Putting The Puzzle Together: Piece by Piece

Recently in Ohio, eight members of the Rhoden family were found executed at four different crime scenes spread about the small town of Piketon. While the loss of life is always tragic, this event is just another highly publicized mass shooting in our country. A mass shooting that leads to no intervention. Time and time again, highly passionate arguments are stirred up from both sides of this debate, only for the issue to blow over in a matter of weeks. Gun-control activists lobby for stricter gun owning and manufacturing laws, while the most powerful and influential pro-gun organization, the NRA, spends an enormous amount more money lobbying to block these bills that would restrict gun ownership. This has left our country stagnant in the effort to resolve this issue. Whether if we should enact gun control measures, or if our country has too rich of a history with guns and is too patriotic for gun-control to work here is a question that cannot be answered. But there are two smaller pieces to this puzzle that we can put together, and that comes in the form of mental health screenings and universal background checks. Mental health screenings will help stop guns from falling into the hands of the mentally unstable, but universal background checks will tighten up loopholes that allows firearms to be criminally purchased for other people. By providing solutions to these smaller issues, I believe as a country we can limit, and prevent gun violence in the future.

The National Rifle Association or NRA and their political influence far outweighs the most influential gun-control proponents. According to OpenSecrets.org, the NRA spent $3.6 million lobbying to block bills that are pro-gun control in 2015 alone. The largest pro-gun lobbying organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, spent $1.4 million in 2015 lobbying for gun control. Not only does the NRA make things hard on proponents of gun control by out spending them, the main argument against gun control is set in stone; the Second Amendment. Whether the argument is that it is outdated, irrelevant, or wrong in the first place, the second amendment right to keep and bear arms is promised to every citizen. I believe this is the key factor in the big picture of gun-control being out of reach as of right now. As long as the NRA can unload money to maintain their political influence, and always revert back to the second amendment, the gun-control debate will remain a conflict, stagnant and lifeless. This is not to say that something cannot, or should not be done, because mass shootings are a near epidemic in our country.

Mental health screenings are not an entirely new proposed solution, but policies on privacy have resulted in unclear guidelines for what information can be released to gun manufactures before they sell a firearm to a prospective buyer. A key problem is that the organization or agency that handles patients with mental illness, and then shares whether or not that person is forbidden to purchase a firearm, varies from state to state. The places responsible for this information could be a public psychiatric institution or it could be a private mental health facility. Some of these places are subject to the HIPPA, a 1996 law that protects individual health information. Author Elizabeth Whitman illustrates in her International Business Times article in January of this year states that just the perception that the HIPPA forbids a healthcare provider from reporting patient health information prevents them from doing so, even if it’s not illegal. In the same article, Whitman details how the White House released a new bill in January, which was merely a clarification of an old law, that makes clear who and what can release information on who is forbidden to purchase a weapon on the basis of mental health. This new rule aims to clear the confusion of what information can be reported; taking a big step in public safety, and furthering individual privacy interests. By making this info clear, gun manufactures will have a wider database of the mentally ill at their disposal, hopefully helping less firearms fall into the wrong hands.

According to Governing.com (2016), most states require background checks before gun sales, but loopholes allow weapons to be bought for other people, or by people who have a criminal past. Most commonly, the “gun show loophole” allows unregulated gun sales. The Gun-Control Act of 1968 declares that unlicensed private arms dealers are not required to conduct background checks, with a private dealer being someone who sells less than 4 firearms per year. A 1986 Firearms Protection Act loosened restrictions by making a private dealer anyone who doesn’t depend on firearm sales for their livelihood. Obama’s executive order calls universal background checks, and according to U.S. News.com, this order plans to set a maximum number of firearm sells to be considered a private dealer. In doing so, the hope is to impose more regulations on the free-for-all of gun sales that occurs at these gun shows. As of right now, weapons sold at gun shows are traced across state lines, retrieved as evidence, and sometimes used against police officers. By regulating these firearm sales, as a country we will be able stop more guns from falling into the hands of criminals, and further prevent future gun violence.

Like any arguments, there are those who disagree with me. Specifically, Garance Franke-Ruta a senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic, wrote an article for The Atlantic that details why she believes that mental health screenings are not the answer to preventing gun violence. Franke-Ruta (2013) states that 50 percent of Americans experience a mental-illness at one time or another, and it would not be right to mark out these millions of these people who will never become violent in their lives. She also states that the mental health reports that Virginia did in the wake of the Virginia Tech Massacre did not prevent another weapon being purchased in the state for another massacre. After this shooting, Virginia improved its emergency evaluation process, as well as modified the criteria for involuntary commitment into mental-health programs. While Franke-Ruta does make a valid point that that it wouldn’t be accurate to mark out anyone who has ever had a mental illness from buying a weapon, the criteria of these mental health screenings could be aimed to target mental illnesses that are most directly linked to violence. Also, these screenings could be based on ethics, making the list of those who are forbidden to purchase firearms more accurate.

In the recent increased gun violence in our country, mass shootings headlining news outlets, many of us our left asking what should be done. Gun-control activists find themselves climbing an uphill battle, while the NRA is sitting back with deep pockets, and pointing towards the second amendment. The big picture of gun control cannot be solved as of now because of this, but by addressing and solving smaller issues we can put together smaller pieces of the lager puzzle of gun control, and limit as well as prevent future gun violence in our country. Mental health screenings are now more clear, and Obama has made the executive call for universal background checks. Now that these smaller issues have been addressed and something has been done about them, mass shootings and gun violence are still going to be a social issue, but we are at least one step closer in being the safer country we know we should be.

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Annotated Bibliography