#NeverAgain is the movement created by the Parkland shooting survivors after the death of 17 of their peers and teachers.
The perpetrator? A 19-year-old that had been expelled for disciplinary issues and who had been reported to authorities at least 18 times for his violent behavior.
How is it that this person was able to legally obtain a semi-automatic weapon, walk into a school, and murder at will?
It could be for three main reasons:
- Because in the USA purchasing firearms is a constitutional right.
- Because the system that is meant to assure that dangerous people do not acquire firearms is flawed at best.
- Because there is not enough security at schools to prevent an armed assailant from entering the campus.
What can we do to prevent these tragedies? Common sense would tell us that we need to increase school security infrastructure. This means hiring more trained security personnel, installing metal detectors, bullet-proof infrastructure, clothes, and/or backpacks; and providing public safety education so that students know how to react under the circumstances. This also includes the most controversial suggestion, which is supported by President Donald Trump, training and arming certain school teachers.
To prevent these tragedies we would have to take legal action. For example, increasing the purchasing age from 18 to 21. This change is opposed by people who identify as “anti gun control.” They claim that it would leave the youngest people most vulnerable and infringe upon their constitutional right to self defense.
We could pass a law that would ban the sale of assault weapons. Assault weapons are military-grade long guns that are capable of being converted into fully automatic weapons.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) estimates that there are some 15 million AR-15s in circulation. This has been the preferred weapon by perpetrators in the most recent mass shootings. The AR-15 is a semi-automatic weapon; however, it can be converted into an automatic weapon with the use of a “bump stock.”
As a result, we would also have to ban the sale of bump stocks. These are the accessories used to covert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon. The difference between these two is significant: an AR-15 can fire about 45 rounds/minute. With a bump stock, it has the capacity to fire up to 540 rounds/minute, converting it into a much more lethal firearm.
We could pass red flag laws. Currently, these laws only exist in five states: California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon, and Washington. These laws allow close friends, relatives, or police officers to file a request with a judge to suspend a person’s right to own firearms if they show signs of violent behavior.
Another suggestion is to increase the wait time required to buy a gun so that the relevant authorities can be more thorough in their background checks of an individual. This is perhaps the most agreed upon solution: fixing the background check system. When a person in the US buys a gun they must answer questions about their criminal past, drug addictions, and military status (including discharges) among other things. The FBI is then required to cross-check this information with police records, military archives, and mental health records. The problem here is that the FBI only has three days to complete their review; which is not even true for all states. In Florida it is legal to purchase an assault rifle on the same day.
The FBI’s job is not easy. They are at the mercy of time and an incomplete database. This database is called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It contains relevant information about a person’s mental health and criminal past only if local and federal authorities share this information with the FBI; these authorities are not required to share the information. This means that the FBI needs to go out and find the relevant documents in order to conduct proper background checks. This process can take weeks to complete. In most cases, if the FBI does not clear a person in three days then the arms dealer may sell the weapon at their discretion.
Many criminals have been able to clear this laxed background check simply because the FBI does not have the time or access to make an informed decision about whether or not someone is a potential threat to themselves or others.
There is another problem. Private vendors (online and in person) are not legally required to conduct background checks. 22% of all gun sales are done through private transactions. We should extend background checks to private transactions.
One of the counter-arguments to this proposition is that requiring background checks to be universal would increase the price of guns and therefore infringe on a low-income person’s right to self defense.
In order for the #NeverAgain movement to be successful the public needs to remain passionate and determined so we can stand up to the NRA, which spends millions of dollars lobbying politicians to prevent gun control. In the US congress there are 319, out of 535, members who have been endorsed by the NRA.
The Parkland students will need to organize in every single US district and determine who will support their agenda. They will have to mobilize and raise funds to finance these campaigns. They will have to convince a large portion of the electorate to vote for people who will support gun control legislation. Only then this passionate movement will be successful in removing the congresspeople who continue to vote against their constituents’ interests.
When will our right to life prevail over our right to bear arms? I hope that the Parkland students are prepared for the long battle that lies ahead.