This is a tribute to Peter Wang, who died protecting his fellow students.
The national debate on gun violence has been pushed to a higher level because of the tragic, mass shooting in Parkland, FL where 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and injured many others using a variant of the AR-15 rifle.
There were 427 mass shootings in 2017, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-funded database. In the absence of a legal or a widely accepted public definition, this database defines mass shootings as those that injure 4 or more people. On average, 52 people died in mass shootings every month last year.
The last year was filled with tragedies and remorse. We lowered our flags and mourned our losses, then typically went on with our lives a couple of days later. The debate over gun control is getting more attention as more mass shootings happen, yet not much action has been taken on the federal level. For example, the Las Vegas shooting brought into the public’s awareness bump stocks, a modification that turns a semiautomatic rifle into an automatic one. The level of potential harm it could bring to the public is definitely grave; however I’m not sure that a ban on bump stocks would actually save lives. Granted, Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock caused many casualties using bump stocks. But imagine a world without bump stocks: would Paddock’s act have led to fewer deaths? Unfortunately, the answer is no. In case you don’t know, a semi-automatic rifle can fire in automatic mode without a bump stock. I’m just as eager anyone else with a conscience to adopt measures that will save innocent lives, but we should deliberate before we act, and we need to determine that the plans we propose will be effective.
Then came the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Many believe this will be a turning point in the movement for gun control. The survivors of the shooting are high school students who decided to do something about the threat of guns. In an article four of the students published Tuesday night on the CNN website, they wrote, "As previously apolitical young adults, we are taking our first crack at doing what the adults have failed to do: offer a concrete solution to this plague of violence."
I respect their initiative to prevent horrible things from happening. They seem to believe that the NRA is the reason that common-sense regulations are not getting passed, and I believe this is true. Because of its donations to Congressional representatives, the NRA seems to have an unmatched influence over voters. Data does not support that belief completely, however. The NRA, one of the largest lobbying organizations, definitely spends more on lobbying compared to gun-control groups, but compared to other lobbying organizations, the NRA's spending is almost pathetic. Moreover, only 0.5 percent of gun owners are NRA members. I think the NRA definitely provides an incentive for senators to oppose gun control legislation, although the voting of such bills breaks down along party lines. Other reasons for why is it so hard to pass gun control laws are cultural (thanks, Clint Eastwood), different interpretations of the Second Amendment, and a "slippery slope" fear of tyranny.
The survivors' arguments have been compelling, based primarily on emotional appeals referencing their traumatic experiences. Inspired by these arguments, high school students across the nation are organizing marches and protests, and asking for stricter gun control laws. For a while, it seemed that public pressure would eventually force lawmakers to act. According to recent CNN surveys in recent years, 50% of Americans support stricter gun laws, and the percentage of Americans under 35 who support stricter gun laws is 49%. A Washington Post–ABC poll taken after the Parkland shooting showed that 50% of all adults support a ban, including 48% of those aged 18-29, while 46% of all adults and 18-to-29 year-olds oppose such a ban. Despite all the mass shootings and activism, it seems that the population's opinion is still divided on this subject.
On February 20th, the Florida legislature refused even to consider an assault weapon ban and a ban on large-capacity magazines. Survivors of the shooting are still organizing rallies and attending vigils. Some of them considered school work no longer important and decided that the best place for them is out in the field, organizing rallies. I appreciate their efforts pushing for stricter gun regulation, and it is obvious that rallies and protests have not worked too well for us. I also recognize the decision made by Dick's Sporting Goods to stop selling assault rifles.
To me, guns are tools; a means to meet an end. In my eyes, guns are inferior to the means of words and reason, but they are still essential and objectively an equal to words in our society. Figuratively, a gun represents power, raising someone to the same level as the other side. In this way, a gun can be a tool for creating peace when words and reason are not working. A gun can also be a recreational pastime for fit and responsible gun owners who simply love the sport. It can also be used for meaningless destruction. How the guns are used is entirely up to the user, because a gun cannot fire on its own. When guns are fired, it is people who aim them and pull the trigger.
Obviously, it would be quite hard to track all gun owners, including everyone who is acting edgy, and to know what they will do with their guns. The misuse of guns is ultimately inevitable, but even so it is possible to put regulations in place that reduce the violence to an acceptable level. Many articles about gun control have made analogies to automobiles, suggesting that we could regulate guns exactly the way we regulate cars. Donald Trump seems determined to raise the minimum age for purchasing a firearm from 18 to 21, despite outcry from the NRA and gun-rights advocates.
As the debate over gun laws intensifies, inflammatory comments have become more frequent online. The respect that everyone’s opinion deserves is being neglected. In an interview with Fox News, Colton Haab, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, claimed that CNN's February 21 town hall had been scripted, and that his father had forwarded his emails to a CNN executive producer. CNN was soon under criticism from Fox News, and Donald Trump tweeted "Fake News." CNN was later exonerated by the publication of the email correspondence between Haab and the network. This kind of thing happens all the time—right-leaning media acting aggressively toward liberal media, discrediting them based on unconfirmed facts. Even though the CNN town hall scandal proved to be a farce, liberals hate conservative media members for not checking their facts while conservatives’ attitude toward CNN worsens. We all believe what we want to believe. Rarely does someone take a step back to reassess the situation. In the words of Hiram Johnson, "Truth is the first casualty of war."
Banning AR-15s is not going to decrease much gun violence. There would still be many more rifles out there available. Banning all assault rifles won’t do much either, because most of the gun related death are from pistols. Would ban pistols help? No, hunting rifles and shotguns is destructive to human body as well. How about banning all guns? Nope, because guns will still be out there and there is no absolute way to prevent ill-intentioned people from getting their hands on guns. However any level of firearm ban or regulation will decrease gun deaths in different levels. The million-dollar question is how far are people willing to go, and should go, in order to save lives through giving up our(or someone’s) form of power and constitutional freedom. This dilemma in other words, is the debate of which is more important, individuality and the greater good. I found it ironic when the gun control debate is put to those words, the conservatives seems like liberals that pursues personal freedom and the liberals suddenly become the conservative side as they argue for the greater good. Anyhow, this debate can be traced back to Plato’s time. In Republic, he wrote about Aristotle’s view on the perfect state: a utopia that is dictated by a philosopher-king and strict division of labor. A stark contrast to the popular idea of the perfect state at that time and nowadays. For us human beings, personal enjoyment seems to have been paramount in our lives, it would be interesting to see where the debate of gun control would be going.
Perhaps school shootings can be stopped some day, if we all work toward the common goal. Innocent people are dying from guns, and we need to put a stop to mass shootings. I would not dare to propose a solution because of the multitude of factors involved, but a respectful discussion is the start to any solution. I hope everyone in this community can remain respectful to each other and their opinions, and always use reason. Debate for the sake of winning is pointless.
- Bob Fu '21