Willson: After Las Vegas, we need to assess our humanity, not our gun laws

Lauren Willson

The deadliest mass shooting in US history took place last Sunday in Las Vegas, NV. Shooter Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd attending a country music concert, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 500. The Las Vegas shooting has reignited gun control debate in America. Should there be stricter gun control to prevent mass shootings? 

People visit and pay their respects at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the recent mass shooting, on Reno Ave and Las Vegas Blvd. on Oct. 3, 2017 in Las Vegas. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

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Nearly every American is familiar with the Second Amendment to the Constitution. We don’t need to continue debating what our founding fathers thought about gun access, as it is clear that restricting guns further will create far more problems than it will solve. What happened in Las Vegas was an undeniable tragedy.

But, we should not overreact with radical changes to gun legislation. We need to focus on the issues that are really causing these crimes and tragic events, such as mental health and a growing sense of despondence over the current state of world affairs. 

It’s obvious that gun ownership is a constitutional right, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people who support outlawing them. Unfortunately, banning guns for civilian use isn’t a comprehensive solution to gun violence.

Restricting gun access won’t eliminate the demand for the devices themselves. If guns are outlawed, black markets will surely spring up, thereby benefiting criminals. Even law-abiding citizens—who simply wish to protect themselves—will have to obtain their guns illicitly.

The creation of black markets around guns will only precipitate more crime and unlawful activity, just as it has in the illegal drug trade. There are already illicit market niches centered on selling fully automatic assault weapons, as now-defunct legislation has made such firearms highly restricted in the U.S. Outlawing other types of firearms would only cause these illegal trades to boom.

Some argue that outlawing guns will reduce deaths from homicides and mass shootings, such as the recent Las Vegas tragedy. These deaths make up a very small portion of gun-related casualties. Nearly two-thirds of gun-related deaths are the result of suicide.

By contrast, in 2017, 273 out of 11,714 deaths were attributed to mass shootings. Mass shooters represent an atypical sect of gun-owners, not the norm.

There are far more individuals who commit suicide using guns on themselves than those who use it to end the lives of others. In 2014, the CDC reported that almost half of all suicides in the nation were committed with a gun.

This strongly suggests that psychological illnesses and personal discontent are more prevalent issues than gun-related homicides and mass shootings. As recently as 2015, more than 16 million American adults suffered from major depressive disorder and a staggering 40 million from anxiety disorders. Perhaps it’s time we place greater focus on ensuring access to health care and psychological services, rather than insist on taking away a fundamental American liberty.

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There still remains the difficult question as to why Stephen Paddock committed the atrocious shooting. After killing almost 60 people, Paddock turned a gun on himself. His death leaves authorities with little information as to a motive. They do not yet know whether he was motivated by ideology, politics or religion; any one of which could classify the crime as an act of terrorism. And, interviews with those who knew Paddock suggest he did not suffer from apparent psychological disturbances.

The stupefying nature of Paddock’s actions—and his lack of previous criminal history—exemplify the tumult and uncertainty of our current state of affairs, among them the looming potential of nuclear war and hurricanes exacerbated by climate change. 

This isn’t the time to take things away or debate how we can restrict commodities. This is the time to assess our very humanity, to join together and recognize how the decisions we make affect those around us. There are far more pressing problems than partisanship, from mass shootings to natural disaster to nuclear war. It’s time to tackle those tough issues without compromising our fundamental rights. 

Columnist Lauren Willson can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @LaurenKealani