In the last couple of weeks, two mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado dominated headlines. But it’s largely the news you don’t read that verifies what this pair of horrific tragedies hints at: guns are ruining the United States.
Ultimately, we should want for all Americans to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the three unalienable rights enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. Yet guns make it that much harder for people to live for and by those ideals. Whether it is a hate-driven mass shooting, a suicide or the daily gun violence plaguing urban areas, which make young Black men especially vulnerable to gun homicide, these foundational rights are violated each time an individual is killed with a gun in this country.
A recent report about the disproportionate rate of gun homicide among young Black men, aptly titled “A Public Health Crisis Decades in the Making,” captures just one dimension of the American gun violence epidemic, which kills 106 people in the U.S. every day. According to estimates from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 39 are murdered with guns and 64 die from gun suicide daily. We can keep pushing for gun control legislation, but it will not eradicate this American disease. As long as guns are around, with even more of them than people in this country, we will continue being shot and killed. There is only one way to end the violence once and for all: ban both assault rifles and handguns.
Perhaps the two most recent mass shootings will begin to open our country’s eyes to the bitter truth about gun violence. Just a week after the Atlanta shootings that left eight dead, 10 people were gunned down by a man with an assault-style weapon in a Boulder supermarket. We have barely had time to process the Atlanta tragedy, and now we must turn to the next American massacre. Boulder reminds us once again that thoughts and prayers won’t stop the violence. Only assertive action will.
I tend to consider the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut a tipping point for the country regarding the unfettered destruction of gun violence. How could the sheer innocence of those children not have forced a collaboration among the federal government, local officials, businesses and community groups to end the gun violence epidemic? Sandy Hook was our gun litmus test as a nation — to ban assault rifles, implement stricter background checks for gun purchases and pass red flag laws, among other sensible legislation. But we did not act aggressively enough. We failed that test.
San Bernardino followed. So did Umpqua, Charleston and Pulse not long after that. Then came Parkland, Las Vegas and Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. Now, we add Acworth, Atlanta and Boulder to that list. We are so numb to the violence that The New York Times maintains a running list of the recent mass shootings in the U.S.
The last two weeks have affirmed we can no longer remain numb. It’s time we take immediate, sweeping action to end gun violence. First, we must repeal the Second Amendment. It is a vague, twenty-seven word sentence that does not account for the bone-shattering capabilities of AR-15 bullets and the unique dangers posed by concealed handguns. It does not account for the ease with which Americans as young as 15 can purchase deadly firearms. It is outdated and inapplicable to our current age.
After we repeal the Second Amendment, we start confiscating assault rifles and handguns. This wouldn’t be the first time. In the wake of a deadly mass shooting in 1996 the Australian government bought back over 600,000 guns, which resulted in a nearly 50% decrease in gun homicides and an even greater drop in gun suicides. While a similar effort would likely fail in the U.S. — there are far too many guns, and the will to give them up would be lacking for so many — we must find a way to recover firearms. We can compensate those individuals for their guns to incentivize cooperation and dispel the myth that these weapons of mass destruction are needed for self-protection.
Immediate legislative relief will help, but it won’t end the violence. Even if the Senate passes universal background checks, as the House of Representatives recently did with bipartisan support, our gun violence epidemic will still persist. People with guns will kill other people without them, no matter if it’s a six-round colt pistol or an AK-47. In fact, the vast majority of homicides are committed with handguns. The Atlanta shooter did not need an assault rifle to take eight peoples’ lives: he managed to wreak havoc with a pistol purchased the same day of the shootings. When confronted by any sort of modern firearm, no unarmed individual will have a chance.
An alternative to heightened gun control, more guns in more Americans’ hands, is certainly not the answer. By promoting more gun ownership, we would be adding to the problem that we should be reversing: too many guns. We should not be ramping up firepower to protect us from guns, but ridding our country of their deadly potential to the greatest extent possible.
Guns are the problem. They amplify hate — the racism, the homophobia and transphobia, the anti-Semitism, the misogyny and sexual exploitation and the police brutality — and make it that much deadlier. Without guns in the picture, we can better address the poverty that reproduces gun violence, the strained police-community relations inflamed by it and the culture of otherness, inequity and fear that feeds into it. Otherwise, gun violence will continue to show its costly presence in our culture and institutions.
We can continue to numb ourselves to the violence. We can live in even greater fear that the supermarket we’re shopping at, the massage parlor we’re visiting or the church, mosque or synagogue we’re worshipping in will be the next target of an armed individual. In the hands of people filled with hate or in an erratic mental state, guns take innocent lives and tear apart our communities. People don’t hunt their food with guns anymore. They hunt other people.
The necessity of protecting oneself from tyranny at home and abroad does not drive gun ownership. A uniquely American fetish with these machines of destruction does. It’s time for the true American carnage to end. We must ban both assault rifles and handguns.
Jake Busch (22C) is from Brookhaven, Georgia.