Gun control legislation has traditionally been regarded as one of the most controversial issues in the USA, with numerous proponents of giving people a freedom to choose whether to own a gun, and with a similarly large number of advocates of this policy’s toughening. Both camps have highly reasonable arguments in support of their standpoints, which makes the policy over gun control a vague and fuzzy one, with little evidence of its approximating resolution. The recent wave of mass shootings in the USA and worldwide affected public attitude towards gun control, but surprisingly, the effect was positive: people have become much more accepting towards gun ownership. The reasons for this are diverse: mass media publicity, people’s concern over their safety in the streets, and many more. One thing is clear: gun control laws are getting laxer at the background of mass shootings, and the public’s fear of becoming a victim of such unexpected attacks fuels their desire to own a gun.
At the first glance, it seems that mass shootings should raise a wave of opposition to free gun ownership; tougher control may reduce access to firearms for people with mental illnesses, thus reducing the risks for further mass shootings. However, in reality, this is not so. As the study of Studdert et al. (2017) showed, in 6 weeks after the Newtown and San Bernardino shootings, the 41% increase of gun acquisitions was observed. After San Bernardino shootings alone, the increase accounted for 85% among the city’s residents, while other California locales revealed a 35% increase. The same observation was made by Wallace (2015) finding a positive association between mass shootings and gun acquisition with a delayed effect of 3-4 months after the shooting.
Such evidence clearly demonstrates that people feel unsafe in the context of mass shootings occurring in the daytime, in public places, with no special selection of victims and a dramatic effect on numerous victims’ lives. However, the trend of massive gun acquisition after mass shootings contributes to further aggravation of the problem – nobody attends to the roots of the issue, which is unproblematic acquisition of firearms by almost any person in the USA, without the need to prove his or her sanity or showing the medical record. Once the public starts fearing mass shooters and acquires numerous additional firearms, the nation is getting gradually armed, which serves as a new risk factor for further armed conflicts and shootings.
Given the publicly popular and common association of mass shootings with a severe mental illness, the most evident solution to the problem may be found in introducing mental health checks during guns’ acquisition, and as a necessary prerequisite for receiving gun ownership licenses. Nevertheless, the measure is not that easy to accomplish, and its effectiveness is also doubtable, as it was observed by Fox and Fridel (2016); the link between mental health problems and mass shootings is not as simple as it might seem, and there are only few exceptional cases in which mental illness alone served as a trigger for a mass shooting. In the overwhelming number of cases, there is a much more complex interaction between mental health, gun ownership, and the social context in which the drama unveils. Therefore, solving the problem of mass shootings with adequate attention to mental checks only is hardly possible, and additional legislative measures are still desirable.
Obviously, gun control is a problematic issue in the USA; with gun proponents protected by strong advocacy of the National Rifle Association, the freedom to own a gun is hardly ever to be taken from Americans. However, in the light of the recently aggravating issue of mass shootings, it is strongly advisable not to focus on mental illness as the only source of the problem, but to monitor the overall social and legal climate in which shootings take place. Changing people’s culture and attitude to guns may become the first effective step towards making a real change happen.
Fox, J. A., & Fridel, E. E. (2016). The tenuous connections involving mass shootings, mental illness, and gun laws. Violence and Gender, 3(1), 14-19.
Studdert, D. M., Zhang, Y., Rodden, J. A., Hyndman, R. J., & Wintermute, G. J. (2017). Handgun acquisitions in California after two mass shootings. Annals of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 698-706.
Wallace, L. N. (2015). Responding to violence with guns: mass shootings and gun acquisition. The Social Science Journal, 52(2), 156-167.
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