Students challenge understanding of gun violence

    “Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence, they deserve a simple vote. They deserve – they deserve a simple vote.”

    Since President Obama urged Congress to address gun violence in his State of the Union speech on Feb. 12, six people have died in gun-related incidents in Chicago. They also deserve a vote. 

    The 454 people who lost their lives in gun-related incidents in Chicago in 2012 – they deserve a vote. The 47 people killed in gun-related incidents in Chicago so far in 2013 – they deserve a vote. But the vote? It's not so simple. It's messy. And the vote isn't simple because the problem isn't simple, and a solution clearly won't come without change. But where do college students fit into that change?

    “Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. In fact, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all of the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can – to secure this nation, expand opportunity, uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.”

    The conversation about gun violence often gets tied up with Second Amendment rights, the NRA, bills and the effectiveness of legal measures. By changing the conversation, the focus on gun violence shifts from policy to problems. 

    Factors contributing to the growing problem of gun violence include gangs and organized involvement with crime, availability of police, the need for quality public education and the inability for many to readily enter the job market. Gun violence isn't caused purely by a lack of regulation. 

    Communication junior Max Baird owns six guns. At home in Florida, a state that permits concealed-carry weapons, Baird fended off an intruder in his home with his "big, plastic pump-action" shotgun with a 20-inch barrel. Here, Baird's status a card-carrying member of the National Shooting Sports Foundation isn't always seen as helpful. In fact, he feels like he's portrayed as part of the problem. 

    In the ongoing gun control debate, Baird says gun owners have become "marginalized and villainized" by both politicians and the media. Too often, the conversation turns to combating gun violence by having stricter gun laws. Yet Chicago, which requires background checks, fingerprinting, permit fees and registration of all firearms and also has a ban on "assault weapons," has still seen high levels of gun violence in recent years. 

    This disconnect illustrates Baird's thought that there's "not as much of a correlation as people think there is" between gun violence and gun policy. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of the public feels that it is more important to control gun ownership than protect the rights of gun owners, while 46 percent feel that the rights of gun owners should be prioritized over stricter gun regulations. Pew also reports that only 46 percent of Congress believes that gun legislation must be addressed this year, while 21 percent said it should be addressed in the next few years but is not urgent, and 29 percent said nothing should be done about gun legislation. 

    While there isn't a consensus in Congress on how to approach gun violence, Baird said that instead of criminalizing gun ownership, we should be focusing on the community factors, the state of the mental health system and socioeconomic disparity, as addressing these issues would be likelier to "put a damper" on gun violence than solely focusing on legislation. 

    Medill sophomore Jeremy Woo grew up playing baseball in Hyde Park, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. His first experience with gun violence was when his baseball game got cut short after shots were fired in the park. During his junior year of high school, his teammate was shot and killed. 

    "That kind of really hit home for me, personally. Once something like this personally affects you, it's hard to think about it in the same way," Woo said. 

    The personal side of gun violence – the lives that are changed by it and the lives that are lost to it – has been missing from the conversation at large. Gun violence gets coverage, but "it's not going anywhere," Woo said. 

    Woo said that while the conversation about gun control is relevant, it's not necessarily productive. Even if guns are completely banned, Woo said, people will still be able to get them. Legislation keeps guns out of the wrong hands, but only in cases where a person is legally applying for a gun. But it doesn't solve the issue of gun violence, or even come close. Woo added that he still thinks it is beneficial to "restrict [guns] as much as possible," because it can't hurt to get as many guns off the streets as possible. 

    "The numbers are what's scary and they aren't changing," Woo said.


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