The Mass Shooting Manifest

With gun violence growing in the United States, can Second Amendment rights be balanced with safety measures that focus on access to guns and the motivation of mass shooters?

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It seems like almost every day a person is killed by a mass shooting in the United States.  The truth is there have been many shootings in this country and the next one is impossible to predict.  Some say that wherever there are guns there will be killings.  A gun is just like a knife and just like a bomb: something that can be used to do something terrible.

Most sites that present statistics on recent mass shootings either slant the information for or against gun rights.  The problem is not the gun as much as it is the motivation behind the killings.  We cannot expect to tackle all gun violence with sweeping gun regulations; rather the scope of the different aspects of these tragic events, from access to motivations, must be examined.

Motivation for mass shootings is never same

A mass shooting is defined by the FBI as a single event that kills four or more people. Motivation for mass shootings is never same.  The shooter in Charleston attacked for racial motivations and the shooters in California for terrorist reasons.  Previous shootings, such as the one at Virginia Tech and Columbine high school had media motivations.

Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter mentioned the Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold with respect in his manifesto that he sent to MSNBC before committing the shooting.  “Generation after generation, we martyrs, like Eric and Dylan, will sacrifice our lives . . .for what you Apostles of Sin have done to us.”

Mass shootings are not just a problem in the United States.  There have been similar shootings in Germany within the last fifteen years; however, the number of shootings in the United States is unparalleled.  The important part is not how many people have died in these attacks, but how many individuals choose to take the path of an armed gunman.

Both sides of the political equation see that there is a problem.  The disagreement comes with the solutions offered.  The solution is not to end violence but ending gun violence.  The argument revolves around the Second Amendment, but should it?  Instead of attempting to take away the instrumentalities of the mass shootings, there should be an effort to take away the motivation.

The best example that comes to mind is the building of the Berlin Wall.  Imagine the beginning of East and West Berlin.  There was not a wall, but only a line.  It was easy for people to cross that line to get into West Germany.  They wanted to get to a better life.  Over time, East Germany figured out that they were losing a large number of their population.  Instead of improving conditions the high command made the decision to build a wall.  The wall restricted individuals from getting to West Germany; people still tried.  Their motivation pressed them to try.  They may die in the process, but it was one thing that, in their mind was worth dying for.

Imagine the situation in the United States regarding mass shooters.  Right now, there is not a wall standing in the way of individuals acquiring guns.  It is easy for individuals to go out and buy one.  Similar to the wall, if restrictions are in place an individual who is motivated to commit mass murders will find a way.  They may die in the process, but it is one thing that in their minds is worth dying for.  The problem has two avenues to address:  First, access and second, motivation.

If Cho had to give notice that he was purchasing a firearm, individuals who had concerns about his motive could have provided any information they had

The Second Amendment is the right to bear arms.  District of Columbia v. Heller established that the Second Amendment applies to the individual right to keep and carry a gun.  This right cannot be infringed upon unless this decision is overturned.  However, the right to keep and carry a gun does not necessarily include restrictions on who can purchase a gun.  There are current policies in place that require background checks in order to purchase firearms.

The 2005 legislation known as The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act also provides punishment for individuals who “knowingly transfer a firearm with the knowledge that it will be used to commit a crime of violence.”  These laws relate only to the seller of the firearm.  The seller of the firearm typically does not know, at least not well, the individual who is buying the gun.  A background check can only show so much.

The people who would know if the potential buyer was planning to use the gun for violence would most likely be friends or family.  A potential solution would be to provide notice, in some form, that an individual is purchasing or owns a firearm.  This would give anyone who knows the individual the ability to raise a concern to the local authorities.  The solution is not to restrict individuals from purchasing guns, but instead to allow authorities the ability to look into possible concerns.

The idea may sound trivial at first blush; however,  it would give the community notice that an individual is buying a firearm.  If Cho had to give notice that he was purchasing a firearm, individuals who had concerns about his motive could have provided any information they had.

The main issue in the Virginia Tech shooting was that there were signs that Cho may be dangerous and these warning signs were not reported.  This idea will not stop gun violence or mass shootings but it will allow for a bet more effective reporting process such as a national database that reports who purchases or who owns a firearm (not requiring the gun to be registered) and allows individuals to report concerns.

An “easy access” law would punish individuals whose weapons were used in shootings . . .

Another concern with access is that individuals such as the shooters in San Bernardino and Sandy Hook did not use guns that they purchased to commit the mass shootings.  The husband and wife team that committed the mass shooting in California had their neighbor purchase the weapons.  The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter used firearms belonging to his mother.  The problem here becomes access outside of direct purchases.

In order to combat this, punishments could be used as deterrence for allowing others to have access to firearms.  An “easy access” law would punish individuals whose weapons were used in shootings if they negligently kept the firearms in access of the person committing the crime.  There would be a greater incentive to keep the guns under lock and key away from individuals that they had a suspicion may use the guns to hurt others.

The [shooter’s] motivation could have been removed and their cause changed to a peaceful one

Not every case can be combatted with notice.  Sometimes the owners are the target such as in Sandy Hook.  Sometimes, like in the Charleston shooting the facts do not come together until after the shooting occurs.  These possible changes could restrict access enough to catch the next shooter before he attacks.

The individuals who commit these crimes are people.  These individuals may see themselves as outcasts in society or misunderstood.  With each and every shooter, there is a moment in time where they could have been helped.  Their motivation could have been removed and their cause changed to a peaceful one.  The job of our society is to help these individuals before they strike out in hatred and pain.  It is easy to blame a gun, and harder to find a solution.

There are over 300 million guns in America.  The realistic solution would be to figure out how to live with them in peace.  A gun is a hunting device, a defense device, and can be a device used to kill.  For those reasons they should be respected and access, while constitutionally protected, should have some safety measures in place.  The serial number of guns will not help in finding the next mass shooter, the identity and concerns surrounding people with access to guns might.  We can only hope that efforts in the future will dissuade individuals from using these tools for terrible purposes.

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About Cyrus Corbett V, Associate Editor Emeritus (16 Articles)
Cyrus Corbett V is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer during the 2016-2017 academic year. He is from Murrells Inlet, South Carolina and received his Bachelors in Arts in Government from Wofford College in 2014. Since July after his first year of law school, Cyrus has interned at the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association in downtown Raleigh focusing on the Retail Merchants Handbook. His interest is in jurisprudence of the law and negotiation/ mediation.
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