Gun Violence Solution Requires Leadership

Sam White, Columnist

We need to rewrite our gun laws, and we need to do it now.

Yes, here it is: another angry opinion piece from another self-righteous college kid following another mass shooting, amid yet another wave of the same type of reactions to which we have become so accustomed. There will be the Democrats, calling for “common-sense gun control” and “improved background checks” and “laws that keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”

There will be the Republicans, warning against knee-jerk reactions and in- fringement of Second-Amendment rights, insisting: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” And so it continues. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Oak Creek. Newtown. The Navy Yard. The media-overlooked mass shooting at this spring’s Mother’s Day parade in New Orleans. Trayvon Martin. The thousand victims of firearm-involving domestic violence reported each year. The near-daily gun murders in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland.

None of these shootings are anomalies, and they are all preventable tragedies. Whatever we may choose to see, the reality is grave: Firearm-related death rates in the United States far surpass those of any other advanced democracy. The gun-related homicide rate in the U.S. is, for instance, a full 90 times greater than that of the United Kingdom — a country where, with few exceptions, police officers do even not carry firearms.

It’s been a big week for the gun debate in the U.S. on all sides and in many different spheres. Here in Oberlin on Sunday, open-carry advocates — guns holstered at their sides — picnicked with their fami- lies in Park Street Park, demonstrating against a city ordinance preventing the carrying of firearms in parks and other public areas. Oberlin’s City Council which for years stood defiant against pro-gun state laws, reluctantly overturned the ban Monday night.

In the corporate realm, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz published an open letter on Wednesday requesting that customers refrain from bringing firearms into the company’s stores. The coffee mega-chain was, in Schultz’s words, “thrust unwillingly into the middle of [the gun] debate” in August when pro-gun activists attempted to hold a demonstration — guns, again, in holsters — inside a store branch in Newtown, Connecticut, the still-grieving home of last year’s horrific elementary school shooting.

And, of course, the national rhetoric has resurged once again following Monday’s mass shooting in Washington, D.C., where a 34-year-old Navy veteran with a history of violence and escalating mental health issues killed twelve people inside a secured Naval facility with a shotgun he had purchased, legally, just two days previously. Sadly and predictably, the cries for action from President Obama’s grassroots organization and other left-leaning political action committees sound the same as ever.

The rhetoric, on both sides, defies not just common sense but reality. The U.S. sees gun violence at rates on par with countries that lack functional bureaucracies, yet our police forces and regulatory institu- tions are, for the most part, strong. Surely bolstering these bureaucratic structures — whether by instituting more regulatory systems, by increasing security presence, or by arming more officials (such as teachers) — would fail to treat the issue at its roots. And if it were true that only people, not guns, killed people, then countries like the United Kingdom would have similar homicide rates to the U.S.

Such is the gridlock: Red and Blue both know that the other side is wrong, and thus neither side sees their ideas become reality. Yet change, and safety from gun violence, is in the best interest of everyone. The Navy Yard shooting proved — as did every shooting preceding it — that the time for this change is now, and, as ever, we aren’t seeing it.

There is no excuse for this. There is, however, a reason: lobbying money. This year alone, the National Rifle Association, the National Association for Gun Rights and other pro-gun groups have channeled close to $9 million into pushing federal officials to block gun control measures. Their opponents, by contrast, have spent just under $1 million.

There are many possible ways to reverse the tide of gun violence in the U.S. Most lie outside the realm of what’s been proposed here. But we can and must learn from our neighbors around the world. As British- American satirist John Oliver detailed on The Daily Show this spring, Australia — itself once a nation plagued by gun violence and mass shootings — found one such way: in 1996, its then-conservative government enforced a compulsory buyback of several kinds of high-capacity firearms, including pump-action shotguns like the one used in Monday’s Navy Yard shooting. And, as Oliver made very clear: in Australia, a nation whose sociopolitical history is not dissimilar to our own, the effects of this buyback were overwhelmingly positive.

Comparable change in America will require exactly what it did in Australia: strong, courageous leadership in the face of fierce opposition.

Surely, the United States, a nation that deems itself “exceptional,” can deliver this leadership, can’t it?