I grew up in India, where the gun laws are some of the strictest in the world. Air guns and paintball guns are considered weapons and require licensing because of how easily they can be converted into real guns. Civilians must obtain a license for self-defense, crop protection or sporting before they can purchase a gun. There is heavy regulation as to how guns must be carried and stores.
As a result of such regulation, people around the country feel safer, which is something I can attest to. There are twelve times fewer mass shootings in India than in the United States.
By reforming certain regulation, we can lower the risk of being killed by a gun in the United States.
On Feb.14, a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida left 17 dead. According to the New York Times, the Federal Bureau of Investigation received two tips about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, and his desire to kill and commit a school shooting. The F.B.I. failed to act on either tip; however, after discovering violent, profane and racially inappropriate posts on Cruz’s social media accounts — including a comment that may have been posted by him saying he was “going to be a professional school shooter” — Cruz was also investigated by a state agency that ultimately determined he was “low risk.”
Cruz was taken to a mental health institution, which chose not to admit him. Had he been admitted, he would not have been able to legally purchase an AR-15 rifle, which was the murder weapon used in the shooting.
In Florida, AR-15 rifles, a type of semiautomatic rifle, are easier to purchase than a handgun. Anyone over the age of 18 can buy one and walk out with it the same day, as long as they do not have certain infractions. The AR-15 rifle has a magazine capacity of 30 rounds per box magazine and was used in the mass shootings in Newtown, San Bernardino, Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas, according to the New York Times.
How does someone with depression, a history of self-harm, anger, violence, expulsions, suspensions and fighting purchase a rifle more suited for military-style use than civilian self-defense?
The answer is simple. Not only did our mental health institutions fail us by not committing Cruz, but it was also made apparent that our gun regulation is not robust enough.
Countries such as Japan limit gun-related violence by making the only types of legal guns shotguns and air rifles, neither of which can be purchased unless one attends a class, passes a written test offered only once a month, drug test and mental health test and passes a rigorous background check. In comparison, in Florida, only a background check is needed and there is no waiting period for purchasing a handgun.
Guns may be an invaluable tool for self-defense and an American right. But we cannot hide behind the Second Amendment. We need stricter regulation on the types of guns civilians are able to buy. We also need to increase the age limit for owning a gun—how can we allow someone who is not yet legally allowed to drink alcohol to own a semi-automatic rifle?
Laws that make it easier to buy a handgun than a long rifle were created when rifles were less popular and teenagers would most likely only purchase them for hunting, according to the Guardian. Such laws are out-of-date and need to be reformed, as rifles have increased in popularity.
We can easily blame the issue on mental health; Cruz had many behavioral and mental illnesses. But the truth is without easy access to a semi-automatic rifle, Cruz would not have been able to kill 17 people and forever scar the community at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. If his weapon had not been capable of firing off more than 100 rounds in a minute, fewer people would have been harmed.
Schools are supposed to be havens for children, sanctuaries of learning and friendship. Lax regulations transformed one such haven into a place that will haunt community members forever as they think of the 17 innocent people that lost their lives at school.
In California, gun regulation is already quite strict. But we need to push for harder regulation in states like Florida so that we don’t have anything similar to the Parkland shooting. We need to stand united as a country—even though we live in California, Parkland is our tragedy, too.
The fire alarm that drew students out of their classes that day could have easily been the fire alarm that elicits grumbles from Paly students on an almost-weekly basis. The people that lost their lives were invaluable members of their community like our students and teachers are. We need to emulate the examples of countries like India and Japan that have taken strides to ensure more gun safety so that students at Paly feel more secure on campus.
We can do better. We should do better.