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Protesters advocate for gun control measures.

Two sides of the gun control debate from LAHS students

June 24, 2023

There’s been over 260 mass shootings in America this year alone — as the number rises, the debate over gun control has only gained prominence. For a further look into this debate, here are two different opinions on gun control, written by Los Altos High School students.

Should gun control laws be stricter?

No: We must preserve the self-defense rights of all Americans — especially minorities

When I’m legally allowed to, I will deeply consider buying a gun. And that fact haunts me. 

For as long as I can remember, and until very recently, I’ve been anti-gun. In middle school, as I watched the Las Vegas and Parkland shootings unfold on the news, I began to see the American gun rights movement as a foil to peace. And, given that I’m as far from the archetypical gun owner as one could possibly be, that opinion is predictable. My politics are almost uniformly left-leaning, and I could barely kill a fly. I have trouble imagining myself wielding a gun. 

But, as a transgender Asian-American person, I have no trouble envisioning someone wielding a gun against me. 

Studies have shown that transgender people are four times more likely to experience violent assault and seven times more likely to experience police violence. Attacks against racial minorities have been amplified in recent years, especially against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In a world where violence against minority people is the norm, our right to defend ourselves is, unfortunately, imperative. 

Don’t get me wrong — I’m in support of some gun control policies. Policies like background checks and safety training are not only ideal but necessary to ensure that guns are wielded by people who can use them safely. But many laws that have been hailed as positive gun control measures pose a clear risk to people who seek to defend themselves. 

For example, Oregon’s Measure 114 (which passed by a slim margin last year) allows local law enforcement to choose who can or can’t purchase firearms in the state under a strict permit system. But, as National Public Radio (NPR) reports, the measure doesn’t clearly define what might disqualify an applicant. Nor are the police exactly a paragon in defending minority rights. It’s easy to see how a law enforcement department could disproportionately withhold permits from trans people, people of color and other marginalized groups, enabling further violence against them from both the state and rogue individuals. And it’s just as easy to envision that violence propagating nationwide. 

Yes, guns can unfortunately empower violence against marginalized communities. Many mass shootings, like the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 and the Club Q shooting just last year, have targeted the queer community directly, and countless others have targeted people of color, like 2021’s Atlanta Spa shootings. As a result, many advocacy organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have publicly supported gun control measures

But severely restricting guns is not the solution to prejudiced violence. All that would do is make those most in need of protection more unsafe — because nobody in power is willing to protect us. 

During the Pulse Nightclub shooting, it took the police three hours to kill the shooter. Lawsuits have claimed that police officers specifically “charged with providing security to Pulse” abandoned their posts or stood outside the nightclub while the shooting occurred, allowing dozens of people to die. While police failures are a common part of mass shootings in this country, it’s especially striking how a government charged with protecting its citizens allowed a rogue perpetrator to kill 49 people at a queer nightclub. 

Our government has shown, time and time again, that it doesn’t care about people of minority backgrounds. We cannot entrust that same government with the ability to decide who deserves to defend themselves and who doesn’t. 

I agree that, in an ideal society, taking guns away from everyone would lead to positive change. But a gun-free world is a pipe dream. Any committed perpetrator can currently get their hands on an illegal gun; they can be 3-D printed or trafficked extremely easily. Harsh gun control policies barely affect people committed to violence while making it harder for law-abiding citizens — especially those of minority backgrounds — to defend themselves against such attacks. Any gun control policies aiming to restrict people from obtaining guns are likely to disproportionately affect the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups. So, while I hope that the government will become more inclusive of queer people and other disadvantaged groups, I cannot trust the government to protect my rights — including my right to protect myself. 

To be clear, this position doesn’t align with traditional gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) — quite the opposite. Those organizations are terrified by bona fide defenses of the Second Amendment. Because the current gun rights movement in the United States doesn’t want self-defense for everyone — it wants self-defense for cisgender, straight, white men. 

That was true fifty years ago, when the NRA backed a law that limited the public carrying of firearms simply because it wanted to disempower members of Black power organizations. And it’s true now. It’s true when the NRA uses anti-Black, white supremacist fear-mongering to sell guns. It’s true when conservative commentators call depictions of the transgender flag made of rifles “domestic terror” but defend people who wear gun-laden American flags. Our country’s most ardent “Second Amendment advocates” only support gun rights to maintain the status quo, where violence against minority groups is tolerated and normalized — further proving that we need our Second Amendment rights.

Overall, while I’ll always oppose the NRA and be in favor of some gun control legislation, I will not tolerate any attack on the self-defense rights of American citizens, especially those who are disproportionately targeted in acts of bigoted violence. 

As a trans person of color, with a government unwilling to protect me and willing to condone violence against people like me, I can’t help but feel deeply unsafe, like my own power to live or die is out of my hands. I still don’t know if I’ll become a gun owner or not. But, if I do, it’ll be in an attempt to take some of that power back, to defend myself against a world that won’t do it for me.

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Yes: History shows us that increased vigilance and stricter laws can make a difference against gun violence in America

Gun violence in America is a crisis. It permeates American society and haunts societal consciousness with every flash on screens with news of another shooting.

It’s sad, and frustrating and scary — how often can we see the same words pop up in the news before we disregard the status quo and take action? And what does taking action really mean for a problem so deeply entrenched in American society?

The dystopian truth is that we live in a society where news of mass destruction by single individuals isn’t just commonplace, it’s also seen as inevitable. 

There is simply no one-track solution, a one-size-fits-all fix, to America’s biggest plague today: Guns. 

So where does a solution lie and how do we find it?

Maybe figuring out why American society breeds so much gun violence, would be a good place to start. 

Gun violence is disproportionately perpetuated by men. Caucasian men, to be exact. Analyses show that the better half of gun violence perpetrators have a history of domestic violence. The Stoneman Douglas High School shooter, for example, had a history of hurting animals and was receiving psychiatric attention for depression in the years leading up to the shooting. 

The prevailing argument, supported by everything we’ve seen in the past, is that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. 

Psychiatrist Amy Barnhorst writes of an incident with a patient who, after praising the Columbine shooters on Facebook and purchasing a gun, wasn’t involuntarily admitted to a mental hospital. After all, he exhibited no signs of violence or instability, just a concerning social media presence. Smoke was definitely rising in that case, but no further action was taken. 

In a similar vein, when students are displaying signs of violence on social media or elsewhere, oftentimes, educators and fellow students ignore the signs. CNN cites signs as being anything from changes in behavior to “leakage,” which means when a possible gun violence perpetrator discusses their plan publicly. Most of the time, people aren’t aware of signs or how to counteract them, and so they go unreported. Solving this problem means stopping the amount of shooters who have historically been able to slip through the cracks undetected. 

This is a microcosm of a larger trend: people that shouldn’t have access to guns are able to purchase them with incredible ease. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be as easy as it presently is to get your hands on a gun.

In Australia and Great Britain, hard and fast laws popped up with incredibly quick turnaround following mass shootings during the 90s. Both nations adopted multimillion dollar gun-buyback programs and were met with success. One could argue that there’s too many external factors affecting statistical peaks and valleys in gun violence to trace their effectiveness, but the solitary truth prevails that laws do have positive effects on gun violence.

The logical solution to America’s gun problem would be stricter laws. 

But not even California, the state with the strictest gun laws, and yes, the least gun violence in the country, is the safe-haven that one might expect. In 2023 alone, three shootings occurred in California with at least four victims. 

Even though Californian gun laws are relatively unyielding, there are still multiple shortcomings; for instance, gun owners aren’t forced to relinquish weapons that were formerly legal but are now banned. California cannot remove guns from people who may have exhibited dangerous behavior, but aren’t properly flagged to courts or law enforcement. On top of all that, under-the-radar gun sales and what are colloquially known as “ghost guns” will always exist.

Even with all the might of state political power, there are holes in California’s safeguards against gun violence.

But the capacity for California to strengthen its laws, and thus, decrease gun violence across the state, is what separates it from the pack. Other U.S. states don’t share that luxury, and sadly, 2nd Amendment privileges make blanket laws across the country impossible.

America can never go the route of its British and Australian counterparts, but was it ever really going to? No other country has the same affliction, especially not at the same magnitude. The American fight against guns is unique, and thus is ours alone to combat. 

It’s a frightening prospect that there is no perfect solution to the gun control crisis. It’s a terrifying world to live in, and an even more terrifying feeling to be helpless in the face of danger. 

The argument most often posed in response to calls for stricter gun laws is that a determined shooter will get their hands on a gun regardless of legal safeguards in place.

Historically, this isn’t usually the case. Shooters usually purchase guns legally, sidestepping measures too flimsy to work as designed. Fewer and fewer people live to tell the tale.

There have been at least 163 mass shootings in America in 2023. The depth and gravitas of this problem doesn’t have to be spelled out, because it’s embedded in the headlines we read everyday, and litters the schools our youth are growing up in. 

Parties can argue in circles, and philosophers can debate the ins-and-outs of gun control for centuries to come, but the answer will never be so simple. 

No one solution is perfect, and none will guarantee the complete dissolution of guns in a culture so deeply enamored with them. But the more preventative measures in place and the more we treat signs with the weight they warrant, the better off we’ll be. 

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