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Weighing the Costs of the 2nd Amendment

Picture produced by RMvisuals

On the night of October 1st, Stephen Craig Paddock took the lives of 59 concert goers, injuring 527 others and ultimately forcing Americans across the nation into a state of self-reflection, causing us to ask: how did we let this happen again?

Paddock entered Room 135 of the Mandalay Bay hotel at the Las Vegas strip well-equipped to execute the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. He entered with 10 suitcases-- filled with 23 guns, both handguns and semiautomatic rifles, video cameras, and a few thousand rounds of ammunition. The purchase of these guns was completely legal, with Paddock passing background checks at each store he went to. He also purchased bump stocks, a modifier which allows semiautomatic weapons to become fully automatic. Through the use of these bump stocks, Paddock was able to harm around 600 people within the span of 10 minutes. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives deemed these purchases to be entirely legal. In a sense, American legal precedent gave Paddock all the tools he needed to murder 59 people on that fateful night.

President Trump rightfully called this event “an act of pure evil” but his Press Secretary, and consequently, the administration, insisted that now is not the time for political debate--or political action. Many congressmen and women reiterated the administration’s statement, offering thoughts, prayers, and condolences, with no mention of how they, our lawmakers, can ensure that a mass killing like this will never occur again.

So when is the right time to address gun violence in America? The correct answer is before the violence even occurs. We should have put an end to this kind of violence that is unique to America long before 20 young school children were shot and killed in Sandy Hook, long before 50 lives were taken in a hate crime at the Pulse nightclub, and long before 59 people were senselessly murdered on the Las Vegas Strip.

America’s obsession with guns is not new, and it is deeply ingrained in our society. Americans grow up with the notion that shooting guns can be a fun leisure activity, with some parents teaching their kids to shoot at an early age--parents like Nancy Lanza, whose son Adam grew up to be the Sandy Hook shooter. We are virtually the only nation on earth with such a massive gun problem. According to the Pew Research Center, 30% of Americans are gun owners and roughly 33,000 people die from gun-related deaths each year, many of which are suicides. More specifically, both the American Journal of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published research on the correlation between gun related deaths and gun violence at the state level. Hawaii, the state with the lowest percentage of gun ownership (25.8%), experiences only 2.6 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people. 60.6% of the Alaskan population owns guns, and they have the highest amount of gun-related deaths, relative to other states, at 19.8 deaths per 100,000 people. The more startling information is that 80% of the gun related deaths in Alaska are suicides. Not only are guns being used to take the lives of others, but people across the nation, young teens included, are taking their own lives. Suicide has become much easier with the accessibility of guns in America, and it is time to question whether our love of guns trumps our right to live happily and peacefully.

We are desperately searching for a motive for the Las Vegas shooting; some say Paddock was mentally ill, and some are dumbfounded as to why he wanted to commit such a heinous crime in the first place. Law enforcement and investigators brought to light his past activities, consisting of his real estate business and, more notably, gambling. They even went so far as to look at his father’s criminal record as some sort of justification for this grown, 64 year old man’s actions. Paddock’s motivation must not be at the forefront of this issue—people will act unpredictably and erratically, and to understand his motivation is insufficient for stopping future crimes. What law enforcement officials, lawmakers, and people should be focusing on is how the US government and its laws allow for such mass shootings to occur.

Paddock, while a strange, enigmatic figure with a questionable past, exhibited no signs of a mental illness that placed him out of the ordinary when compared to a typical American. But we are so quick to search for some semblance of abnormality--a mental illness, a criminal record, even his father’s criminal record--to somehow separate Paddock from an everyday American, as if someone like us could never do something like this. But he did, as did many others, and he is one of us. We have become so complicit when it comes to gun violence; gun ownership has become a right, but the right to live has been severely diminished, and almost forgotten. Through supporting gun ownership, we take away the rights of innocent men, women, and children to live freely, safely, and happily, without fear of being killed en masse. It is time to look back at why we so freely allow gun ownership in the first place, and ask ourselves: does the benefit of owning a gun outweigh the loss of human life? This question is easier to understand when we look at a cost-benefit analysis of gun ownership. Professor Timothy M. Smith of the University of Minnesota published a study in which he quantifies the social cost of gun ownership through cost-benefit analysis. He finds that the social cost of gun ownership exceeds about $300 million annually. Regulation will not diminish these costs, so it is necessary to take a market-based approach in deterring gun violence and the abundance of guns in America. Instead of making buyers only pay for the private cost of gun ownership—that is, how much it costs to produce a gun—they must also pay for the social cost as well. Through implementing a corrective tax on guns, the government can disincentivize gun purchases, diminishing the number of guns in the country and subsequently reducing gun-related deaths. While this economic approach can reduce the amount of guns purchased in the future, it is important to derive a viable solution for minimizing the supply of guns that have already been sold to the public.

From a political standpoint, it is necessary for politicians to move away from polite centrism and take a more radical approach in curbing gun violence; namely, policy makers must reevaluate the necessity for the Second Amendment in our modern society. The Second Amendment ensures the right to bear arms so that a “well regulated militia” could preserve a free state; it ensures protection from the threat of tyrannical governments, and that may have been in the case during the time the Second Amendment was written, but to say that in the 21st century the Second Amendment is pertinent to national security would be a complete overstatement. The Second Amendment has not protected us from both foreign and domestic acts of terrorism, and it does not preserve our civil liberties anymore than the Constitutional amendments. Conservatives and other ardent supporters of the Second Amendment believe that the right to bear arms equals a check on the federal government and that the amendment is instrumental in fighting the injustices committed by the federal government. However, we have seen that over the course of American history, nonviolent grassroots activism--not gun toting--has ensured our personal liberties. The reason why we have not seen formidable action on the part of Democrats to put an end to the gun control debate and ensure security for the American people stems from the Democrats inability to acknowledge the toxicity of the Second Amendment in the modern era. Rather than believing in an illusory nuance to the Second Amendment, it is time for Democrats and sensible elected officials to cease giving lip service to this outdated and problematic Amendment, and finally, abolish it to preserve the right to life and happiness for the American people.

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