Essay for the New Year: Wondering When We Will Decide to Fix This
It was a nice warm evening where children, brothers, sisters, moms, dads, and friends gathered to listen to country music in Las Vegas, Nevada. They came from all different walks of life, but one thing they had in common was their love for country music singer Jason Aldean. At 10:05 PM bullets started ringing out by the hundreds. Some realized what was happening and managed to move to safety while others were not so fortunate. It took a few minutes for everyone to realize that the dreadful sound was, in fact, bullets. Many lost a loved one. Some lost a father, mother, sister, brother, daughter, or son. The Las Vegas shooting took 58 innocent lives—the deadliest shooting in the U.S. since the massacre of some 300 Sioux children, women, and elders 127 years ago at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890.
Gun control has been a heated topic for years. The Second Amendment states, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This was created in 1791, 226 years ago. Since then, many things have changed including technology, style, cars, but what I would like to focus on is mass shootings. Gun violence in the United States is a major national concern that results in more than 30,000 deaths and even more injuries annually. In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries (23.2 injuries per 100,000 U.S. citizens), and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” (10.6 deaths per 100,000 U.S. citizens). Of the 2,596,993 total deaths in the U.S. in 2013, 1.3 percent were related to firearms.
The United States exceeds by far any country in the amount of deaths that are caused by guns per year. It is also one of the countries that continues to have mass shootings without any legislation changes. The United States is not the only country that has seen a mass shooting; Australia experienced one in 1996 when a 28-year-old man armed with a semi-automatic rifle shot and killed 35 people and injured 18 others.
That year Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement, which banned certain semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns, and imposed stricter licensing and registration requirements. It also instituted a mandatory buy-back program for firearms banned by the 1996 law. During the buy-back program, Australians sold 640,000 prohibited firearms to the government, and voluntarily surrendered about 60,000 non-prohibited firearms. In all, more than 700,000 weapons were surrendered. Since then, the number and rate of homicides has fallen drastically. Presently, Australia is considered one of safest countries in the world.
So what is it that is holding the United States back from passing stricter gun laws? Is it the fact that Americans would like to have a gun in case they need to protect themselves? Is it the fact that a clear majority of Americans feel that they must protect themselves from the government in case they come knocking on their doors unlawfully? Is it the power that one feels when carrying a gun? Or is it simply the fact that the NRA is more powerful than the American people when changing legislation to develop stricter gun laws?
After 20 children were killed by gun violence in Sandy Hook, politicians did nothing. They made no changes, and continued to say, “Now is not the right time to talk about gun control. It is the time to mourn.” My question to you is when is the right time to talk about gun control? We see something that worked elsewhere—Australia—and we cannot learn from that?
Melissa A. Work is earning degrees in Social Science, Criminal Justice, and Conflict Resolution at Portland State University.