Hear Me Out - Another Law, Another Problem Unsolved

Another Law, Another Problem Unsolved
Sherif Elias

It’s gun control season.  The Democratic Party has gained control of the House this year, and the ideas are flowing. One bill comes with a twist.  Instead of centering on firearms, Jaime’s Law, named after Parkland shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg, will focus on the regulation of ammunition.  The bill would require universal background checks for ammunition purchases.  It would require checks for all such purchases, except for those at hunting camps or shooting ranges if the ammo will be used at the location.

With Jaime’s Law being named after one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, one would think it was written in response to that particular shooting.  In 2018, despite countless warning signs and a history of disturbing behavior, Nikolas Cruz was able to legally purchase firearms, and ammunition, which he then used to carry out his act of terror.  17 people died that day.  That would be 17 out of 40,000 dead each year according Jamie’s father, Fred Guttenberg. During a recent press conference while introducing Jaime’s Law, Fred Guttenberg said, “We have a gun violence death rate in this country right now of approximately 40,000 per year.  It is not normal.”  And he was correct. According to the CDC, 39,773 people died from guns in the United States in 2017. In that year, the U.S. population was 326 million.  Do the math and 0.01% of the U.S. population died from guns in 2017.  Fred Guttenberg is right, that’s not normal.  It’s incredible.   People often forget the size of the United States.  And more people means more annual deaths.

But 40,000 gun deaths are misleading.  Fred Guttenberg is using this statistic to promote a bill that is in response to a mass murder. However, only 36.5% of those gun deaths were caused by homicide. 60% were from suicide.  To lump suicide with homicides is confusing and unfair, especially when suicide was the #10 leading cause of death in 2017.  47,173 people committed suicide in 2017, up by 3.7% from the previous years. That means we have a suicide problem.  It also means 50% of suicides were caused by a firearm.  The 39,773 deaths also include 553 dead by legal intervention or operations of war.  I don’t see how ammunition regulation will affect government and police shootings.

Take away suicide and legal intervention and 39,773 become 15,366.  15,366 died from homicide, unintentional shootings, or shootings where the cause was found to be undermined.  And that number is way lower than the National Center for Health Statistics reporting 37,133 motor vehicle deaths or 47,173 suicides and even further away from 70,237 drug overdoses.

Well, one death by a gun is one too many.  OK, and one drug overdose is one too many. So is one motor vehicle death or one senseless suicide.  But if Jaime’s Law is a reaction to a school shooting, then it should be purposeful, in that it would have prevented the Parkland massacre and it would prevent future shootings.  Except that it wouldn’t have prevented Nikolas Cruz from buying legal ammunition.  There would just be a record of his purchase.  If his community and local law enforcement had acted on the countless death threats, violent statements or his aggravated cyberstalking, then he would have been prevented from buying a firearm.  And he probably wouldn’t have bought any ammo.

A libertarian will tell you that all gun laws are unconstitutional, including laws on ammunition.  A socialist will say, “We need common sense gun control” in their effort to completely rid society of firearms.  Well, the gun control laws will continue to come, but they should be resolute.  A gun law should be an answer to a specific problem.  Jaime’s Law doesn’t do that.  It is a feel-good bill that puts more control on legal purchases.  Nikolas Cruz would have still legally purchased his ammunition, and it would have been ignored just like his firearm purchases were ignored.  If legislators were more serious about stopping gun violence, then they should focus on mental health, which would probably also lower the number of suicides and drug overdoses.