By Zach Crowley MC-MPA ’13 and Richard Witt MC-MPA’13
Many Americans own assault rifles and large magazine clips, and no one has yet offered a widely-accepted policy for keeping these weapons away from unstable Americans who might use them for tragic purposes. Common sense dictates that American liberty must be preserved, but common sense also requires that the government encourage Americans to make a thoughtful choice on gun ownership.
When Americans perished at the World Trade Center, the American people acted to protect our citizens and to prevent future terrorist attacks. But when American children died in Columbine, we did not act. When young American men and women died at Virginia Tech, we did not act. And now, after Sandy Hook, the American people are presented once more with a choice – whether we will act to protect our families, or whether we will wait for another tragedy to occur.
Proposals for an assault weapons ban are well meaning, but worry advocates of Second Amendment rights and offend responsible gun owners. Supporters for a ban face other political obstacles – after each mass shooting support for gun control has slowly eroded, and gun ownership has increased. Before Columbine, the Pew Research Center tells us that nearly two out of every three Americans supported gun control. Today, they report the question is a coin flip.
The other inadequacy of an assault weapons ban is the presence of assault weapons already in private ownership. How effective is a policy that does not reduce, in the short term, the millions of assault rifles already in circulation? Perhaps, starting tomorrow, we could agree to prevent the purchase of new assault weapons or high volume magazines, but Adam Lanza made ill use of guns his mother already owned. A gun buyback program can be effective, but is costly and may be slow going.
The NRA proposal to arm our teachers is also troubling. The NRA answer to too much gun violence is often the presence of more guns. An American Journal of Epidemiology study found that members of gun-owning households were more likely to die of gun violence, including murder and suicide, than members of households without firearms. Whatever dissuasion a gun in a person’s hand might offer a gun toting maniac, your likelihood of death by firearm increases when you are near a gun.
The good news is that we have an opportunity to do something productive on gun violence. Social scientists have shown that policies designed to discourage unwanted behavior, while preserving personal choice, can be effective. If we simply make higher powered guns less accessible and attractive than their lower-powered counterparts, American residents will make the choice that is safer for our community.
We did not act with sufficient will after past tragedies, and the blood of children is on our hands. If we do not act now, we will surely be asked by the tears of anguished parents, and the pangs of our conscience, to do so once again.