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Friday, March 1, 2013

The American Way

Gun violence has always been an issue in the United States. It’s America’s greatest hamartia. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Gun Laws have been heavily scrutinized within the media and legislation. Looking at the data, gun violence doesn't seem like it’s higher than years past. However, the media feeds off of fear and anxiety, so with every shooting of two or more, CNN and our other news giants will be sure to headline it as BREAKING NEWS.

Growing up in Miami, I thought it was normal to turn on the news and hear about a few homicides a day. So, whenever I heard people from outside of Miami talk about the violence in my city, I didn't understand what the big deal was until I moved to Tallahassee, FL to attend Florida A&M University. Tallahassee, FL, the capital, on average has about nine murders per year where Miami has about 67. That is when I realized that Miami had a problem.

Per 100,000
Per 100,000
*Miami data does not include surrounding cities

According to the FBI, there are certain variables that contribute to differences in crime from location to location. Some factors that are known to affect the volume and type of crime occurring from place to place are:

*Population density and degree of urbanization.
*Variations in composition of the population, particularly youth concentration. 

*Stability of the population with respect to residents’ mobility, commuting patterns, and transient factors. 
*Modes of transportation and highway system. 
*Economic conditions, including median income, poverty level, and job availability. 
*Cultural factors and educational, recreational, and religious characteristics. 
*Family conditions with respect to divorce and family cohesiveness. 
*Effective strength of law enforcement agencies. 
*Administrative and investigative emphases of law enforcement. 
*Policies of other components of the criminal justice system (i.e., prosecutorial, judicial, correctional, and probational). 
*Citizens’ attitudes toward crime. 
*Crime reporting practices of the citizenry.

The FBI has suggestions as to what contributes to violence but have they determined what contributes towards gun violence? America is known for its need for speed and enjoying the effortless way of doing things; fast food, fast service, fast internet, fast emails, so why not use a gun which is the fastest and easiest method to kill/harm someone?

To tackle the gun issue, I think it’s important to not focus on crimes involving guns as a whole but to break it down into sub-groups. Should mass homicide prevention be conducted the same way one would prevent street shootings? Mass shootings, usually targeting (but not limited too) innocent bystanders should be in a field of its own. The debate with mass shootings is the type of guns being used. With that in mind, the President and several political figures have announced their support to ban military-style assault weapons. However, CNN reports that there are 6,000 people a year that are killed by hand guns alone. If you compare this to the Newtown massacre, it’s 239 times that a year (CNN 2013). So, should we be focusing on handguns instead?

The figure above details gun-related homicides in 2011 by weapon type. This breakdown has remained consistent across the most recent five years of data made available by the FBI.

Being that I am not a gun fanatic, my boyfriend was able to breakdown the gun jargon and explain to me what makes a gun semi-automatic.

Semi-automatic guns are not machine guns. You pull the trigger once, and it shoots one bullet. Jeff Serdy explained to Fox News during an interview that labeling a gun an ‘assault’ weapon has nothing to do with how deadly it is. Scrutinizing all of the 2012 mass shootings, none of the suspects used an automatic weapon (mainly due to the fact that automatic weapons are banned). When you squeeze the trigger on an automatic weapon, bullets keep firing out of the gun until you stop squeezing. The military’s M-16 used to be automatic, however, the military has shied away from automatic firing and the latest M-16’s have three-shot burst and is semi-automatic. AR-15s, which is the civilian equivalent to the M-16, is not automatic and does not have three-shot burst. The difference between semi-automatic and a regular gun is that you do not need to cock it or load it after each shot. Using the term semiautomatic is broad, since a number of guns are semiautomatic. 

The term ‘assault weapon’ is confusing, since all guns could be considered assault weapons. A book could be consider an assault weapon if you try to assault someone with it. So what makes a gun an ‘assault weapon’… is it the capabilities or the style of a gun? Just because it may look like a military style gun, doesn't mean it’s more deadly. Any gun can be an assault weapon and there is no clear definition on what an assault weapon is. However, there is a clear definition for what an ‘assault rifle’ is. Assault rifles are automatic guns, and as aforementioned, automatic guns are already banned. The gun used in the Sandy Hook massacre was a semiautomatic rifle. In the 13 mass shootings that occurred last year (not including gang shootings), only four could be positively linked back to using a semi-automatic gun. In regards to rifles, only four shooters could be linked to using a rifle (with one being semi-automatic). Seven of the suspects used handguns (with three being semiautomatic) in their shootings. (Keep in mind, that some of the suspects used multiple fire arms.)

In the article ‘Mass Shootings in 2012: Crimesider reports on this year's public shootings’, Julia Dahli researched the 13 mass shootings and determined whether the guns used were stolen or registered to the shooter and what type of gun was used. Dahli also researched the gun laws in every state where the shootings occurred to see if the states with stricter gun laws benefited. In the Sandy Hook case, a background check would not have mattered since the shooter stole the gun from his mother. In the 13 shootings, only three of the shooters’ guns could be positively identified as guns that were legally purchased by the shooter. And in Connecticut, the gun laws are moderately strict.
So what does a previously convicted criminal who is still engaged in illegally activity do when he/she needs a gun and they are not allowed to get one because their resident state requires a background check? They steal their weapons or buy them under the table. 

What about mass shootings? Do these shooters usually have a criminal history? Some do, and some don’t. However, this is usually the first thing the media and the courts look for when dealing with a suspected shooter. The report usually includes ‘he/she had no criminal history’ after the defendant is charged with a crime. So… what does that even mean? In my perspective, it tells us that people with no criminal history can become criminals, murders, rapist, etc. So background checks may not be the best answer to reducing gun violence, but it could help. The more you rules you enforce, the more people you will be able to eliminate from legally owning a gun… assuming people are obtaining their guns the legal way.

Looking around the world, especially at countries that do not allow their citizens to own guns, I ask ‘how is the homicide rate in other countries in comparison to the United States’? Let’s look at countries that ban guns, there may be less shootings occurring (because amazingly, countries that have a ban on guns, will still have homicides due to guns) but what about stabbings? Setting someone on fire? What about stoning someone to death? Has those countries looked into their Stoning Laws? Or does their constitution allow them the right to bear stones?

The problem here is not guns. Correlation doesn't mean causation. Most murders are committed by men, so should we just ban men from using guns? Not be sexiest, but I think we would actually see some relief with this option. Criminals and murders like guns because guns provided a more quick, easy and efficient way to kill. And being that America is one of the richest countries on earth; Americans can afford guns and the ammunition, unlike other countries. 

Looking at the states with the strictest gun laws, you will notice that these states still suffer from high homicide rates due to guns. So strict gun laws doesn't mean the problem will be solved. It’s not the weapon but the mentality. Who’s doing all the killings in Chicago? Well, there is lots of gang violence plaguing Chicago. Is it as easy as 1,2,3… Get rid of the gangs and you will see a decrease in homicides. 

Banning guns is the ultimate catholicon. Banning guns will only make America a scarier place because it would leave honest, law abiding citizens unarmed, and the criminals will have an unfair advantage. Culturally, an American would shoot you. In Afghanistan, you would be blown up. In other countries they will set you on fire or stab you. In some places, you could be stoned or even beheaded. Yes… beheaded. Culturally, Americans have leaned towards the more effective way to kill someone… with a gun.

Discriminating Against the Mentally Ill

The term mentally ill is widely used and could mean severely different things. And after volunteering with a Mentally Ill hotline, I know that people with a mental illness does not want to be categorized as being mentally ill but rather someone living with a mental illness. Now, after several mass shooters have been linked to having a mental illness, it seems as if all people living with a mental illness will have to pay for what a few have done. It’s unfair to link all citizens with a mental illness into one large group of ‘mentally unfit to own a gun’ because being mentally ill could mean so many different things. And mentally ill does not mean that your violent or attend to harm others. The Sandy Hook shooter was described as having Aspergers. But last time I checked, Aspergers was a form of autism, not a mental illness.

You hear the media addressing gun violence like it’s all the same. To attack such a behemoth issue, I would suggest dividing it into fractions. You cannot solve all gun violence issues using one method. And although they have stated that they don’t want to band all guns… well, this would be fine with me but I think about home many citizens this will impact people who have never committed a crime and don’t intend to. I have more faith in the legal system that the 2nd Amendment will stand firm and the right to bear arms will remain our constitutional right. However, I truly don’t believe that banning guns is going to solve the gun violence and if it does reduce gun violence, another type of violence will merge if it is not done properly. It is an adiaphorous belief that banning a certain type of gun will eliminate America’s ‘problem child’ (aka the Mass Shooter). 

With or without semiautomatic guns, homicides will still take place, as you can see from the statistics… and when you eliminate one evil, another rises in its place. I think they should actually take the time to look at the data, and analyze it correctly. Focus more on the individuals and early warning signs and use that along with other research to build an approach to prevent these senseless mass shootings, instead of running to legislation with a ‘feel good’ law – laws that make the citizens feel good and safe when it ultimately doesn't really prevent anything. Because at the end, someone mentally disturbed who is determined to kill many people all at once, will. That is why our focus should be on the individual and coming to their rescue before it is too late.

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