By Thomas Kelsall.
In light of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the debate over gun control has reached a new level of fervour and intensity.
A wave of fierce youth activism from students demanding gun reform has sparked a persisting national dialogue involving all sides and levels of politics.
Despite this, the NRA and its supporters remain as powerful as ever, with their efforts to protect corporate profits and minimise the potential damages of gun reform being typically staunch and uncompromising.
Over the past two weeks, gun rights advocates have proposed a number of solutions to make schools safer while deflecting the blame from America’s lax gun laws.
The disturbed mental state of Nikolas Cruz has led to many arguing mental health is the main reason for America’s unique problem with mass shootings.
There are two fundamental flaws of using mental health to explain America’s mass shooting problem.
First, the US does not have a monopoly of the world’s mentally ill people, with its ratio of one in five adults resembling the rate of the rest of the world.
Second, a database of mass shooters kept by Columbia University psychiatrist Michael Stone reveals only 22 per cent of US mass shootings are related to mental illness.
A study by Duke University Professor Jeffrey Swanson shows a hypothetical eradication of schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder in the US would only lead to a four per cent reduction in violent crime.
However, the rhetoric of Republican lawmakers and the NRA shows a determination to crack down on mentally ill people obtaining firearms.
Speaking to shooting survivors last week, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch expressed her outrage at the broken background check system that allowed the unstable Cruz to buy a gun.
“This madman passed a background check…he was able to pass a background check because we have a system that’s flawed,” Ms Loesch said.
Despite the heightened focus on mental illness, Republicans have made continual efforts to limit access to mental health services.
President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal included a $1.439 trillion cut to Medicaid; a federal health program which dedicates half its expenditure to treating mental health patients.
On February 28, 2017, Trump revoked an Obama-era regulation which prevented mentally disabled social security recipients from buying a gun.
This contradicts the supposed Republican aim to crack down on dangerous gun owners.
Someone determined enough will obtain a gun – no matter the laws
A day after the Parkland shooting, Florida Senator Marco Rubio outlined to Congress his argument against gun control legislation.
“If someone decides they are going to take it upon themselves to kill people… and they’re committed to that task, it’s a very difficult thing to stop,” Senator Rubio said.
“…they’ll find the way to get the gun to do it…even if they couldn’t pass a background check, then they could buy them the way MS 13 does…from the black market.”
A law cannot fully eradicate a crime, but this does not mean the law is ineffective or inconsequential.
The harder and riskier you make it for someone to do something, the less likely it will happen.
This approach to gun laws is an effective means of reducing gun violence.
A 2016 meta-analysis of gun law changes in 10 countries found a reduction in gun-related deaths generally followed increased restrictions on firearm purchases, access, and use.
The most convincing example being the 42 per cent fall in Australia’s gun homicide rate after sweeping regulations in 1996 repossessed and destroyed 20 per cent of the country’s privately-owned firearms.
Arguing background checks are ineffective because black market purchases fail to acknowledge the added cost and risk associated with buying a gun. Semi-automatic weapons (like the AR-15 used in Parkland) are outlawed in Australia.
While this does not prevent them from being in circulation, it does mean the cost of such weapon on the black market exceeds $15,000AUS.
The history of weak US gun laws means the country has approximately 42 per cent of the world’s privately-owned firearms, despite only making up four per cent of the world’s population.
Because of this high ownership rate, laws regulating access to guns will not be quite as effective in the US compared to other countries.
However, it is not valid to use this point to argue against having any preventative measure at all.
We need armed security and armed teachers in schools
Vice President of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, made a case for increasing armed security at schools.
“…we drop our kids off at schools that are so-called ‘gun free zones’ that are wide open targets for any crazy madman bent on evil to come there first,” Mr LaPierre said.
“In every community in America, school districts…teachers unions, local law enforcement, mums and dads, they all must come together to implement the very best strategy to harden their schools, including effective, trained armed security that will absolutely protect every child in this country.”
Schools are already hardened targets, with 43 per cent of US public schools employing one or more armed law enforcement officers to patrol the campus.
The most recent school shooting occurred on a campus with armed security present.
Despite being armed, Deputy Sheriff Scot Peterson was unable to prevent the tragedy due to conflicting information on the shooter’s location.
Even if Peterson engaged the shooter, FBI statistics show 46.7 per cent of law enforcement officers are either injured or killed when responding to an active shooter.
This highlights the central flaw of relying on ‘a good person with a gun’ to react correctly to a life-or-death situation.
Gun rights advocates who argue for increased school security overlook the inability of a determined killer to assess consequences.
Those prepared to massacre civilians in a public place are usually not afraid of being killed themselves, making armed security a less effective deterrence strategy.
President Trump has proposed training 20 per cent of school teachers to handle firearms.
“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms it could end the attack very quickly,” President Trump said.
“You’d have a lot of them, and they’d be spread evenly throughout the school. If these cowards knew that the school was well guarded… I think they wouldn’t go into the schools to start off with, I think it could very well solve your problem.”
A proliferation of weapons at schools could also lead to more confusion in active shooter situations.
When special forces stormed classrooms in Parkland, they demanded everyone put their hands up and asked if anyone had a weapon.
Placing an armed teacher into this situation would make the job of law enforcement significantly more difficult, especially if the teacher was shooting.
If 46.7 per cent of highly trained law enforcement officials suffer casualties responding to an active shooter, it is not likely school teachers will perform any better.
Image Source: Rolling Stone