The issue: In light of recent mass shootings, is it time to overhaul gun laws?
During a period of less than one month, there have been deadly rampages in Colorado, Wisconsin and Texas. Concerned individuals have been struggling to find answers to questions such as: Are some societal problems causing such massacres? Are there any legislative, legal, medical or some other actions that can be taken to prevent such horrific events in the future? These are valid questions begging for answers. Sadly, the answer to any of these questions is that there is no clear answer at the present. Now medical experts conclude that focusing solely on the assailants is inadequate for controlling gun violence. Rather, a scientific approach that takes into account guns prevalence in our society is needed.
When one looks at the statistics, two trends stand out. During the last 15 plus years, the rate of violent crimes in the United States has been steadily declining. In the mid-1990s, there were approximately 50 victims of violent crimes per 1,000 in the population. Currently the rate is around 15 victims for the same number. This is a remarkable improvement; we are safer in the streets and in our homes. However, there is another trend that is troubling: The average number of annual mass shootings. Since mid-1970s, there have been approximately 20 massacres annually. When it comes to mass shootings, no place appears to be immune. They have occurred in a community center, fast-food restaurant, high school, theater, military base, university, a temple, to name a few.
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Many attribute the problem to two sources: interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and liberal gun purchasing laws. The Second Amendment, based on Article Four of the Bill of Rights, states, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
As recently as 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in amilitia. Critics argue that by “arms,” the founding fathers meant something like a muzzle-loading ball and ram-rod guns of those times, not automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons of today. Also, they could not possibly predict the current military power of the United States. Nonetheless, any interpretation other than that of the Supreme Court would be unacceptable until the court opines a different interpretation — realistically improbable in the foreseeable future. Many propose stricter gun laws and thorough background checks of potential gun buyers. More thorough background checks would not have helped in the cases of the Colorado and Wisconsin massacres. James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded 59 people in Colorado, had no criminal record. The same is true for Wade Page, who killed six and grievously injured two worshippers and a heroic peace officer in a Wisconsin Sikh temple.
Sociologists, behavioral scientists and legal scholars have been researching, unsuccessfully so far, to identify personal traits and behavioral patterns of psychopaths who commit mass murders.
Perhaps we, the people, can individually and collectively do afew things that could possibly reduce the number of such tragedies in the future.
The ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution include domestic tranquility and the pursuit of happiness for us. We should demand that the government limit and outlaw the size of ammunition purchases and the purchase of automatic and semiautomatic assault weapons by individuals. Our nation should make mental health a high priority. According to Scientific American, mentally ill people account for only 3 to 5 percent of violent crimes. They could possibly be prevented from committing such heinous crimes with proper care. We should remember that a mental illness is no different than any other physical illness.
Finally, the blame partly lies on recent cultural changes. Why do we have diminished respect for others? Why is our nation overwhelmed by hatred and polarity? Why is there such intolerance of different ideologies? Why, instead of offering counterpoints at an intellectual level, many resort to making personal attacks and hurling derogatory labels at those who have different opinions? How did we reach the point that those who spew hatred, create divisiveness and spread ignorance using modern technology and mass media are financially rewarded? Why is there such prevalent rejection of scientific and verifiable facts?
Quoting Shakespeare, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.” Maybe!
Zaf Iqbal is past associate dean and professor emeritus of accounting of Cal Poly's Orfalea College of Business. He volunteers with local nonprofits including Habitat for Humanity, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and the Children's Resource Network. He is president of the San Luis Obispo Democratic Club.