Graphic by Logan Hillerns
About 60 percent of Americans want stricter gun laws in U.S., according to a Gallup poll.
Gun control. Arguably one of the most controversial topics currently dividing America. Most of the arguments, for either side, I have recently viewed are comprised of snarky jabs at the opposing side’s intellect. This makes it difficult to fully understand the situation, and to reach progress.
Roughly 60 percent of Americans say they want stricter gun control, according to a Gallup poll. This generalization, while possibly true in a broad sense, indicating a desire to push forward with safety rather than fall back, is still an overgeneralization. We cannot afford to have more over-generalizations in our government and our policy debates. That will not lead to any compromise. Specific, concrete problems must be identified and tackled thoughtfully.
According to the Pew Research Center, as of April 2017, Democrats and Republicans agreed on at least one proposed method of gun control, although they disagreed on many more. It must also be noted that the Democratic and Republican parties do not cover everyone in the country, and should not be generalized to be completely left- and right-leaning respectively. If we are seeing so many acts of gun violence, and the majority of America desires progressive change in some capacity, why are so few bills being passed, and some of those being repealed?
I can understand how the issue is different for those who have a stake one way or another, whether someone is a victim of gun violence or a member of a family that’s always owned guns for hunting and for safety. A recent article in the New York Times found a positive correlation between gun ownership and number of mass shootings, even when controlled for factors like mental health, in that a deeper examination showed that countries with high levels of suicides had low levels of mass shootings. In writing this article I reached out to people who could represent different groups and different viewpoints on campus, including the College Republicans, although they were unable to be interviewed due to scheduling conflicts.
Brett Burkhardt, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at OSU, teaches a class on the sociology of guns. He believes it is significant that many incidents of mass brutality in America utilize guns.
“I really can’t speak to the motives of mass shooters,” Burkhardt said via email. “In many ways, they are somewhat random and unpredictable. But it is notable that acts of mass violence are carried out using guns rather than some other instrument. Presumably, this is because it is very easy to acquire a large number of highly lethal guns in the U.S.”
Sierra Alvernaz, a fourth-year student majoring in political science and President of the College Democrats at Oregon State University, understands that guns can represent very important values to people, like freedom and safety, but strongly believes that change must come.
“For me personally, to a certain extent (guns) represent fear, almost, and trying to hold on to power, or something along those lines, Alvernaz said. “I know that for myself, hearing about when some kind of horrible shooting is going on, it definitely is scary. But I can see how people who were growing up around guns or view it as a source of personal freedom, that it would be scary for them to have that taken away, and I think that it’s important to remember that those opinions are valid, too, and it’s just kind of coming to a compromise about how to use guns responsibly and safely.”
For those who are unsure what classifies a gun as a handgun or pistol, rifle, semi-automatic, automatic, or an assault weapon, like I was until quite recently, here is a brief rundown. A handgun is a firearm which is held in one hand and has a short barrel. Pistols are a type of handgun that have been made to fire with one hand, unsupported compared to a rifle which has been made or remade to be fired from shoulder support. A non-automatic gun, generally just referred to by their specific types, like bolt action, is one in which action is required by the user in between the firing of bullets, or rounds, to load the next cartridge into the chamber. A semi-automatic gun is one which, after the user fires a bullet, the gun discards the cartridge casing and loads a new cartridge. Thus, all the user has to do is pull the trigger, and bullets will be shot as quickly as the user can do that, until their magazine or other bullet container is empty. A fully-automatic gun is one in which the user does not even have to lift their finger off the trigger in between firing shots. An assault weapon is a term with a multitude of conflicting definitions. As best as I can figure, it is a firearm which is semi-automatic, has a detachable magazine, and at least a couple of other notable, military-like features. In my opinion, it is best to avoid the use of this term, as it causes confusion on both sides. Be specific, instead, and use terms with clear definitions, like assault rifle, or tactical rifle. If we are not sure about the definition of a gun term, we must take it onto ourselves to do the research before engaging in debates or discussions, spreading misinformation like the common cold.
According to Nick Smith, a fifth-year sociology major and active member of the Oregon State University Pistol Club, current gun control laws are not doing enough.
“The National Firearms act basically banned automatic firearms, short-barreled shotguns and rifles, and then silencers. The only way you can legally get those is if you apply for an ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) tax stamp. You have to pay a certain amount, it takes like a year to be approved, and any time you cross a state line, any time you travel at all with those items, you have to tell the ATF you’re doing it,” Smith said.
Smith thinks rather than attempting to ban specific guns and specific accessories, the smartest way forward is to treat guns more like cars. This would entail an initial physical gun license being required, license renewal being required every couple of years, where you again must go through safety training and a mental health evaluation. Additionally, he thinks things like concealed-carry permits and gun accessories should be regulated through endorsements, complete with trainings and evaluations, and the endorsements would be placed on the gun license, just like a motorcycle endorsement functions and is placed in a driver’s license.
“The only issue with that is a lot of guns mix and match parts, a lot of guns may have shaved off serial numbers if they’re being sold on the streets, that would be the logistic parts that I feel would be almost impossible, but I do think that would cut down on a lot of the issues that surround guns,” Smith said. “In all seriousness, if people who are so in love with guns, like I do, I mean, I’m a fanatic, I’m a gun fan. I love guns, and I wouldn’t see why it would be an issue to do something like this, where you go and get it renewed every two years and do another mental examination, like that. If you love them enough you wouldn’t have a problem with doing that.”
I believe that the Second Amendment needs to be updated to reflect the gravity of the immense power that guns now hold. I do not believe there should be a gun ban.
So, what is stopping us? One point of concern is the National Rifle Association. They have a lot of money, a lot of influence, and they are not afraid to use it.
“I personally used to have an NRA membership and I don’t anymore because all they send me is things in the mail of, like, a picture of Hillary that looks like a devil, and all this political stuff,” Smith said. “The reason I did the NRA originally was because the NRA started as safety training, and they do that still, as well as competitions. I think they need to get out of politics.”
In my opinion, the only way to try to match the NRA’s power, money and outrageous amount of control over certain legislators is with the force of the numbers of the American public. We have a vote, we have petitions, we have our voices and we have the ability to run for local office.
Another point falls on people who are perhaps Democrats or more liberal.
“It’s hard for people like me, who are more level-headed and are okay with change, to agree with policy changes when people who are fighting for the same change we need, don’t know as much as we do, if that makes sense. Like CNN a month ago was talking about bump stocks, the gun they were showing didn’t even have a bump stock on it. And then they put a grenade launcher on it and that made everyone in our community laugh because it’s like we can’t get grenade launchers, so why,” Smith said. “Like yes, we get what you’re trying to do but it’s just so far off, that I can’t. So politicians need to be more educated or even bring in fanatics or people who know what they’re doing or talking about. Because it’s just like every time they bring up policy there’s always two or three videos that come up of an anchor or a politician saying something that is just not even close to being correct about a firearm or how it works. All of their credibility just goes down the drain with that. That’s a big issue with policy.”
Alvernaz agrees with Smith on this issue.
“We need policymakers that understand what’s going on and are able to reach out to people in a way that’s not invasive or infringing on their rights and making it clear that we need to slowly implement reform instead of this really bombastic fear-mongering talk that goes on a lot in the Democratic Party,” Alvernaz said.
Bailey Reynolds, a second-year student majoring in biology, believes that people should take a closer, more individual and educated look at issues before thinking they know what’s right.
“With the recent election, I think that the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum have been brought forward and are being generalized as being Republican or Democrat instead of radical. It’s making it so we judge people by whether they are Republican or Democrat and don’t even have discussions on individual views,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds represents the frustration that I see in many people at the prospect of a nation that is increasingly partisan, due in part to the fact that people tend to surround themselves with similar viewpoints both in face-to-face social connections and on social media, and only see the other side of things represented in news headlines of radical protests or in screenshots of poorly thought out comments, accompanied by a snarky comeback from a member of their own perspective group. I am guilty of this, too. It is so much easier to release frustration around people who agree, which only compounds our own viewpoint, and so much harder to filter out our own fiery anger and righteousness and find common ground. But there are constructive ways in which we can take action, instead of taking cheap shots and complaining to people we know will always agree. We can take the high road. But not too high, because that leads to believing one’s opinion is always morally and logically superior. So, we can take the medium road. The road with compromise.
The Pew Research Center recently found that a majority of Democrats and Republicans support gun control measures like creating a federal database to track gun sales, banning assault-style weapons and preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns. Although I am leery about how the ban for mentally ill people could potentially play out, I guess that that nervousness is similar to what gun fans feel. But this proof of support across the aisle means that if we can overcome the communication breakdown, we can also overcome groups like the elite leaders of the NRA, and institute change.
In the aftermath of the Marshall County High School shooting, I heard a great deal of concern from friends and acquaintances about their lack of an emotional response, and how America seems to be becoming numb to shootings. While this is, of course, anecdotal evidence, I do believe it represents a majority of America. People are growing tired of this pain and horror. I think we should let people publicly send their prayers after a mass shooting, voicing their compassion; I do not think this act should be ridiculed as I frequently see online with comments along the lines of “Your prayers are useless.” But I think that we should simultaneously take action, regardless of what the odds seem to be.
Do not let yourself be numb. Watch interviews with the victims’ families and the kids who survived those shootings. It is sad and awful and unnerving, but ignoring it will not make it go away. Inaction leads to exhaustion and frustration.
“It’s unfortunate that the debate over guns is so toxic. In part, this is attributable to special interest groups (especially the NRA), who are unwilling to concede any point made by gun safety advocates. In general, it is probably a good idea to be skeptical of any extreme claim about guns, whether it comes from a gun rights group or a gun safety group,” Burkhardt said via email.
Being open-minded, but retaining that aspect of critical evaluation and reluctance to parrot facts is essential in educating oneself about gun safety and gun control.
Alvernaz suggests calling legislators, or joining a lobby group to push for gun safety policies. I agree with her. As it stands, I believe America is turning into an oligarchy, and the NRA and large corporations are the elite. Democracy requires the people to want their power, and this requires consistent action on our part. Nobody will do this for us. Call Senator Ron Wyden or Senator Jeff Merkley. Go to the Town Halls of Representatives Suzanne Bonamici and Greg Walden. Email Representatives Kurt Schrader, Earl Blumenauer, and Peter DeFazio.
“At the state level it really starts with just calling your legislators and finding out who they are, and just bothering them and saying ‘hey this is something that I’m really passionate about,’ and a lot of times they’ll work with you and they’ll try and implement legislation that will help you and things like that. I believe, in the next legislative session in Oregon, there’s going to be some sort of gun control bill. It’s worth it to reach out to those people and see what they’re doing and the organizations that are working with them and the different lobby groups that could help you. Get involved and start advocating with those issues on a state level, and then obviously you can take it to the federal level, but it starts here at the state. Don’t be afraid to reach out to who represents you,” Alvernaz said.
When you are discussing politics with someone, and they ask a question, think about if the response you are about to give them would make you feel belittled or angry if it were to be given to you. When you admit to not having thought about a certain viewpoint before, and get mocked for it, go have a smoothie or some chocolate something because you did the right thing, and you should be proud.
While researching for this article, I realized the majority of people are more reasonable than I had started to believe. I feel hopeful that if we each take it upon ourselves to call firmly and thoughtfully for the changes we are waiting for, piece-by-piece, they will happen.