and peddling “the great replacement” conspiracy theory that white people are being replaced by people of other ethnicities. In response, Walmart decided to reform its policy toward guns. It will discontinue handgun sales in Alaska, ask customers to not carry guns openly in its stores and stop the sale of some types of ammunition. This has been met with praise by various presidential candidates, while it has come under fire by gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Although I agree with what Walmart has done, I argue that we must go further. Consider exactly what is going on here: We are praising a giant, multinational corporation for taking marginal and symbolic actions while our Congress, particularly the Senate, allows gun reforms to be killed, and while gun lobbyists work to prevent any and all progress on this issue. Again, what Walmart is doing isn’t ‘bad,’ but how have we ended up in this position where we are praising a corporation for taking action because our elected officials refuse to do their jobs? I find it very intriguing how and where we are directing our anger and praise, but this begs the question: What should be done about gun violence in the United States?
First, I’ll answer this with what should not be done. First, we should not be blaming mental illness as the cause of our unique gun violence problem. Our World in Data, an online scientific publication, has data on issues like this. They find that the share of people with mental health and substance abuse disorders is roughly the same throughout developed countries. The real difference between the United States and other nations is our lax gun laws. Even if there were a connection between mental illness and these acts of violence, the vast majority of mentally ill individuals will never commit violent acts. That must be kept in the conversation, as we shouldn’t be demonizing the mentally ill.
In addition, many people argue that violent video games are a cause of gun violence. NPR and CNBC have both reported that there is no link between gun violence and violent video games. Scientific research simply doesn’t support this conclusion. Japan, for example, which also has a thriving video game culture and industry, saw only six deaths from guns in 2014. Not 6,000, nor 600 — merely six deaths in a country with a population of 127 million people, in 2014. In that same year, the United States saw 33,599 gun deaths. This is a real-world example of the contrast in elected politicians’ rhetoric and reality. This same gap in gun deaths is shown, although not in the same extent, between the United States and countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Australia. Violent video games are not the cause of gun violence in the United States.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss what should be done about gun violence. Firstly, universal background checks are a necessity. The gun show and Charleston loopholes are unnecessary and can relatively easily be fixed. For context, the gun show loophole is when individuals purchase guns from private sellers, such as those at a gun show. Since this is a private transaction, there is no background check. The Charleston loophole is when a background check takes longer than the mandatory wait time to purchase a gun; thus, if someone is not supposed to be able to purchase a gun, they could after the mandatory wait time had passed. NPR reports that polls show 89 percent of people support universal background checks.
Secondly, we can treat guns like cars. This means requiring courses on how to use and store a gun safely. In addition, requiring permits could be done. These are mainstream regulations in many other modern nations, including Canada and the United Kingdom, which all experience much lower rates of gun violence. The United States has a gun death rate of 11.2 per 100,000 individuals, whereas France’s rate is 2.7 and Canada’s rate is 2.1.
Thirdly, red flag laws should be made to prevent at-risk people from buying or keeping firearms. These laws not only prevent individuals from killing others, but also stop people from taking their own lives. This is incredibly important, since over half of gun deaths in the United States are suicides.
And finally, we need to change the culture around guns. If you own a gun, you are more likely to die by gun violence. With this data in mind, it is a statistical fact that more guns means more violence. In the United States, the states with the most lax gun laws, unsurprisingly, have the highest rates of gun deaths; among them are Alaska, Alabama, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. All this goes to show that more guns means more gun deaths. Internalizing that statement means not flocking to gun stores after a mass shooting to arm oneself; it means these changes must become more than a mere law and instead incorporate education and a social movement.
The United States is suffering from a unique problem among developed nations, and it is a shame that we are begging and praising corporations for taking one step forward. We need to call on our government at local, state and federal levels to do what is right and to reform our gun laws. The laws we currently have are the reason we have a gun violence problem. Mental illness in the United States is not unique to the rest of the world. Video games in the United States are not unique to the rest of the world. What is unique is our very loose gun laws.
Seth Gully is a sophomore triple-majoring in economics, philosophy, politics and law and French.