Redirecting the Gun Debate

Gun violence is a personal issue for me and my family. When my uncle was 12, his best friend accidentally shot him in the head with a handgun, killing him and tearing holes in the hearts of my family that I can only imagine.

Following the largest mass shooting in American history this month, the gun control debate has returned to the spotlight. The debate, however, is utterly misdirected. Recent gun legislation in Congress, along with news coverage, has focused solely on making rifles less accessible. Gun lobbyists like to point out that, according to the FBI, out of the 12,253 homicides in 2013, 285 people were murdered with rifles, compared to nearly 1500 with knives. What the gun lobby fails to address is that handguns kill tens of thousands of people every year. Each year, rifles, like the ones used in the Las Vegas massacre, kill few people compared to handguns.

According to research by the “New England Journal of Medicine” and the “American Journal of Epidemiology,” living in a home with guns nearly doubles an individual’s risk of death. Furthermore, according to the Violence Prevention Center, for every 45 homicides, just one is justifiable (a killing in legitimate self-defense).

Furthermore, handguns pose an even greater risk with regards to suicide. Firearms — mostly handguns — were used to commit 19,392 suicides in 2010, representing 62 percent of gun deaths and 50 percent of suicides. A study of California handgun purchasers determined that the leading cause of death among the purchasers in the first year was suicide. Should the American public ease the sale of an item when nearly two-thirds of the deaths it causes are suicides? Should handguns be available to people if their primary use for the weapon is suicide?

Fewer than 300 people are killed by rifles each year, but thousands, if not tens of thousands of lives are taken by handguns. Taking this into account, rather than creating regulations that specifically target rifles — such as strict bans on extended magazines and gun-purchasing loopholes — we should pay more attention to the regulation of handgun sales. Mental health checks, requirements for gun storage, and extensive training for gun owners are policies that can truly save Americans lives by preventing the misuse of handguns.

The current laws on gun control fail to protect American men, women, and children from gun violence, particularly in regards to handguns. According to the “Huffington Post,” any current prospective buyer can walk into a store and purchase an AR-15, semiautomatic pistol, or semiautomatic assault shotgun in 36 states. No license, no training, and no background check.

I am not trying to suggest an abandonment of the Second Amendment. Rather, for a mentally-stable, well-trained, and good-hearted American who wishes to keep a handgun for the purpose of protecting their family, I suggest a more extensive process to purchase a firearm to help prevent suicide, homicide, and accidents inflicted by firearms.

First of all, the U.S. government should fund the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to research gun violence in order to provide the American public with accurate facts regarding the issue. Though the Obama administration removed the ban on the CDC to conduct firearm research in 2013, the agency still lacks funding in that area. Second, federal legislation should mandate a mental health evaluation: having a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker research the purchaser’s background and current reports to check for anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, and other mental health conditions. Finally, Americans who purchase a firearm must take a course on safety and storage to make sure they store their gun in a gun safe or keep their gun (locked and unloaded) in a hard-to-reach location.

We cannot deny the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment, but we also cannot ignore the risks of owning a handgun, rifle, or shotgun to their owner and those around them. Current media coverage and Congressional bills focus on targeting rifle regulation. With the goal of preventing the loss of thousands of lives each year to gun violence, however, Americans must redirect our focus on regulating the sale and distribution of the primary killer: handguns.