Guns, God, and Freedom: The American Way

Our great country of ours, the United States of America, was founded on a few basic principles that have survived the test of time. Those basic principles were outlined in our constitution and further detailed in the Bill of Rights, which is basically our version of the Ten Commandments except a lot more secular. Other countries might also have freedom of speech and the press, but few have given their citizens the right to bear arms and form armed militias. The Second Amendment, however, does exactly that, and is widely hailed as one of the reasons the US is the greatest country on God’s green earth.

Ever since the inception of our country, guns have played a huge role in shaping American history. They helped secure our freedom and liberty from the British crown and maintained our country’s unity a hundred years after during our civil war. Guns helped fuel Manifest Destiny, which is the notion that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the continent. Had it not been for the newly-invented Colt revolver as well as other guns of the time, Americans may not have been able to fend off those savage Injuns and expand westward.

Jon Gast's famous painting American Progress depicts the idea of Manifest Destiny pretty well.
Jon Gast’s famous painting American Progress depicts the idea of Manifest Destiny pretty well.

In contemporary American society, it is easier than ever to get one’s hands on a gun. Do you have a sketchy past and don’t want anyone to look into it? Don’t worry, you can . One can actually buy an assault weapon without showing identification in over 30 states, with private sales in most states also not requiring a background checks. One could even buy a gun from the comfort of their own couch from the internet and pick it up at a local gun store. In fact, it is much easier for a citizen to buy an assault rifle than it is to vote in over half the United States.

One problem that does arise from our Constitutional right to own a gun powerful enough to blow a hole through an elephant is that in most states is the relatively low barriers to obtain one of these tools of destruction. While this might seem like a good thing, one must remember that it’s not just law-abiding citizens trying to buy guns. These guns often end up in the hands of the mentally ill or criminals.

The most recent example of this happening occurred less than a week ago when 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer went on a shooting spree on the Umpqua Community College campus in Oregon. Before taking his own life, he managed to kill nine innocent people and injure another nine. The shooter’s mother was well-aware of her son’s mental illness, going as far as posting on an online Autism forum about it. Yet she would often take her son out to the shooting range and take time to teach him about guns. Ms. Harper-Mercer was an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment, having fourteen legally-purchased guns throughout the house. She also derided any government attempts of increasing gun control. “I keep two full mags in my Glock case. And the ARs & AKs all have loaded mags,” she wrote on an online forum. “No one will be ‘dropping’ by my house uninvited without acknowledgement.”

The nine victims.

This is eerily similar to the relationship between the Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza and his mother. Both Harper-Mercer and Lanza were living mainly solitary lives with their mothers, who both indulged their children’s fascination for firearms and violence. Both moms were also somewhat aware of the mental illnesses that plagued their sons and did little to nothing about it. Neither of them secured their weapons inside their house well enough, allowing their sons to find and use them for nefarious purposes. Both men were in their early twenties and were previously diagnosed with some form of mental illness that went under-addressed.

After countless numbers of mass shootings in this country, the overwhelming majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, agree that there should be expanded background checks to ensure firearms do not end up in the hands of people like this. Background checks would not prevent all these mass shootings, but it would sure make it much more difficult for them compared to the current system. If at least one innocent life is saved, it is worth it.

While expanding background checks seems to be the fix-all solution, it is far from it. Currently, background checks in most states give no insight into the mental health of those who are trying to obtain a gun. Most, if not all, mass killers both domestically and abroad had unresolved mental health issues that often went undetected until it was too late. Even in those situations were the mental health state of the shooter was known well before the shooting, such as in the case of Adam Lanza, the warning signs sometimes go unheeded. Lanza, coming from a relatively well-off family (his dad was an executive in a company), had access to psychiatric treatment. His mother, however, didn’t do her part. She failed to make Adam take his medication and failed to reschedule missed appointments with his psychiatrist.

Expanded background checks also do not do anything to address the issue of mental illness in the United States. There is still a huge stigma that comes with mental illness that prevents the ones affected by it to seek treatment. Though these mass shooters have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness, it is unfair to believe they are more susceptible to committing violence. Only about four percent of violence can be attributed to those suffering from mental illness, with alcohol and drug abusers being more likely to commit violent crime. The media coverage of these shootings only exasperate the situation, making people with mental illness less likely to seek help, instead, letting it fester and get worse.

Even when they are able to obtain “treatment”, this treatment often comes in the form  of prescription medicine, which again, doesn’t really address the roots of the issue, but rather just provides a temporary fix to the problem. There’s actually a frightening connection between prescription medication and mass shootings, with many of the more prolific perpetrators being prescribed one or various drugs; Dylan Roof was on suboxone, Adam Lanza was on Lexapro and Celexa, James Holmes was on Clonazepam and sertraline, the list goes on.

There is some good news though. The number of mental health records collected by states participating in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)  has increased greatly over the last couple years, effectively preventing many mentally ill people from purchasing a gun at a federally licensed dealer. The increased federal founding of the NICS coupled with a swarm of tougher gun regulations at the state level has made it harder for those with mental illness to obtain a gun. However, the stricter law only went into play in 15 states, far from being comprehensive.

Now no one here at In Loco Politico nor in the White House is proposing we ban ALL guns. I don’t even believe we should have a ban on semiautomatic rifles. Time and time again, history has shown that prohibition of anything is an ineffective way of keeping people from committing crime. Yet in the United States, right-wing politicians and figureheads fuel the incorrect belief that Obama and the “gubment” are out to take Americans’ guns. That is simply not true. Neither President Obama nor any politician, Republican, Democrat, or Independent have proposed that every gun owner must turn in their weapons to the nearest government authority or face death. This fear mongering has worked and has made the public paranoid. Despite the fact that the crime rate in the United States is at the lowest level since the 1960s, people are buying guns and ammunition as if they were going out of style. While the exact number of guns sold in any year is more of an estimate than an absolute number, the number of firearm background checks performed are often an accurate indicator of this number.

Under President Obama’s term, the number background checks for gun purchases increased, with the initial surge occurring shortly after he won the 2008 election. It rose sharply again after Obama got reelected into office in 2012.  Just a month later, gun manufactures benefited from the rise of guns sold following the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut despite the massacre that was just perpetrated.

But perhaps gun-hording might be the right thing to do. Not only is it our right as Americans, but in light of the frightening militarization of our police forces and the mass domestic surveillance program ran by the NSA, may be a necessary precaution. The founding fathers anticipated this, as they themselves had lived under a tyrannical government, so they included the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights to ensure that Americans would be able to keep the government in check. As Thomas Jefferson once said “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny”.

2000px-Gadsden_flag.svg

In a post about the ease-of-access to firearms in the United States, it is a bit difficult not to talk about the elephant in the room argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.  It is true that you cannot tell a gun or any weapon to kill and expect it to do so without someone pulling the trigger or pushing the button (well at least not yet), but this statement is still misleading. The truth is plain and bitter: humans kill humans. We’ve been doing so since we split from our Neanderthal cousins (probably even before that) and we’ve gotten pretty damn efficient at it, to the point where we could wipe out all life on earth a few times over. While guns do not kill people by themselves, they sure do facilitate the process.

The right would likely retort that even if we were to ban guns, people would still go on mass killing sprees but use a knife or a baseball bat rather than a gun. After all, there have been various reports of mass stabbings in other countries. In China, they have actually become pretty common in recent memory, with gangs of men going on rampages in public areas with knives, hammers, or cleavers, many of them showing signs of mental illness.

What the people who use this argument don’t realize is that mass stabbings are not nearly as efficiently killing people as mass shootings are. On the same day as the Sandy Hook Massacre, there was another massacre on the other side of the world. That morning, 36-year-old villager Min Yongjun entered the Chenpeng Village Primary School in Chenpeng, China armed with a knife. He then proceeded to stab anyone in his path. When he was finally restrained, he had stabbed 22 people, many of them children yet surprisingly, not a single one of his victims was killed. This is a reoccurring theme in many of the mass stabbings: while there are casualties, the ratio of those killed to those attacked is much lower than that of a mass shooting. These people also seem to forget is that it is much easier to disarm and/or evade someone with a knife than it is someone with a gun.

It is also much more efficient for gangsters to pile into an Escalade and shoot up a rival gang’s house than it is for them to take bats/pipes/knives into rival territory to accomplish the same feat. Guns are popular among criminals and gangsters for this reason: it causes much more destruction and death in a shorter period of time.

What guns do is make killing so much easier and quicker. Stabbing requires being near the person, usually taking multiple stabs to fully kill them. One has to drive the knife through a human being, with the subsequent shrill and splatter of warm blood following soon after. Shooting someone, on the other hand, is much easier and much less personal. One just takes aim and pulls the trigger indiscriminately, rather than plunging the knife with all their weight,

A firearm’s ease-of-use has also made death by self-inflicted gunshot one of the most prevalent and deadliest methods of suicide. Ninety-seven percent of people who attempt committing suicide by shooting themselves in the head are successful. The statistic goes up to 99% if the person is using a shotgun. This is opposed to 93.4% mortality for suicide by jumping from a height and 12.3% for suicide by prescription pill overdose. Committing suicide by self-inflicted gunshot is also the method that has one of the lowest amounts of agony involved and also gives the person the least amount of time before actually going through with it.

The reasons why many of those other methods have such low fatality rate is because they take time. Time for someone to walk in and see the person bleeding out, time for the person committing suicide to come to his senses and get his stomach pumped, or time for someone to call for an ambulance after he jumps out of his fifth story window. As soon as you pull the trigger of the gun, however, there is usually no turning back.


The United States is the only industrialized nation in which mas shootings are a normal occurrence. This is for a few different reasons. Our country is big, both in terms of population and size. This, plus the access of firearms in the United States, makes for bad situations. However, American gun culture is perhaps the biggest factor behind these massacres.

Many if not most American children would have seen some type of gun in their lives because they are so prevalent in our modern society. Both the good guys and the bad guys have them in TV shows, movies, video games, and even toys. Toys with guns aren’t the only type of toys your children can play with. They can also play with these Breaking Bad action figures. You can find them, complete with meth-cooking accessories at your local Toys-“R”-Us.

Breaking Bad toys

Oh wait, not anymore. A group of concerned Florida mothers petitioned Toys-“R”-Us to remove these toys from their shelves. The petition states that detrimental to the toy store’s “family friendly values,” the same “family friendly values” that are okay with selling toys with guns and violent video games. Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul hit the controversy right on the nose when he tweeted the following:

tweet 1 tweet 2

Our children are so predisposed to violence and weapons, but often lack the context behind it . Most of the mass shooters had racist or nationalistic motives for their crimes, growing up with the notion that violence is the only answer to their problems that was further indulged by the culture that they’re living in. It also doesn’t help that the 24- hour news media constantly plasters the name and face of the shooter on television and computer screens throughout the country, giving these same troubled children the idea that they could get their fifteen minutes of fame by shooting up a room full of innocent people.

The answer some have proposed? Arm teachers, theater employees, and preachers, because the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.Simply having a gun around won’t necessarily make one safer however, neither will having extended clips and hollow-tip bullets. Instead of purchasing these extra attachments for their gun to make themselves safer, they should learn how to properly use and handle a gun; it only takes one well-placed shot to stop a mass shooter. By doing so, we ensure that the only people with guns are the ones who properly know how to use it and have respect for what it is, rather than some disgruntled mentally-ill man with racist or hateful intentions. With proper training and education, parents who own guns would make sure to stash it in a safe place to prevent their children from grabbing it. If we require people to obtain a licence showing they know how to use a vehicle, why not do the same for guns?

I am in no way condemning those who have and/or use guns, be it for recreation or for self-defense. Law-abiding citizens should be allowed to buy and own guns, even assault rifles. It is part of what makes America America. But at the same time, we need to raise the barriers to obtain these weapons to prevent them from landing in the the hands of mentally ill people who might cause harm to themselves and/or other people. In doing so, we show other countries that our society values the lives of innocent people too much to just sit around and say “stuff happens”.  Instead of having other countries see us as blood-thirsty, gun-toting Americans, we should show them that we can be (and for the most part, are) responsible gun owners.

It is pitiful that we seem to have this same conversation every month or so, each time getting increasingly polarized. Pundits will yell over each other about how the government is going to take our guns, or how we should ban all guns, leaving no room for a middle ground. Despite all the back and forth banter between the right and the left, very little will be done to try and prevent these massacres and we will be in the same position a few months down the road when this happens again. We will ask ourselves where we went wrong and repeat this depressing cycle again and again, with more and more innocent people falling victims to these senseless crimes. But I guess that’s the price we have to pay for freedom, right?

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