A memorial for the El Paso shooting in Texas. | Courtesy Wikipedia

With 19 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2019 alone, the debate sur­rounding gun control is becoming less of a dia­logue and more of an all-out war.

Pressure is mounting on Pres­ident Trump to take action in the wake of shootings in Odessa, Dayton and El Paso last month.

According to Politico, Trump has plans to enact the death penalty for mass shooters, to release teenagers’ records for back­ground checking once they reach 18 years old, and to require the FBI to alert author­ities when a gun buyer fails to pass their back­ground check.

Politico also points out, however, that the National Instant Criminal Back­ground Check System is woe­fully incom­plete because many critical mental health and drug abuse records are never sent in.

Clearly, uni­versal back­ground checks – the goal of most Demo­c­ratic pres­i­dential can­di­dates – won’t be able to suc­cess­fully weed out potential shooters if their records never reach the database.

Mental health plays a critical role in America’s mass shooting epi­demic. Ulti­mately, uni­versal back­ground checks could be a great way to decrease crim­inals’ ability to access firearms. But laws cannot always prevent evil people from doing evil things.

Take Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who attacked stu­dents at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in Feb­ruary 2018. NPR reported that Cruz’s mother called police to their house over a dozen times since he was 10 years old. A family friend was aware that Cruz had threatened his mother and brother with a gun before. And, the FBI was alerted to Cruz’s behavior twice in the months leading up to the shooting: once in Sep­tember 2017, and once in January 2018.

It’s short-sighted to blame guns in a case rife with so much bureau­cratic incom­pe­tence.
However, some Demo­c­ratic can­di­dates seem to think that more bureau­cracy is the key to solving gun vio­lence.

Fox News reported that Beto O’Rourke advo­cated for a mandatory gun buyback program at the New Hamp­shire Demo­c­ratic Party Con­vention on Sep­tember 7. The assumption that fewer guns equals less vio­lence, however, is just that – an assumption.

The Daily Wire cited a study from the Center for Disease Control that found a 56 percent increase in gun own­ership and a 50 percent decline in gun vio­lence between 1993 and 2003. The CDC also found that defensive gun uses num­bered 500,000 to over 3 million in 2013, while gun homi­cides num­bered 11,208 in the same year.

It’s clear that law-abiding cit­izens are using their legally acquired firearms to defend them­selves, and their fam­ilies far more than crim­inals are using guns to attack other people, but that’s not what attracts pub­licity.

Although it might sound easier and safer to get rid of guns, the truth is that you can’t put a Band-Aid on a bullet hole.

Forcing law-abiding cit­izens to sell their guns to the gov­ernment isn’t just uncon­sti­tu­tional – it’s pointless. The real issues, the issues no one wants to talk about, are com­pli­cated, deep-rooted, and def­i­nitely not polit­i­cally correct.

We need a coherent stance on mental health.

An article in the Wall Street Journal cites a report by the U.S. Secret Service, released in July, that ana­lyzed 27 attacks and found that 67 percent of the sus­pects “dis­played symptoms of mental illness or emo­tional dis­tur­bance”.

With the wide­spread des­tigma­ti­zation of mental illness that has taken place in recent years, however, the warning signs are not taken as seri­ously as they should be. Dr. Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and author of the WSJ article, made a dis­turbing point.

“There are now some one million people with serious mental illness living among the general pop­u­lation who, 60 years ago, would have been treated in state mental hos­pitals.”

No one sup­ports wrongful insti­tu­tion­al­ization, but we may have gone too far in the other direction. In fact, Dr. Torrey states that 40 – 50 percent of the one million aren’t receiving any treatment.

Cir­cling back to the Democrats’ and Trump’s plan for beefed-up back­ground checks, it’s clear that they can be effective only if mental health issues are reported and taken seri­ously.

Between gun buy­backs and uni­versal back­ground checks, the latter is the more rea­sonable option. But it is important to remind our­selves, amid the calls for gun control, that com­plete security is impos­sible.

We will never be able to account for every gun, much less every troubled high school student. And in a world full of uncer­tainty, I sleep better knowing that my dad’s rifle is ready to be used in an emer­gency.

Ashley Kaitz is a sophomore studying phi­losophy and religion.