Another day. Another mass shooting. Parents grieve. Students protest. Cue the hot air on both sides. Nothing is done. Faith in government is lost. Repeat.
It’s a cynical cycle that, in my young 20 years—during four of which I paid attention to mass shootings and during all of which I’ve been a student—I’ve seen happen far too many times. 22 in this past year to be exact. And each and every time, I know that it is likely that this fresh wave of preventable bloodshed will compel no change.
I both study and conduct research in political science at Loyola Marymount University, and one of the first things I’ve learned is to boil a problem down to the basics. So here are the basics:
Logically speaking, a government is obligated to protect its citizens. Hence, if it sees a type of crime that is killing its citizens on a regular basis and it is both possible and pragmatic to limit these tragedies, then it would not only make sense but be the obligation of that government to take action against that type of crime. But as everyone knows, it’s not that simple.
One of the major complicating factors is the rise of political polarization in our society. Like most contemporary issues, gun control is treated in its extremes; ban all guns or let the Second Amendment reign free. The notion that the solution lies somewhere in the middle has become unfashionable.
I’m a student activist who spoke during my university’s participation at the National School Walkout, and in my speech, I called for a ban on the AR-15. This and much of the rhetoric from the left prompted many of my fellow students to believe I had called for a seizing of all firearms, mirroring the national conversation on gun control in general. I had to explain to my more liberal classmates that the Second Amendment is an important tool that allows for the self-defense of the citizenry and ought to remain, and I remarked to my few conservative classmates that while I do not advocate for a repeal of the Second Amendment, like all other freedoms granted by the constitution, the right to bear arms needs to be sensibly regulated.
And that’s what’s missing from today’s conversation: sensible regulation. The words “common-sense gun control” are drowned out by the extreme views of a total ban or total freedom. The media, rarely missing an opportunity to attract attention by using this sort of divisive rhetoric, regularly amplifies these views. And that’s all we, the students seeking safety in our own schools, and they, the prior and inevitable next victims of America’s trend of mass shootings, are left with: noise. But there’s no action to accompany it.
In Heller v. The District of Columbia, the decisive Supreme Court case that ruled a handgun ban unconstitutional, late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Scalia went on to explain legal precedent for regulation as “dangerous and unusual weapons.” In other words, the Second Amendment is not an unlimited license to bear arms, but rather must be legally regulated. A measurable extent to which it can be altered is still legally unclear. But here’s what isn’t: it is well within the government’s right to regulate who has access to guns, and that comes down to common-sense gun laws.
These sorts of common-sense regulations include mandatory background checks for both criminal history and mental fitness as well as closure of the loopholes that allow for unchecked arms dealings at firearms conventions. A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 97% of Americans favor these sort of universal background checks. In order to get this figure, NRA members and dissenters must be on the same side. So why hasn’t it happened?
The answer lies in who’s in office. Every election cycle since 1992 has installed a successively more extreme Congress on both sides of the aisle to the point where, as of the day of the Santa Fe Springs mass shooting, the Republican party is too divided amongst itself to pass an agriculture bill due to its links to immigration reform. It is these same extremists that sway the Republican party so far right that they are unwilling to listen to their more moderate constituents.
This is why the upcoming midterm elections are so important. The Democrats’ strategy is to place moderate candidates in key swing districts, while the Republicans have been appealing to the rise of the right. A vote for a moderate congressional candidate will become a vote for a shift away from the extreme.
This is how the ruthless cycle is broken. Not by a plea for peace with a ban on the tools of violence. Not by a rage-fueled defense of a misinterpretation of the Second Amendment by the right. But by voters demanding their government to protect the lives of students like myself.
Will this put an end to school shootings? No. But it is progress. It is a step in the right direction. And that’s something that this nation needs.