It has been almost a year since the massacre of 26 individuals ravaged a small elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and shocked a nation about the dangers of gun violence. Yet since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been more than 10,000 gun-related murders, and zero comprehensive federal gun reform laws have passed in Congress.
For me, this issue is a personal one. In September 2012, my best friend’s dad was killed in a mass shooting in Minneapolis. Having seen the grief and sorrow that he and his family went through firsthand, I understand the emotional toll of gun violence. Stopping gun violence isn’t about protecting politicians: It’s about protecting people.
Gun violence is not a partisan issue to argue over, and gun control legislation is a common-sense necessity for preventing future murders in both isolated incidents and large massacres. Unfortunately, the debate regarding gun reform has too often devolved into a rancorous partisan squabble, with one side denying the dangers of guns all together and the other side vilifying all gun owners, leaving Americans with neither federal legislation nor the assurance that the government will respond appropriately in times of tragedy.
Political polling demonstrates time and time again that preventing gun violence and protecting children against killing is a principle all Americans agree upon. According to a poll from the conservative-leaning National Journal, 71 percent of individuals polled believe “there’s something that can be done through public policies” to reduce gun violence.
To overcome the deficits of the traditional gun violence debate, I propose a three-part plan to reducing gun violence amenable to those on both the left and the right. Instituting federal background checks, implementing rational limits on ammunition for rapid-firing weapons and adapting innovative solutions for combating a culture of violence in America are solutions that can begin to chip away at a problem that has plagued our nation for years.
For precedent on bipartisan federal gun reform on background checks, legislators can look back to a 2007 measure signed by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, titled the NICS Amendment Improvement Act. It bolstered the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to prevent guns from falling into the hands of individuals with potential for violence, such as those suffering from mental illness or with a past history of violence.
The federal background checks system, however, does not go far enough in keeping guns in responsible hands. According to the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, current laws do not cover all gun sales online or sales at gun shows, including sales to mentally ill or previously violent individuals. Legislation that would close this loophole was introduced earlier this year by a bipartisan duo of senators in the Manchin-Toomey bill. While the specific provisions of the bill had 86 percent public support according to CNN, the bill failed in the Senate due to the political cowardice of four Democrats and 42 out of 46 Republicans. A bill similar to the Manchin-Toomey bill should be brought before federal legislators again because a universal background check system could prevent previous criminals, mentally unstable individuals or others at risk of committing violence from accessing guns.
Limiting the ammunition capacity for rapid-firing weapons is another sensible provision for preventing large-scale massacres and mass shootings such as that at Sandy Hook and the four shootings that occurred between Oct. 26 and 29 in Arizona, New York, Texas and South Carolina. Implementing a rational limit on ammunition capacity could curtail the efficiency of a serial killer during a mass shooting, reducing the number of deaths.
Finally, American legislators need to enact innovative yet politically agreeable solutions to counter the culture of violence permeating our society. One possibility is to encourage violent video game and filmmakers to voluntarily place cautionary labels on their packaging or in their credits specifically mentioning the dangers of gun violence. This could be done in a manner similar to the highly successful warning labels placed on cigarette packages that highlighted consequences of smoking. A 2007 study by the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project found that “smokers who reported noticing warnings on packages were 1.5 to 3 times more likely to believe in each health hazard.” By labeling gun violence’s presence in films and video games, media consumers can still enjoy playing Grand Theft Auto or watching Tarantino films but be reminded of the serious consequences of real-world gun violence.
Another innovative bipartisan solution would be to offer more federally standardized gun safety classes either through local governments or through organizations such as the NRA. The more educated gun owners are, the fewer gun-related accidents there will be. A centerpiece of the NRA’s agenda used to be gun safety, and because of the NRA’s estimated 5 million-plus members, any further positive action taken on gun safety education by the organization could have widespread acceptance within the gun-owner community.
Preventing gun violence is not a matter of unilateral partisan action. Rather, in order to enact effective gun reform legislation to prevent future tragedies, all groups must come together for rational solutions to save lives, because gun violence is not a political issue — it’s a people one.
William Morrow is a freshman at UC Berkeley and a member of Cal Berkeley Democrats.