What Does America Value: Guns or Humans?

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readApr 23, 2024

Gabrielle Floyd (PPS ‘25)

Gabrielle Floyd (PPS ‘25)

“That could have been you” — the words I spoke to my mom shortly after learning about the Nashville Covenant School shooting. On March 27th, 2023, Audrey Hale shot 152 rounds and killed six people, three of whom were nine-year-old children. The Covenant School sits in my Nashville neighborhood of Green Hills. Hale’s targeted attack was part of a list of intended places, including a nearby mall. I used to work at this mall, and my mom walks through this mall daily and could have easily been at the mall if Hale completed the whole plan. As a Nashvillian, I feel my city’s pain, and we are all hurting and mourning. Louisville mourns. Colorado Springs mourns. Highland Park mourns. We must end the reason we’re mourning. Hale had two assault rifles at the time of the attack and had legally purchased seven guns. Assault rifles are created to kill and destroy, and it’s time for America to put its citizens first and ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines (LCMs). Gun violence is everywhere, and we can work to stop it.

It’s only April, and there have been 163 mass shootings in the U.S., killing at least 209 and injuring 563 people. 77% of mass shooters in this century legally purchased some of the weapons used in the shootings. Why is America allowing people to buy killing machines? Assault rifles have one purpose: to obliterate. The prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of the brain, fully develops at age 25, yet Tennesseans can legally purchase an assault rifle at 21 or 18 if they’re a retired military veteran. Assault rifles and LCMs do not defend; they simply kill. No civilian needs access to an assault rifle, especially a 21-year-old who just gained full adult status to drink alcohol, rent a hotel room, and rent a car. It is too easy to buy a gun in the United States, especially an assault rifle and a LCM. America does not have to continue down this dangerous path and has the power to ban assault rifles.

10 states and the District of Columbia have banned assault rifles, including Delaware and Hawaii, which have had zero mass shooting deaths in 2023. From 1995 to 2004, Congress banned assault rifles, and after the ban expired, the average yearly number of mass shootings increased. The increased politicization of gun legislation in 2004 made reinstating the ban difficult, but now the political climate continues to shift towards supporting further regulation. On average, assault rifles in mass shootings increase the number of deaths by 62%, and as of 2019, places without a ban on assault rifles and LCMs have a 129% higher incidence rate of mass shootings and a 205% increase in death rate.

The 2nd amendment can coexist with a ban, and states such as Connecticut serve as a precedent for abiding by the Constitution and banning assault rifles. When Connecticut banned assault weapons in 1994, they were met with a lawsuit, arguing that the new law infringed on constituents’ Second Amendment rights to bear arms. However, the law remained in place because the Constitution does not refer to the types of guns that someone can own. An assault rifle and LCM ban does not ban all guns but instead targets the most dangerous methods whose only intention is to kill.

We must question why the American government is not doing anything to stop mass shootings. The main answer is Congress and powerful lobbyists. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a prominent group supporting gun rights in the U.S. In 2021 and 2022, the NRA spent over $6.8 million lobbying to prevent gun control legislation to protect the gun industry. The easier people can access guns, the more money gun manufacturers make. Congress’s lack of action demonstrates how they prioritize gun manufacturers and their profits over American lives.

We have power, so let’s come together to protect American lives. Most Americans support stricter gun legislation, and 63% of Americans support banning assault-style weapons. Nashville has risen, marching through downtown daily and calling for action. Anyone can be part of the solution. Start urging your legislators to fight for change and overcome the lobbying efforts of the NRA. Vote for candidates that support further control that includes bans, not just background checks. Congress can create bi-partisan gun control policy and work towards a safer America. Banning assault weapons and LCMs is the first step in ending gun violence in America.

Gabrielle Floyd is from Nashville, TN and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.

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