On October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a Las Vegas music festival killing 58 and injuring over 500 people, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Paddock stockpiled guns over the last year and used bump stock accessories to change many of the guns to perform like automatic weapons. In the aftermath of horrific events like these, debate ensues over whether gun control could prevent any future occurrences. Currently, gun restrictions in the U.S. include the sale of guns to persons under 18 years of age, those with criminal records, the mentally disabled, unlawful aliens, and dishonorably discharged military personnel. In addition, the law requires background checks for all unlicensed people buying guns from federal dealers. Dealers selling guns at gun shows or online are required to get federal licenses and conduct background checks on buyers. In 1994, Congress passed a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but Congress allowed these restrictions to expire in 2004. Gun control has a deep partisan divide, with most Democrats being in favor of more gun control laws and Republicans being against them. Divide also exists on whether gun control can prevent mass shootings. A Pew Research Center survey showed that 64% of Democrats and 27% of Republicans believe mass shootings would decrease if it was harder for people to legally get guns.
Those that believe gun control can prevent mass shootings point to Australia as an example of success. After a mass shooting in 1996, Australia’s government banned the sale of semi-automatic weapons and implemented a gun buyback program. Since that time, homicide and suicide rates saw major reductions and no mass shootings have occurred. Many argue the U.S. should follow in Australia’s footsteps. Public health experts think the U.S. could cut its gun death rate by one-third by implementing several safety measures such as universal background checks, requiring purchasers be 21 and older, banning gun sales to people with a history of domestic violence, and limiting purchases to one or two per month. One expert cautions that safety measures alone will not do enough to prevent mass shootings. The expansion of mental health services and increased support for people experiencing stressful life changes such as job termination and divorce are critical as well. People also believe that banning bump stocks could prevent mass shootings. Bump stock kits convert semi-automatic guns to automatic guns producing an increased rate of fire resulting in more deaths in less time.
Many people believe that gun control cannot prevent mass shootings. They argue that no amount of restriction or technology will stop a legal gun owner from using their gun in a malevolent way. Most perpetrators of mass shootings use legally-obtained guns, as did Paddock. He also passed his background checks with no issues. In addition, many places that have enacted gun control measures have failed to prevent mass shootings. For example, Europe has more intense gun control restrictions than the U.S., but they also have more mass shootings. Semi-automatic guns are illegal in France, but people have still found a way to get them. Those against gun control measures argue that if people really want to get something, they will find a way, and laws will not stop them. In the U.S., Chicago has some of the most restrictive gun laws, but they still experience frequent gun deaths. In regards to Australia, data does show that homicide rates have declined, but no research has looked into the reason for the decline, so it is not possible to attribute the changes directly to the gun control measures. Some feel that even banning bump stock accessories will do little to prevent mass shootings in the future because this is the first time that bump stocks are being used in mass shootings.
Would changes to gun control help to prevent future mass shootings? Or will people find a way no matter what the restrictions are? Where do you stand?