My heart goes out to those whose lives were shattered and families who were torn apart by the recent shooting in the Washington Navy Yard. It was a tragedy that this country has faced too often, and unless there is some drastic change, it’s a tragedy we will face again. There have been at least 20 different mass shootings in the past 5 years, a preposterous statistic in a country as developed as the United States. While a timely solution to this problem is imperative, we must choose our response wisely. Some gun control advocates argue that the Second Amendment is an archaic principle that must be reconsidered and reevaluated to fit our modern world; however, I find it difficult to agree with them. The purpose of the United States Constitution is to protect our freedom and unalienable rights as citizens of this country. The right to bear arms is one such right that we must preserve. Benjamin Franklin said “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This is an accurate statement when it comes to gun control. We should not jump to the idea of sacrificing our rights as a quick and easy solution, but rather, we should look closely at how to solve the underlying issues behind this problem. As much as many of us wish it so, making it illegal to bear arms would not have saved those lives; a harsh reality that we all must accept. The problem is not the right to bear arms itself, but instead the ease at which anyone can obtain said arms.

If one were to look into many of the mass shootings in the past years, they would notice a disturbing trend: it was not a single type of gun, but rather a certain type of person that was behind these atrocities. Eric Davis Harris and Dylan Bennet Klebold, the high school students responsible for taking 13 innocent lives in the Columbine High School Massacre, were said to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and delusions of grandeur. In the 2012 Aurora Shooting, the shooter James Eagan Holmes was said to have the mental disorder known as dysphoric mania. In the most recent shooting in the Washington Navy Yard, the believed perpetrator of the killings, Aaron Alexis, had a history of mental illness and claimed that he “heard voices talking to him.” The big question that emerges is how these people, who have a history of dangerous and unstable psychological disorders, managed to obtain the weapons they did. If anything needs to be changed, it should be how simple it is to obtain weapons without a background or mental health check, as it is in several cases.

In many states, the right to obtain or wield a weapon does not require a state permit nor require firearm registration. It is actually shocking when you realize that in several states, you can walk up to a gun store and purchase a weapon and ammunition without more than cash or a credit card. These kinds of purchases often occur without looking into buyers’ criminal histories or psychological evaluations. These personal background checks are necessary if we are ever going to progress in the form of firearms safety in this country. I am not advocating a registry listing which houses have weapons and which don’t, akin to the intrusive programs in New York supported by Governor Cuomo, but instead more of a front-end check during the purchase of weapons assuring that the person buying the firearm is fit to wield a weapon and not a possible threat to society. Prioritizing background and mental health checks on those who buy weapons should be a simple and effective step in increasing gun safety in this country. Increased gun control in this fashion is quite unobtrusive to upstanding citizens with clean records and offers a simple way to increase safety without greatly impeding upon people’s Second Amendment rights.

Finally, it is important for people to recognize that it is not ultimately guns that kill people, but people that kill people. We should not be looking for ways to restrict our rights, but instead we look at patterns to prevent these heart wrenching tragedies from happening. Greater awareness for the mental health and well being of endangered individuals around our country can go a long way in heading off the rampages of the dangerous and unstable. With a greater focus on the people behind these killings instead of the guns, it will make it easier to identify and restrict gun access to these specific populations without infringing upon the rights of the greater populace. Increasing the difficulty of obtaining arms will not take away our liberties, but it may protect us from future tragedies. The way that both States and Congress are approaching new gun legislation urgently needs to be amended for effective change to happen. In order to maintain the individual American’s right to arms while also protecting people from gun violence, both sides in the debate must find a middle and common ground. Gun control advocates and gun rights advocates agree that something needs to be done. Why not try this approach?

Jenkins is a member of
the class of 2016.

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