By Jon Wiersema
While most of us were busy deciding whether or not to start studying for finals, the U.S. Supreme Court was mulling over a dilemma of its own. The Court was petitioned for a writ of certiorari, the legal granting needed for a case to be examined by the Supreme Court, for the case Friedman v. City of Highland Park, Illinois, which dealt with an Illinois ban on assault weapons. This was not the first time that the Court has had the issue of gun control brought before them. In 2008, the Court clarified the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller, ruling that the amendment “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.” Later in 2010, the Court incorporated their ruling in Heller to the states in McDonald v. Chicago. Since then, there has been the continued occurrence of countless gun related deaths and acts of violence across the United States.
On the mention of gun violence, numerous events come to mind: the 2012 Aurora shooting, Sandy Hook shooting, and even the most recent publicized event, the shooting in San Bernardino- all of which have caused much pain and grief, as well as fervor for increased regulation on firearms. As stated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), federal law currently “makes it unlawful” for certain people to own firearms under the Gun Control Act (GCA); the list includes certain convicted criminals, drug addicts, illegal aliens, and many other groups such as those “adjudicated as a mental defective.” With such restrictions one would hope that gun violence would be brought to a minimum; however, simply turning on the television shows the frequency with which such horrid events occur.
Reports of mass murderers with some sort of mental illness seem to be growing exponentially, and each report is accompanied with more innocent lives lost. A simple answer to this would be to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, but as a recent New York Times article states, the GCA’s “provision on the mentally ill is extremely porous,” as many of the mentally ill never receive the legal status that prohibits them from gun possession. Furthermore, many of the recent mass shooters had records of psychiatric issues yet were still able to legally purchase firearms as is observed in another New York Times article. This would include the Aurora, Colorado and Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater shooters, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter, and many others (Buchanan et al.). How many more needless deaths must plague news headlines?
More restrictions are needed on the possession of firearms in the United States. Stringent regulation is required to prevent further killings by the mentally ill and others who have found loopholes in the system. With the exception of the District of Columbia and a few states, the majority of states do not require background checks for private firearm sales at gun shows. This so called “gun show loophole” must be closed to prevent firearms from reaching the wrong hands.
Other than placing and enforcing stricter limitations on purchasing and possessing firearms, further changes are needed in the ability to purchase assault weapons. According to a 2005 Gallop Poll, the top three uses for guns are protection, target shooting, and hunting. These practices do not require the use of assault weapons, but an outright ban on assault weapons would pose vast perplexities. On the surface, banning weapons that have the sole purpose of killing would seem to reduce crime and provide a safer environment, so why has the government not implemented such legislation? In fact, the government has done so in the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Yet, as ABC News reports, the ban had many faults and its effects on crime were unclear, leading to its expiration in 2004. An assault weapons ban also brings up the unfortunate fact of human nature. Despite warnings not to, Adam still reached for the forbidden fruit. Despite both federal and state drug laws, people still crave illegal substances. Despite an assault weapons ban, people will still find ways to obtain such tools of destruction.
I do not know how to solve such problems; however, what I do know is that the problem of gun control needs to be addressed. Gun violence encompasses more than just the occurrences that receive widespread media coverage, and leaving this problem at its current state will only exacerbate the nationwide issue. As reported by PBS, President Obama recently announced a series of executive actions on gun control that would implement expanded background checks; meanwhile, other measures require the cooperation of a reluctant Congress. There is no way of knowing if these actions will work in practice just yet, but this is at least a start.
Many of us left our studies for a later date, but as the days began to count down towards exams, a necessity to finally start studying grew for most. Similarly, the Supreme Court rejected to hear the case Friedman v. City of Highland Park, Illinois; nevertheless, a similar situation is undoubtedly coming to the Supreme Court as more and more acts of violence are occurring across the United States, causing a national calling to have the issue addressed by the highest court in the land.