Guns in America, a time for the conversation
The Las Vegas shooting this month was the largest mass shooting in modern American history with 58 people killed and 450 injured. According to Mass Shooting Tacker online, this was only one of more than 340 mass shootings in the country since Jan. 1, 2017. A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot in a single event at the same time and location. Because of the shooting, many Americans are questioning whether guns should continue to be legal or at least as readily available as they are currently.
Gun ownership, however, is deeply rooted in American history. According to MSU history professor Bethany Andreasen, gun ownership was originally widespread and necessary after the Revolutionary War because private ownership armed the militias and kept people safe in the American wilderness. Due to America’s needs, the Second Amendment was written in 1791, but sociology professor Harry Hoffman pointed out that the gun debate is a relatively recent development.
“I think the whole debate, so to say, about what gun ownership actually is can go back to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That’s when people started asking questions like how do people get their guns. At that time, you could actually buy them through the mail, and you could buy them at drug stores over the counter without any kind of check or anything like that. In fact, it was around the 1930s, because of the coming of WWII, that the NRA actually came out and suggested that citizens need to become better marksmen in the event of a war, and so they started bringing out a lot of propaganda by suggesting, because of the Second Amendment, people should be more proficient with weapons,” Hoffman said, and added that it was in that time that people started asking who should own guns, what kind, and what restrictions should be in place.
Although regulations are important, many attempts have been found unconstitutional thanks to the Second Amendment. One of the laws that went through was the Gun Control Act of 1968. It created greater regulations on imported guns, gun-dealer licensing and record-keeping, and who could own guns, but Hoffman does not believe America will reach a solution to the debate thanks to the politicization of guns unless one side forces its beliefs on the other.
“One of the problems we are having with this whole question about gun ownership is it’s almost impossible to remove it from the political arena, and if you can’t remove it from the political arena, nothing’s ever going to happen," Hoffman said. "Just like with the Vegas shooting, one would think that it would maybe resurrect some more gun control debates, yet I think the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, said they had absolutely no intention of taking up that question at this point. Because it is so tied to politics, I don’t think we can have a rational discussion about guns."
While he is not against hunting in any way, Hoffman believes gun responsibility should be taken into account.
“We have a lot of freedoms, but at the same time, I think the founding fathers felt that with freedoms come responsibility, and I think that’s one of the things that’s always been missing from the debate itself. What kind of responsibilities does that entail? I think that’s one of the reasons people are so against the idea of a background check because they feel like that goes against their freedom. Well, not really, to me it seems like a way of ensuring those individuals that have them know how to use them first of all and are qualified with them,” Hoffman added.
He does not believe that outlawing guns is the best solution to end violence because he views them as a tool.
“First, I don’t think you could ever ban guns, and hypothetically, even if you could, that probably would give more force to the black market in weapons—prohibition, same way. People that want it, who think they have a right to it, are going to get it no matter what, and I think that’s the major issue,” Hoffman said and later added that violence is not different based on the technique. He does not believe the tool is the issue because every tool in human creation has been used for violent ends, including compasses, gyroscopes, and pencils.
Both Andreasen and Hoffman believe change would be possible only if politicians become open to having the conversation.