A Sensible Approach to Gun Violence
Mass shootings are particularly horrible because they happen so frequently. However, this frequency means we are now able to craft a potential profile for their perpetrators. As the Washington Post described after the Uvalde shooting this summer, a growing number of mass shooters—particularly in school shooting incidents—are adolescent or young men in the age range from 18-23. Studies have already identified the tendencies of this age group towards impulsiveness because the prefrontal cortex that regulates impulses doesn’t fully develop until age 25. Combine this with the relative ease of access to weapons and possible violent influences proliferating on social media, and it’s little wonder that they are responsible for growing numbers of school shootings.
If we want to truly start changing our nation’s relationship with gun violence, then surely the sensible step is to focus our policy on those who are most likely to abuse guns and their right to own them. Restricting access to deadly weapons for a group of individuals whose inability to fully control and comprehend their rashest impulses—and which can deadly fights and accidents—only seems logical. And policymakers increasingly agree. The federal government already has a ban on the sale of handguns to people under 21 from licensed sellers. But in many states it remains legal for those 18 and older to purchase “long guns,” which include assault rifles. That picture may be changing, in the wake of some recent school shootings.
After the Parkland shooting in 2018, seven states including Florida raised the minimum age for buying long guns to 21. Of course, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has opposed these laws for violating the rights of gun owners. But proponents of the law in Florida rightly argue that placing restrictions on a specific group more likely to abuse its access to guns is at minimum a reasonable approach to balancing improved public health with preserving rights. We already take similar policy approaches in other parts of life, placing age restrictions on things like driving and alcohol that limit access to those we reasonably expect to handle the accompanying responsibilities more appropriately. Similarly, taking steps to keep guns out of the hands of people more likely to use them inappropriately is a sensible strategy that doesn’t impinge on the rights of gun owners at large.
Moving quickly to enact this kind of sensible approach to gun control is vital for correcting one of America’s greatest policy failings. Among countries with “developed” economies—nations the US would consider peers—America is an unenviable standout in terms of gun violence, experiencing four gun violence deaths per 100,000 people. Cyprus, the comparable country with the next-highest rate, only experiences 0.62, or less than a fourth of the United States. And within the US, not all states are equal. Available data shows that states with stricter gun control policies experience lower levels of gun-related mortalities, and that states with higher levels of gun ownership experience more mass shooting incidents. Overall, the United States suffered roughly 45,000 gun-related deaths in 2020 alone, or 124 deaths per day.
Raising the minimum age to buy a gun may not erase gun violence from America. Experts who study the issue say that even more sweeping measures including universal background checks for firearm and bullet purchasing and even bans on assault-style weapons would have the greatest impact. Yet despite the recurrence of horrible mass shootings, none of those policies appear likely to happen anytime soon. But we can’t just continue to do nothing with this terribly “American” problem. So let’s do something sensible, and push to keep weapons out of the hands of those who are less likely to handle the required responsibility. We already do it with alcohol and automobiles—let’s try to save at least some lives by doing it with weapons.
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