In the last year, the US has experienced three mass shootings. The shooting in Aurora orchestrated by James Holmes that killed 12 and injured 70 happened over a year ago. The anniversary of the Sandy Hook Shooting — in which Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 elementary school kids, six adults and himself — is only a few months away. And just last week, Aaron Alexis shot and killed 20 before committing suicide.
In this past year, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the subject of guns. The Colorado Statehouse this spring passed a series of measures in order to try and curb potential mass shootings, including limiting magazine sizes and instituting background checks.
At the time, I was working as an intern for a member of the Colorado House of Representatives. During the few weeks that gun control was the central topic, the office that I worked for was inundated with thousands of emails, hundreds of phone calls and dozens of letters expressing an opinion on the subject.
A common theme amongst the gun-rights responses concerned the number of gun related laws already on the books. The most cited number was around 20,000, although that claim is dubious.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that there are a whole mess of gun-control laws already on the books. So who is supposed to enforce all of the gun legislation that we’ve been passing?
At the federal level, that responsibility falls to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). But, behind the scenes, there has been a pretty concerted effort to deprive them of both personnel and the funds with which to do their jobs.
The ATF hasn’t had a director in seven years. The current director was appointed on August 1, in a vote that very nearly dodged a filibuster thanks to persistent arm twisting and negotiating. In addition, the Department of Justice released a report that stated that the ATF is severely understaffed, to the point where a lot of gun retailers aren’t being regulated at all. That’s also including the fact that the ATF can’t make unscheduled visits to gun dealers and has a very hard time revoking licenses of gun shops who don’t comply with laws already on the books.
So if we aren’t regulating gun laws, what’s the point? It sounds hollow, and borderline hypocritical, to say that we should enforce the gun laws we already have whilst stripping the power from a regulatory agency that would do just that.
If we’re serious about enforcing the laws we already have, rather than pass more laws, then we should actually let enforcement agencies enforce.
Take for instance mental health. If we think that mental health is a culprit behind mass shootings, we need to actually follow through with better mental health services. At the very least, we should find ways to calmly get guns out of the hands of people who are clearly unstable. Adam Lanza and James Holmes don’t represent the majority of gun owners and it ought to be clear that people with similar issues shouldn’t have access to guns.
If we must model gun regulation off of another culture, it ought to be Switzerland’s model. The Swiss don’t have a standing army, but rather their citizens are their army. Gun ownership in Switzerland is pretty high, in fact they are fourth on the number of guns per capita list, but have drastically fewer mass shooting instances. However, their gun control laws are a lot more strict than the America’s.
Every Swiss citizen serves as a member of the army and receives mandatory military training. Automatic weapons are banned outright, as are silencers. A gun buyer needs a permit to do so, and then only if they’ve passed a psychiatric test and background check. You would also need a special permit to carry a gun in public, and then only if you’re a security officer. Many Swiss citizens are also denied access to ammunition, unless in times of national emergency.
Guns aren’t issued for self-defense, they’re issued for national security. Would that work in America? Hard to say. But at least the Swiss are serious about their laws. We aren’t.
If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws would have guns, the saying goes. But that does not mean that we don’t try to bring outlaws to justice.
That’s the point of having laws in the first place.
Editorial Editor Caleb Hendrich is a senior journalism and political science double major. He also spends a lot of his free time thinking about public policy. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org