There are no words to adequately describe the devastation felt by this country in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. Crushed under the weight of unanswerable questions, we turn to the one that could prevent this from happening again: What are we as a nation doing to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands?
In light of the events on December 14, that answer seems to be, “Not enough.” Since its expiration in 2004, there currently is no federal ban on assault weapons, and within states, gun control laws vary widely.
John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence told TakePart, “The President and the Congress need to find their backbone and renew the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips…and there should be background checks for all gun sales.”
But aren’t background checks already required by federal law? Rosenthal explains they’re only required when buying guns from federally-licensed firearms dealers, not private sellers. That means that one person selling a gun, say out of the trunk of his car, isn't necessarily breaking any federal laws when he sells that gun to someone whose name he doesn't even know. That leaves it up to the states to regulate those private sales, but most do not.
Until federal legislation is mandated for all gun sales, casting a critical eye on state laws reveals a system that’s easily penetrated, no matter one’s mental state or criminal record. Considering that 2012 has been the worst year for mass shootings in U.S. history, it’s worth taking a look at some of the more perplexing state laws currently on the books.
- Connecticut, where the Newtown tragedy occurred, requires permits for handguns− but not for shotguns and rifles.
- The day before the Newtown killings, Michigan passed a law allowing owners to carry concealed weapons in schools, classrooms, college campuses and sporting stadiums.
- In Arizona, anyone over 21 can own a firearm, and no permit is required to carry a concealed handgun.
- The state of Virginia is among the 33 states Rosenthal says allows for anyone to purchase a firearm from a private dealer at a gun show without going through a background check, allowing full access to criminals and buyers with a history mental health problems.
- Mississippi laws allow gun owners to carry firearms in public places including bars, courthouses and college campuses.
- In Missouri, gun owners can carry their weapons even while intoxicated, and may fire it while inebriated, if they believe it’s “an act of self-defense.”
- Tennessee buyers aren’t required to register their firearms or obtain a license, and may purchase an unlimited amount of guns at one time without question, and without a waiting period.
So where do we go from here? A flurry of online petitions are being circulated to urge President Obama to enact federal mandates. As of right now, there are no less than nine petitions on the White House website, and more than 100,000 people have already signed them.
It should be noted, none of these efforts call for ratifying the Second Amendment; this movement is about gun regulation, not eradication.
Getting a driver’s license is currently more difficult than getting a gun in many states. Having a system of nationwide gun regulation that’s at least as accountable as the DMV at this point seems wholly reasonable.
What’s your reaction to gun control legislation in light of the Newtown tragedy? Let us know in the Comments.