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mass shootings

Over the last decade, more than one million Americans have been the victims of gun violence. In 2019 the United States witnessed 372 mass shootings according to the latest statistics from the Gun Violence Archive. That means on average there was one mass shooting per day over the last twelve months in America. If this isn’t horrific news, we don’t know what is. 

The stunning number of deadly mass shootings has triggered an intense debate in America. Nowhere else in the world is gun control as controversial a topic as it is in the United States. Among all developed countries, the US has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate. Such troubling statistics are fueling the increasing calls for gun control from coast to coast. 

Advocates for gun control believe that stricter laws limiting access to guns will decrease crime and save lives. Opponents argue that stricter gun laws tie the hands of law-abiding citizens and restrict their ability to defend themselves against armed criminals. With both sides dug in, there has been little appetite for compromise.     

One fact cannot be disputed. The combination of lenient gun control laws and high rates of gun ownership has resulted in a staggering number of mass shootings in America. In fact, mass shootings have become such a common occurrence that many of them are not covered by mainstream media outlets. Sadly, the mass murder of civilians using military-style weapons has become an American epidemic.

Three of the most heinous incidents have come in recent years. These include the massacre of twenty innocent children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, the mass murder of twenty-nine people in an Orlando nightclub in 2016, and the massacre of fifty-eight people at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2017. 

Since the Sandy Hook massacre, there have been five mass shooting incidents in which at least a dozen people were killed. None of these mass shootings were committed by individuals who obtained their guns illegally on the black market. All of these shootings involved the use of legally obtained semi-automatic weapons. Clearly, the US needs a better approach to gun control. 

Extensive Universal Background Checks 

Universal background checks are one of the more popular solutions proposed to the gun control problem in the US. Politicians from both major political parties have introduced measures to that end. Universal background checks alone, however, cannot stop gun violence. Mass shootings have been committed by people who were able to purchase weapons from licensed retailers despite being technically prohibited. This happens when various prohibitions are not recorded in the data used for background checks.

One way to close this tragic loophole is by mandating that state and local law enforcement agencies, along with mental health authorities, report a variety of prohibiting events to the federal government. Improved communications among agencies should help stop individuals with prohibiting offenses or behaviors from gaining access to firearms. To date, though, the cost of an improved interagency communication system is used as a convenient excuse to maintain the status quo. 

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Also known as ‘red flag’ laws, risk protection orders require intervention to be taken when the risk of violence to oneself or others is significantly high. These orders permit law enforcement officers and family members to petition a court to restrict an individual’s access to firearms.

The purpose of ‘red flag’ laws, however, is not to stigmatize people in the mental health community. President Trump and his daughter Ivanka have supported the cause in the past with Ivanka stressing the importance of adequate resources for mental health support.

In many cases, the mass shooter will hint of their plans or declare their intent in advance, especially on social media platforms. If people are more vigilant and aware of their surroundings, some of these disasters can be prevented in advance. An empowered public is critical to prevention.

Changing the Legal Age of Buying a Gun

In the US, licensed weapon dealers are permitted to sell a gun to anyone who is at least 18-years-old. That means Americans can purchase a deadly weapon before they are even allowed to buy alcohol or rent a car. 

The irony of the situation is not lost on Americans, the vast majority of whom believe that the legal age for buying a gun should be increased. A poll conducted by CNN showed that 71% of citizens are in favor of restricting people under the age of twenty-one from buying a gun.    

Restoring the Ban on Assault Weapons and Magazines with High Capacity 

Some 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have suggested reinstating the 1994 ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The ban was lifted in 2004 as a response to a series of mass shootings in the hope that this would make Americans safer, but the decision has exacerbated the problem.

Proponents for reinstatement argue that the 1994 ban was successful in limiting the ownership of assault weapons. They contend that the lifting of the ban has played a major role in increasing the rate of mass shootings in the US.

Gun reform advocates also finger high-capacity magazines for their role in the increasing rate of mass shootings in America. This is because some mass shooters can modify rifles to accept high-capacity magazines, converting them into assault weapons with inexpensive consumer products like the bump stock. 

Shooters with high-capacity magazines can fire rapidly at a large group of people without having to wait to reload the gun. This limits the opportunities for victims to escape the shooting and hampers intervening efforts by law enforcement.

A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University revealed that approximately 61% of Americans are in favor of a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons. However, because there are likely millions of assault-type firearms and high-capacity magazines already in circulation, a reinstated ban would be less effective. For a reinstated ban to make a real difference, the recovery of these particular firearms from civilians is a necessity.     

Closing the “Boyfriend Loophole”

The “boyfriend loophole” refers to when partners convicted of domestic violence are allowed to purchase firearms. Current federal law permits firearm purchases to domestic abusers as long as their partner is not a spouse or someone with whom they have lived with or had children. 

Almost three-quarters of people living in the US believe that Congress should do more to prevent future mass shootings and reduce gun violence. Only seventeen percent rate the efforts of Congress as satisfactory. Clearly, an overwhelming majority of citizens want change. 

Why do Americans need to possess weapons that are designed and marketed for war? 

The public’s demand for gun reform is supported by a recent order by the Supreme Court that ruled that survivors and relatives of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting could sue the company that manufactured the killer’s gun

Hopefully the lawsuit pushes gun manufacturers to be more responsible in designing and advertising firearms. The Sandy Hook parents believe that the gun manufacturer played a crucial role in the massacre by marketing its deadly weapons to a high-risk individual. Attorney Joshua Koskoff agrees and explains in his podcast why the jury will likely rule in the Plaintiff’s favor.

There should be no mercy for gun manufacturers that engineer their way around rules and regulations. While strict universal background checks for all purchases of firearms and risk protection orders will certainly help, there’s an urgent need to do more to prevent mass shootings in the future. New policies must be enacted to stop the epidemic of mass shootings in America. 

In the interim the courts present the most effective means of eliciting meaningful gun reform in the US. For example, as the result of the legal action taken after the Oct. 1, 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, which claimed fifty-eight lives and injured hundreds more outside of the MGM Casino, Slide Fire Solutions, the company that holds the only approved patent for bump stocks, shut down production of the controversial product. 

The move came in response to heavy political pressure following reports that the rapid-fire gun accessory was used in the brutal attack. A lawsuit seeking class-action status against Slide Fire was filed on behalf of three victims by Eglet Prince. The firm alleges negligence on the part of the bump stock manufacturer. 

According to court documents, the plaintiff contends that Slide Fire manufactured, marketed and sold bump stocks to gun owners who purchased their product in order to convert their semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic weapons. In so doing, Slide Fire may have skirted the federal laws that have been in place for over eighty years to regulate the sale of machine guns to the general public.

President Trump called for a ban on bump stocks in response to the heavy casualties and political outcry. In March 2018, the Justice Department took up his recommendation and initiated steps to ban the sale, manufacture or possession of bump stocks. 

The litigation filed in response to the Las Vegas and Sandy Hook mass shootings demonstrates how to run an end-around on the political deadlock in Washington, D.C., in order to effect the overdue gun reform that a vast majority of Americans demand.