Gun control: the moment of silence is loud and clear

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The war in Iraq is over. But, the war at home is “gearing up.” Some students and institutions in Minnesota, Maryland, Pennsylvania, California, and North Dakota are battle ready: having students shoulder backpacks with bulletproof inserts is gaining popularity. It’s a new trend that attempts to tame what the media has frequently referred to as an epidemic: mass shootings.

Bulletproof backpacks are just the beginning. Bulletproof White boards were purchased by the University of Maryland Easternshore. Bulletproof desks have also surfaced in recent months. It’s a new line of defense to mass shootings, which sadly we’ve come to expect.

With the war in Iraq and military presence in Afghanistan winding down, Hardwire, the company which provided the military with protective gear, is turning its attention to fighting violent massacres here at home.

Several articles indicate that the new line of bulletproof gear is made of Dyneema, which has been described as “fiber on steroids.” It is used to protect soldiers and law enforcement against ammunition and flying fragments. Dyneema is now getting a civil deployment to avoid another Newtown, in the wake of more shootings. It’s a preventive measure that seeks to give students, parents and administrators some level of comfort, but with an unknown measure of success.

The Sandy Hook Memorial in Newtown, CT, December 26, 2012. (Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons)
The Sandy Hook Memorial in Newtown, CT, December 26, 2012.
(Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons)

After the tragedy in Newtown, the time for gun control was “now.” Fast-forward nine months and gun control legislation is temporarily off the table, despite heroic efforts from gun violence victims and advocates.

Universal background checks, although supported by the public, has gained little traction in Washington. Some school districts support arming teachers and administrators, others don’t, arguing that teachers and school officials shouldn’t have law enforcement responsibilities.

So, what will be the impact of this trend of arming students and administrators with bulletproof gear? Will it do anything to reduce the bottomless moments of silence we hear loud and clear from the Senate/House floor to the halls of the White House, honoring victims killed and injured in mass shootings?

But the questions can’t and shouldn’t stop there. What is the underlying issue or issues for this nightmarish “epidemic” in the first place? The focus has been on shooters with a history of mental illness. Is lack of access to mental health treatment the real issue?

Talk of new mental health legislation and databases of mental health patients floats along the beltway. Establishing a database of mental health sufferers ignites a fierce privacy debate. Opponents argue that it would also deter many from seeking much needed treatment for fear of being further stigmatized.

There’s also another angle to this epidemic that some publications have discussed regarding gun “control” vs. gun “use.” Gun control focuses on laws that would make guns harder to own, carry, or buy. Gun use addresses how a gun is used and punishes those offenses accordingly.

For example, in Richmond, VA, Project Exile moves all gun possession offenses to federal court where minimum sentences are longer as opposed to state court.  Should we shift our focus to gun “use” as opposed to gun “control”? Is this the real issue?

Pushing harder for universal background checks gained a lot of support, but the idea was short lived in Washington. Opponents argue that universal background checks would do little because of private gun sales between individuals and the ability to obtain illegal firearms on the web.

Houston gun show. (Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons)
Houston gun show.
(Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons)

Is this the real issue? Any possible solution inevitably leads back to an argument on loop:  the right to bear arms. The Supreme Court first addressed the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). The Court held that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to bear arms for legal purposes.

McDonald v. Chicago (2010) addresses the issue as it applies to the States, which held that the Second Amendment is incorporated to the States via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. While the Second Amendment issue is settled as it applies to individuals, contentious arguments about the Second Amendment continue to cloud discussions about mass shootings, and what to do about them.

Many agree that we live in a violent culture and point to violent video games as evidence. The release of “Grand Theft Auto V” has only fueled this theory further. According to media reports, the video game made one billion dollars in three days. A violent culture is certainly a theory, but is this the real issue we should focus on to reduce mass shootings?

There’s no one concrete answer to reducing mass shootings. “A” solution seems unrealistic for a problem with multiple complex underlying issues to consider. There’s a collective horror and call to action with each tragic event, yet with so many questions unanswered, we’re no closer to reaching any solution or combination of solutions.

When it comes down to discussing the issues surrounding mass shootings, in the hopes of reducing them, the loud furor of discourse leads to inaction and many more months of silence . . . until the next one.