In Wake of Several Mass Murders, Americans Once Again Debate Gun Ownership

In the wake of last month’s deadly shootings in Colorado and Georgia, President Joe Biden Gun-rights supporters demonstrate in front of state Capitol in Richmond, Va., Jan. 20, 2020.Many pro-gun advocates point to their belief that making it more difficult to buy guns benefits criminals. “You’ve got millions of responsible gun owners in America who follow the law,” said Isaiah Stewart, who owns a firearms training center in New Orleans. “But if you try to take or regulate guns, you know who won’t comply? Criminals. They’ll still have their guns.” The case for gun control In its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court added a statement that the right to bear arms outlined in the Second Amendment is not unlimited. The statement included “dangerous and unusual weapons” as a limitation, as well as “the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.” Laura Devitt thinks this, and President Biden’s executive orders are all positive steps. Devitt is a lead volunteer for the New Orleans chapter of Moms Demand Action, a national organization fighting for public safety measures they believe can protect people from gun violence. She said she became passionate about addressing gun violence after the 2012 school mass shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. “I was in labor with my first child when it happened, and I was so shaken that I was bringing a child into the world during this horrific event,” she said. “I’m not against the Second Amendment. I just think we can do more to work together and end gun violence by enacting laws and closing loopholes that already have the support of lots of gun owners.” A History of Mass ShootingsWho commits public mass shootings? What motivates them to kill? With the help of a landmark database, VOA examines the social, psychological, emotional and environmental factors that contributed to these rare crimes.Reaching consensus? Summer Gebhart’s friend was murdered in Austin, Texas. She and her boyfriend got into a verbal fight at a local bar. The argument became physical when they got back to the house and ended when the man retrieved his gun from his truck and shot his girlfriend in the face. When Gebhart thinks about what could have happened for her friend to still be alive, she looks to the world’s other developed nations, and the success they’ve had curtailing gun violence. “Look at Japan, Australia, Germany and Switzerland,” she said. “They’ve all taken action — whether it be a 28-day cooling-off period before you can buy a gun, extensive psych testing to qualify for a firearm, or a properly-locked storage case with code or key.” It’s not about taking away all guns, Gebhart said, it’s just about reducing the danger of gun violence. But when Isaiah Stewart looks to other countries, he sees something different.  “They banned handguns in England,” he said, “but you know what happened next? Stabbing rates went up. Now they’re trying to ban knives.” Stewart is right that knife violence hit a record high in England in 2019, but he also acknowledged it’s much harder to kill someone with a knife than a gun. And that’s the point, according to those in favor of gun restrictions in the U.S. Still, it doesn’t change Stewart’s belief that people should have the right to protect themselves. He believes President Biden’s executive orders hinder law-abiding citizens’ ability to do that. “I think people who want to commit crimes are going to commit crimes and there’s no stopping their desire,” he said, before adding how he thinks the number of gun tragedies can be reduced. “But maybe we can focus more on training and educating responsible gun owners on how to better take care of their weapon.” Stewart noted that in New Orleans, alone, in 2017, 756 guns were reported lost or stolen, and 253 of those were recovered in the use of a crime. Gebhart doesn’t think such a limited focus on “responsible gun owners” goes nearly far enough, but she agrees it’s a problem that needs addressing. It also underscores the idea that any major gun regulation will need the help of at least some of America’s many gun owners to become law. “We need good gun owners to help reduce gun harm,” she said. “We won’t get far without them.”