Recent school shooting ignites discussion on gun control

In the wake of the tragic massacre in Newtown, Conn., that left 27 innocents dead, many of them children, local and state authorities, along with the federal government, are considering changes to gun control policies.

Shootings on college campuses have appeared more frequently, alarming policy makers and ordinary citizens alike. Along with Newtown, recent campus shootings at Lone Star College, the University of Southern California and the University of Pittsburgh, left three, four and seven injured, respectively, with one fatality reported by Fox News on the shooting at Pittsburgh.

In response, several states, most notably New York and Colorado, have either introduced or passed new gun control measures and legislation meant to further regulate assault weapons and make it more difficult for the mentally ill to acquire firearms. New York’s bill, the first signed into law since the massacre at Newtown, according to CBS, was strongly supported by the governor of that state, Andrew Cuomo.

Prior to the bill’s passing, Cuomo called gun violence in America a “scourge on society,” and related gun control to a public health issue, the Associated Press reported.

Southern states, known for often having the opposite reaction, have passed or introduced legislation to further deregulate the sale and use of firearms in their borders. Arkansas, Texas and Georgia Republicans, largely in reaction to Obama’s federal gun bill, have put forth legislation in their states that would allow those with concealed carry permits to carry their firearms on state and private institutions of higher education.

Educators and university administrators have denounced the new legislation, with a spokesman for the University of Texas President William Powers Jr. telling The Daily Texan “[The UT president] is not in favor of legislation that allows guns on campus, as it would not enhance safety.”

Liberty University, a private Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., has set a precedent by being one of the first to allow concealed carry on campus for those over the age of 21 with a valid concealed carry license and training.

Federally, on Jan. 16, President Barack Obama announced new proposals that his administration believe would help curb gun violence. In addition to the legislative proposals going before Congress, which include a ban on assault weapons and extended magazines, the Obama administration also executed 23 executive orders that largely deal with how the government and its agencies collect and share background check data, as well as when background checks are performed.

However, two of these orders deal directly with an issue some have called “the real issue” behind mass shootings: a lack of funding and education regarding mental health and its respective services.

Some conservative groups, chiefly the National Rifle Association and the Heritage Foundation, have met President Obama’s proposals and executive actions with a degree of consternation.

“The serious work to make society safer and stronger after events like the December 2012 Newtown massacre requires that constitutional and complex cultural factors be taken into consideration and that policy be based on a serious study of all of the evidence,” Heritage experts John Malcolm and Jennifer Marshall stated in a published report.

According to their report, the Constitution guarantees citizens access to firearms, and, while mental health treatment is under-emphasized, it should be considered a responsibility of state and local governments, not the federal government. The report references a 2000 New York Times study that analyzed the profiles of 100 rampage murderers and found that 48 of the 100 had a formal diagnosis of some sort of mental illness, schizophrenia being the most common, while over half had histories of serious mental problems.

The Heritage report goes on to note that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, of the 7.7 million Americans who qualify for diagnoses of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder, 3.5 million are not receiving any treatment at all for their illness. A conglomerate study cited by Heritage found schizophrenics to be more than 10 times likely to commit a homicide.

Western Carolina University student Michael Branon, a senior, agrees on the need for a renewed emphasis on mental health services.

“I think it’s a safe correlation to make, mass shootings and mental health,” said Branon. “Mental care is essentially preventative care. It can help prevent tragedies from occurring.”

Branon thinks concealed weapons on campus is a bad idea.

“You hear talk about how teachers should have guns, now the students. That’s just ridiculous,” he continued.

Branon conceded that home defense is a legitimate issue and said he supports the right to bear arms.

Sophomore Bunny Deschain had more specific reforms in mind.

“People don’t need access to high powered assault rifles and extended magazine clips,” said Deschain. “That’s unnecessary.

“We need more regulation on production. There’s hundreds of millions of guns in circulation. Maybe there shouldn’t be so many,” said Deschain. “There is a lack of funding for health services in general, especially mental health.”

Law professor David Hoch also weighed in on the issue.

“First of all, before we address the issue regarding guns, we need to examine why we are such a violent society,” said Hoch.

Hoch said there is a cultural element in place that contributes to episodes of violent gun crime. He also feels increased gun control measures are essential and those in Washington who disagree do so because of the powerful gun lobby.

“I think it is very detrimental to our society how much politicians can’t have a career or get reelected without kowtowing to the National Rifle Association and other lobbying organizations that don’t care much for the individual rights of the everyday citizen and are only lobbying on behalf of the gun and ammunitions industry,” said Hoch.

Hoch went on to call concealed weapons permits on college campuses “a horrendous idea.”

With no sweeping gun legislation making its way through the North Carolina houses, it seems other states will continue their public battles for either further gun control or deregulation. For now, North Carolina will be stick with its own status quo on guns.