Gun control debate moves forward in wake of recent shootings

Americans struggle with how to stop gun violence, with some arguing for more restrictive legislation and some arguing for less.


“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,” the Constitution asserts in its Second Amendment.
Through the creation of the Constitution and the subsequent ratification of the Bill of Rights, Americans were given a fundamental right to bear arms. Although much conflict remains over the extent and contemporary relevance of the Founding Fathers’ intentions, many have interpreted this amendment to guarantee every citizen a weapon for the common defense of the democracy. In their 2008 judicial opinion of Heller v District of Columbia, the Supreme Court concluded that the Second Amendment “guarantees the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”

In the United States, guns have come to symbolize protection, safety and freedom. As a nation continuously marked by armed conflict, America closely ties itself to firearms, and as such, the public gives them special recognition and treatment often developing deep affections for the firearm. This results in a culture centered on the gun.

The Collins English Dictionary defines gun culture as, “the attitudes, feelings, values and behavior of a society, or any social group, in which guns are used.” America has developed multiple sects of gun culture that revolve around the Second Amendment and its subsequent guarantee of arms to citizens in the defense of the Union.

In addition to the common sentimental connection with firearms, many Americans have developed a practical relationship with their pistols, rifles and shotguns. The Pew Research Center found that of the estimated 73 million gun owners, 38 percent would use these tools to hunt, 30 percent would should shoot for sport such as target, trap and skeet shooting and the majority 67 percent would use them to protect themselves from criminal threats. According to a Hawk Talk survey of 220 Madison students, 25 percent of their families own a gun.

In 27 states, “Stand Your Ground” legislation allows citizens to use deadly force in defense against a present threat, but in the remaining 23 states, citizens must attempt to retreat from the threat before resorting to deadly force. Virginia has not passed any laws on the matter, and as a result, its inhabitants can use lethal force in response to threats without first retreating. However, it is illegal to use deadly force to defend one’s property and home without evidence that the aggressor has the desire to cause harm.

“Gun culture is not inherently bad, just as those with guns are not inherently bad, but it is surely something that has grown to divide our country in dangerous ways,” Katie Oliveira (’18), one of the Madison walkout organizers, said.

Despite Supreme Court interpretations of the Second Amendment, many individuals across the United States have abused the Second Amendment and used firearms to injure and kill masses of people at once. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 64 mass shootings with 84 deaths and 251 injuries so far this year, and last year there were 347 mass shootings with 437 deaths and 1802 injuries. These numbers have polarized the nation in what has come to be known as the Gun Control Debate. Two main sides have emerged. Some believe current legislation inhibits law-abiding citizens from obtaining the necessary tools to protect themselves and should be repealed. Others believe the government must enact more comprehensive laws to prevent people with criminal histories and mental illnesses from obtaining the tools necessary to kill others.

Although federal laws require background checks to be performed on all those purchasing firearms from stores, the database that many stores run their background checks against, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), has a crippling flaw. Many states fail to report cases of mental illness and convictions of crimes that would prevent an individual from buying a gun to the national database. A 2012 report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns showed that over 20 states reported fewer than 100 incidents of serious mental illness that would prohibit a person from obtaining a firearm. Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, was diagnosed with multiple mental disorders that would have prevented him from legally purchasing the firearm used to kill 17 people. Devin Kelley, the perpetrator of the Sutherland church shooting, was court martialed and found guilty of multiple accounts of domestic abuse. If reported, these convictions would have prohibited Kelley from purchasing the AR pattern rifle that he used to kill 25 people and injure another 20. The Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho, responsible for 32 deaths and 23 nonfatal injuries, was ordered to seek mental health by a court, which also should have prohibited him from purchasing a gun.

“Schools should encourage students to have healthy and open conservations when it comes to gun violence,” Ryan Mai (’19) said. “It is important for everyone to feel safe, but it is also important that we all work towards a solution together.”

Many people have also suggested that schools play an important role in reducing these staggering figures. Schools play a critical role in not only preventing acts of violence but also developing citizens well-versed with the worldly issues that affect society.

“School is an important place to have discussions about any significant cultural issue,” English teacher Marc Lebendig said. “And having these discussions benefits education because it recognizes that this is a real issue that everybody is dealing with and everybody is thinking about. The earlier and the more often students have a voice in those conversations, the better off our society will be. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a teacher.”

Madison Principal Greg Hood said that it can be hard to find the balance between educating students and bringing politics into the classroom.
“With everything that’s going on, I would probably say it’s great for our students to be thinking about how they can change the world and make it a better place,” Madison Principal Greg Hood said. “But what role does a school play in that? Part of our role is to help you [the students] identify and know that you can change the world. You can make a difference if you want to. But here is the problem. I can think of several issues that are very polarized, and people have some very strong, varying views on many topics. The school can provide a safe place for these discussions to occur, but it is not the primary responsibility of the school.”

In response to the recent instances of gun violence in schools, students have taken these conversations in to their own hands and converted these discussions into action through the form of walkouts, and political forums, etc. According to the Hawk Talk’s survey, 63 percent of Madison students either participated in or plan to participate in protests against gun violence, and 75 percent of Madison students believe that marches are effective methods of protest overall.

“Anytime we reach an agreement on an issue, that makes things easier. In general, the more things we agree on, that frees us to tackle the other problems and address the issues that we don’t agree on,” Lebendig said. “Then the discussion becomes about the best way to enable that rather than whether it’s true or not. The problem with gun culture and gun law is that we haven’t even reached agreement on the issue itself.”

No matter the stance on how exactly to solve the issue of gun violence, most agree that protecting citizens is the most essential goal for the United States. When 25 percent of Madison students respond to a Hawk Talk survey that they do not feel safe in school, it becomes clear that change is necessary.