In the past month, 90 million American gun owners didn’t kill anyone. But that fact didn’t matter to the 59 men and women who died in the Las Vegas shooting two weeks ago. It didn’t matter to the 49 people murdered at an Orlando nightclub in June 2016. It didn’t matter to the 20 children from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Mass., who were slaughtered in December 2012.
The United States is the only developed country in the world that suffers mass shootings seemingly every few weeks. Although gun violence is on the decline in the U.S., the fact that we have data on the frequency of mass shootings ought to trigger at least some action by our government — especially when we have seen other countries solve this problem with techniques within our capacity. We need, in this country, a massive government buyback of guns.
In 1996, Australia witnessed the single largest slaughter of innocent civilians via mass shooting up to that point in history. Within months of the Port Arthur massacre, in which 35 people were killed and 23 were wounded, Australia witnessed the single largest government buyback of firearms up to that point in history, banning both automatic and semi-automatic firearms, as well as shotguns, and forcing all gun owners to sell their firearms to the government for a full refund. Since 1996, Australia has sustained just one mass shooting in 2014 when Geoff Hunt murdered his wife and three children.
In 2014, China suffered one of the most violent armed attacks in its recent history. Eight perpetrators wielding knives killed 31 innocent civilians in the Kunming Railway Station — that’s fewer than four victims per assailant, compared to the dozens who have been killed by one criminal with a gun in the U.S. In one sense, supporters of our current lax gun control laws are right: Increased gun control will never cure the wretchedness of some small portion of the populace, but when those people don’t have access to guns, they are relegated to fewer murders per person.
Every time there is a mass shooting in this country, the pro-gun lobby trots out the exact same thoroughly shallow lines that could have been thought up by, in the enlightened prose of London Mayor Boris Johnson, any “great supine protoplasmic invertebrate jellies.”
“The only thing stopping a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun,” claimed National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. How eerily reminiscent of the Wild West. Surely we can come up with a better solution to our gun fetish than to have vigilantes roaming the streets, guns cocked and loaded.
Other countries don’t need vigilante gunslingers running around the country because other countries don’t have citizens with guns in the first place. If the last 20 years of mass shootings have taught us anything, it’s that more guns won’t solve our gun problem.
“More gun control is more of what won’t work,” declared Paul Jenkins, a columnist for the Anchorage Daily Planet online newspaper in an op-ed published five days after the Las Vegas shooting. After all, Chicago has the strongest gun control laws in the country, as well as one of the highest homicide rates — a strong inductive argument. However, most of these guns were purchased outside the state of Illinois. Stringent gun laws in Chicago only force its residents to make the 37-minute car ride to Gary, Ind., to buy their guns.
The purpose of the Second Amendment is “to ensure that people are able to protect themselves from tyranny” according to 65 percent of participants in a 2013 national telephone survey by Rasmussen Reports. Maybe it was in 1789. But today, our government controls tanks, stealth bombers, fighter jets that travel at twice the speed of sound, a large enough nuclear arsenal to make the whole world uninhabitable 10 times over, 10 aircraft carriers, an oil reserve extensive enough to engage in a year-long war, dozens of satellites … and I’m only scratching the surface. With an AR-15 rifle and a Coors Light, a decent shot might be able to hit a stationary target 80 percent of the time, but you won’t be able to shoot down an F-22 Raptor like General Patton circa 1942. If citizens really care about government tyranny, maybe we should exercise another right — the right to vote. The U.S. consistently has one of the lowest rates of voter turnout in the developed world.
“Gun control only hurts law-abiding citizens,” wrote David Quintero in a letter to the editor of the San Bernardino Sun. The logic goes that criminals will be the only people with guns — far more dangerous a situation than before. I can buy a handgun in the U.S. for less than $200. In Australia, try $15,000. The big guns that can actually deal some serious damage to a crowd cost even more — so much more that criminals in Australia reportedly started sharing firearms in 2014 instead of buying their own. Not only is there a whole clandestine black market to navigate in other countries but there’s an obscenely high price tag that would disqualify most people from even being able to afford to plan a mass shooting.
There are only a few legitimate claims for gun ownership. One is protection against home invasion. But data have consistently shown that having a gun in the house, regardless of the reason, is more likely to cause harm to family members rather than prevent it.
Another valid claim belongs to hobbyists, whether they be hunters, collectors or the like. Remember Australia? They solved this one, too. Australia has a permit system that allows people to buy firearms for express purposes after navigating somewhat extensive red tape. The process is elaborate but essentially ensures that buyers intend to use their firearms for legitimate reasons and distributes licenses from there.
The U.S. has a long history of gun culture. While a buyback like the Australian one would be deeply controversial and divisive, that isn’t a reason not to try it. There is nothing stopping us from placing a one-year moratorium on gun use pending the data from that year. If the proponents of the buyback are right and there is no decline in gun violence, then we should return every last gun back to their original owners. But there is simply no reason to believe a decline in violence wouldn’t occur. We can’t take any more half-measures or superficial policy changes; if we do, we will continue to pay for them with the lives of concertgoers, nightclubbers and children.
Grant Osborn is a College junior from Springfield, Ohio.