After 13 people were killed in last Monday’s (latest) mass shooting in the United States, this time at the Navy Yard in Washington, Laura Hyer expects the debate between the supporters and opponents of gun control legislation to return in full force.
“These things are coming faster and furiouser,” said Hyer, executive director at Stop Handgun Violence. “I think it’s just a horrifying thought, we live in fear that way.”
According to Hyer, who referenced an info-graphic released by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, the Navy Yard disaster is one of 16 mass shootings (four or more confirmed deaths) in the United States to occur since the Sandy Hook tragedy.
“It’s a shame that he managed to slip through those legal cracks,” said Hyer, referring to the shooter passing a background check despite a shaky history with both the Navy and civilian police. “However, in 33 states he wouldn’t have even had any cracks to go through. Other countries look at us like we have 12 heads.”
Advocates for gun control are consistently met by staunch opposition from members of the gun rights community, people who stand just as firmly on the other side of the argument.
“Assuming you’re a responsible adult, you should have the right to defend yourself,” said Phil Watson, director of special projects at Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, a gun rights organization headquartered in Bellevue, Wash.
Watson said that many gun rights supporters feel threatened by the possibility of increased gun control, including universal background checks. The most recent attempt at a bill for these checks failed in the U.S. Senate this past April, disappointing the 90 percent of Americans polled who were in favor of it.
“There were huge loopholes in it, really,” said Hyer. “The fact that we couldn’t even get that weak of a bill through is just terrifying.”
Watson said that guns are not the only weapon used to commit acts of violence, using the 1927 Michigan elementary school bombing as an example, and that American society as a whole needs fixing first.
“If you have someone who is trying to commit mass murder, it’s not the ‘how’ that we need to look at, it’s the ‘when,’” he said. “I think the dangerous thing is to only focus on guns because there are definitely some bigger issues at work here within our society, especially how we take care of our mentally ill.”
The debate extends even beyond the advocates for these organizations. This is an issue that hits home with younger generations as well.
“People definitely should be allowed to own guns, but it’s completely ridiculous that you can just buy semi-automatic weapons,” said Emily Stith, a freshman political science major studying in the honors program at Northeastern University in Boston.
Stith spoke of the need for stricter rules, specifically background checks, as a good place to start in response to American gun violence.
“They shouldn’t be outlawed completely, that’s a Constitutional right. But that right needs to be regulated,” she said. “It’s not unreasonable to have to check if someone has a violent history or some kind of mental instability before selling them a gun.”
The U.S. has more gun-related deaths (10 per 100,000 Americans) than any other country, according to a recent study by Drs. Sripal Bangalore and Franz Messerli, two New York cardiologists. Data from the same study indicates that Japan sees only .06 gun related deaths per 100,000 citizens.
“It’s very, very easy for people here to get guns, much easier than where I’m from,” said Gen Ohta, a sophomore engineering major at Northeastern who lived in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo, before moving to the U.S. for college. “In Japan the permit process is very rigorous and includes, I believe, psychological testing. When you do get a gun there are many, many regulations.”
Ohta talked about the difference that he noticed in gun violence after moving to America.
“It’s pretty horrific in my opinion,” he said. “And while the Constitution is a integral part of American legislation, as countries evolve I think policies should accommodate that evolution.”
Undeniably, the issue of gun control consistently sparks a controversial discussion. Each time a tragic shooting reaches national airwaves, advocates on both sides wage a difficult and complicated debate over gun rights.
“I think the citizen’s point that he must defend himself against a country that he does not agree with is losing more and more in relevance.” said Dr. M. Hoppmann, a communications professor at Northeastern whose research is firmly grounded in rhetoric and argumentation theory. “However, it is still a fair argument and one that you can’t dismiss immediately.”
In Hoppmann’s opinion, it is a fundamental right for Americans to be able to defend themselves. It is also a fundamental right to live. In his eyes, there is a price for both of these rights. On one side, freedom is sacrificed whereas on the other, the price is lives.
“You basically have to ask yourself, how many casualties a year is my current philosophy of society worth it to me?” he said. “The answer to that question really is something that comes down to your judgment of freedom, and it also comes down to your judgment of human life.”