At the age of seventeen, my endless, albeit small, worries consume a great portion of my life. SATs, prom, college admissions and nearly everything crucial to our lives occupy our minds, as the adults in our lives are tasked with our safety. But, in 2018, a new worry has arisen: guns. With the volume and momentum of guns in the United States, students must ultimately fear for their lives as they battle a culture that has pervaded our society for a number of years. With Columbine, Sandy Hook, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Santa Fe on our minds, the transcendence of guns and the culture surrounding it have been put into question.
America’s gun problem can be defined as entirely its own. Out of all the developed countries in the world, not one has a gun violence rate as high as the United States.
As shown above, the United States holds nearly six times the gun homicide rate as Canada, seven times that of Sweden, and almost sixteen times that of Germany. To be specific, around 33,500 lives are lost each year due to gun violence, which roughly amounts to one death every fifteen minutes, comparable to the number of people killed on American roads. These statistics can be attributed to one major cause: the United States has the highest number of privately owned guns in the world. In 2007, reports estimated that there were 88.8 civilian-owned firearms per 100 people. Yemen, as the runner-up, quasi-failed state torn by civil war, had 54.8 guns per 100 people. Consider it like this: Americans make up less than five percent of the world’s population, but ultimately hold around forty-two percent of all the world’s privately owned firearms. While these numbers seem high, it is important to note that these American guns are concentrated in a minority group. Just over a third of Americans say they or someone in their household owns a gun. These statistics demonstrate the loudest and boldest of the anti-gun legislators and even include those who have committed violent acts in the United States.
With these statistics, why aren’t people more supportive of gun legislation? According to the Pew Research Center, Americans actually tend to support measures to restrict guns.
As shown in the graph above, certain measures are supported by both parties. Preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns and barring gun purchases by people on watch lists seem to be supported by both parties. But, while they may support these causes, the minority that controls the volume of guns portrays any gun legislation as a “complete ban on guns,” thus threatening the base of Republicans across the country.
The other part of opposition to gun control is held in lobbyists, or, more specifically, the National Rifle Association (NRA). With claims of being “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization,” its undue influence over Congress has posed an enormous problem to the American people. Its origins in the early 1900s emerged as a proponent of the sport, while even touting gun restrictions. But, everything changed after the Gun Control Act of 1968, which prohibited the importation of firearms “with no sporting purpose.” The NRA, similar to today, believed that they were under attack, and, thus, changed their agenda. With hard-liner Harlon Carter being appointed, the NRA became molded into the lobbying organization that we know so well. They push money into representatives and senators until they have so much power that they overrule legislation. In fact, they have put forth more than eleven million dollars in direct contributions to federal lawmakers and candidates over the past twenty years. In 2017 alone, the group’s expenditure towards lobbying for Second Amendment rights included five million dollars. These massive amounts nearly guarantee the lack of gun regulation, since the funding stops as soon as progress begins.
While we lament the slow, almost impossible progress of gun legislation, Washington and Oregon have both passed laws that guarantee background checks for any gun sold. In particular, Oregon outlaws the “boyfriend loophole,” in which those with backgrounds of domestic violence cannot purchase firearms. These are small, slow steps towards the larger goal at hand, but they serve a great purpose in propelling the movement towards a safer society.
Perhaps, legislators in Congress lack the understanding of the fear that teenagers experience on a daily basis as guns unnecessarily float through the hands of their peers. Or, maybe, the NRA holds them on a leash. But, one thing is for certain: the United States must acknowledge the problem at hand. By ignoring the issues of gun violence that not only plague our schools, but our society as a whole, we demonstrate a keen disregard for our own lives.
If you want to make a difference, call your local legislators. The March for Our Lives movement (started by Parkland survivors) allows you to start a club at your high school, and you can donate to the Everytown for Gun Safety (started by the families of Sandy Hook).