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August 20, 2014

The Gun Debate

“Gentleman from Boston University, you have two minutes.”

“Thank you.”

The 21-year-old stood up from his seat and approached the podium. He was nervous despite the stack of notes he carried, but he did an admirable job of hiding it.

“Blacksburg, Virginia. Fort Hood, Texas. Tucson, Arizona. Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Newtown, Connecticut. Washington, D.C. These are all places where innocent people have been killed in large numbers since I was a freshman in high school. Sadly, this list doesn’t even contain half of the mass shootings that took place during this time. We as a country have reached a point where we hardly bat an eyelash when we see another one pop up on the news. We are the most powerful nation on the planet, and yet we seem powerless to do anything to save ourselves from the threat that is costing us the most American lives.

“Over 50,000 people have died due to guns since the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School. This greatly exceeds the number of soldiers who died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined. More people die in the US each year to firearms than people die to acts of terrorism around the entire globe. The nations of the world are watching while we kill ourselves faster than anyone else possibly could.

“The United States suffers from more mass shootings per year than any other developed country. Why? It’s not because we consume more violent television, play more violent video games, or suffer from a greater degree of mental illness than our peers. No. We simply have more guns. We make up a tiny fraction of the world’s population, but we own over a third of its civilian firearms. Consider how we have over five times as many guns as India, a country with four times our population. We are simply saturated. We suffer from a problem of easy access.

“Yet despite that, we have the laxest gun laws of any developed nation. We are unique in our refusal to license or register guns across the board. We can’t even get universal background checks passed in this country without it somehow being perceived to infringe upon a person’s rights. Nor are we able to reenact the Federal Assault Weapons Ban or limit the amount of ammunition that people can purchase. How many bullets does a person need to go hunting or to defend their home? We -”

“Boston University, your two minutes are up.” The moderator interrupted.

Without another word, the student gathered his notes and returned to his seat.

“Would the lady from Vanderbilt University like to respond?” The moderator asked.

“Yes, thank you.” The women that stood up was hardly a day older than 19. Yet despite her youth, she approached the podium with the utmost confidence. “With all the media uproar, with all the political demagoguery, with all the outrage, you would think that we were living in America’s most violent era. We aren’t. Violence is down all across the country. Cities are dealing with less crime. Fewer people are murdering each other. And, despite how things may seem, mass shootings are down as well. There were fewer incidents in the 2000s than the 1990s or the 1980s. The 90s, for those of us here who are too young to remember firsthand, was a particularly violent decade. Newtown came at the end of what was a very violent year, but we would do well to note that 1991 saw even more mass shootings take place within our shores.

“Not too long ago, our president campaigned to bring back the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. That law, which was enacted in 1994, didn’t reduce the violence that plagued our country in the 90s. Nor did we see a spike in violence in the 2000s when the law expired. As I said before, that decade was more peaceful than the one that preceded it, despite the tragic occurrence of events like the shooting in Virginia Tech and the massacre at the military base in Fort Hood.

“I will admit, the years since 2010 have been rough. Mass shootings have been taking place at an alarming rate. But we need to follow more than our passions here. Look at the facts. Shootings have occurred in places with tight gun control laws and places with lax ones. Violence has not gone up in relation to the number of guns being sold, and the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban seems all but insignificant. Furthermore, in most mass shootings, the perpetrator used guns that they had acquired legally.

“So do we really need stricter gun control laws? No. Here’s the sad truth. In nearly every mass shooting, the shooter was determined to have suffered from a mental illness. That is where we as a country should focus our attention. Thank you.”

The moderator looked down at her phone. There was still time to spare. With a few taps, she reset the timer.

“Would the gentleman from Howard University like to speak next?” She asked.

The college senior walked up to the podium. Unlike the two debaters before him, he didn’t have any notes. His hands were empty.

“No, Ma’am. The law doesn’t protect black men from being shot down whether we’re armed or not, nor do courts even care about the mental state of the civilian or police officer at the other end of the gun. For people like me, this debate doesn’t matter.”

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“The Gun Debate” by Bertel King, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.