Easy access to guns does not equate to freedom

Illustration courtesy of Margot Heron

April 20, 2019 marks the twenty year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre  a tragedy that took 13 lives, and at the time, was seen as the worst school shooting in U.S. history. Last Tuesday, April 17, 2019, Denver Public Schools closed because of a credible threat. A Florida teen infatuated with Columbine purchased a plane ticket from Miami Beach, flew to Colorado and legally bought a shotgun. After hours of the FBI searching for her and students waiting in fear, she was found dead.

This time, it was my hometown that was under siege. Our generation has become desensitized to school shootings, credible threats and gun violence; they have, disturbingly, become white noise. But I was taken aback this time. It was not my parents who told me, or the news. My 9-year-old sister texted me to ask: Did you hear about Sol Pais?

Our country’s easy access to deadly weapons manifests in the cruelest and unfair way: the loss of innocent lives. I was seven when Virginia Tech happened. I was 12 when Sandy Hook happened. I was 16 when Mandalay Bay happened and I was 18 when Thousand Oaks happened. It’s been 20 years since Columbine — the same issues that plagued my generation are now handed down to a new cycle of youth.

It is clear that we need stricter gun laws in Colorado, and nationally, we need stronger universal background checks. What happened last week in Colorado is clear proof of this necessity, as are the hundreds that die every day due to gun violence. Each state should increase the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21, and we need mandatory waiting periods. We should have training sessions required in order to buy a gun. Ultimately, we must reform our conversations around gun violence. If Second Amendment rights are going to come at the expense of others’ lives, it’s about time we had a conversation about the limits of our constitutional freedoms.

In Colorado, my home state, a buyer must only be 18 to purchase a shotgun, and there’s no waiting period. Colorado finally signed its red flag gun bill, a gun violence prevention law, days before the incident. It gives police and family members permission to order, on behalf of the state court, the temporary removal of firearms from a person in danger to others or themselves. However, about half the counties in Colorado have passed resolutions calling themselves “Second Amendment sanctuary counties,” meaning that those counties don’t enforce the red flag bill. Unfortunately, many Americans share the view that the Second Amendment is untouchable and should not be altered to reflect current day politics. This assessment hinders our chance to amend it through healthy dialogue.

We can’t have a conversation about freedom if we don’t value each other’s right to safety in public spaces. There weren’t assault rifles when the Constitution was written, and the weapons used during that time pale in comparison to the violent, militarized weapons some Americans currently condone. It is clear that this amendment needs to be updated; former Justice John Paul Stevens refers to it as an 18th-century relic. The sheer number of mass shootings in the past two decades should point us in a new direction of freedom, one that includes our right to exist in public places without fear of gun violence victimizing us.

No matter what our founding fathers — who, by the way, didn’t believe in equality for African Americans — had to say about freedom, the effects of gun violence and the trauma of mass shootings on our generation demonstrate that the Second Amendment must be revised. Psychologically, our brains aren’t developed until we’re at least 25; yet, the majority of gun violence is committed by people under 25. However, no matter your age, there should be security measures to ensure that all people who possess guns are mentally stable and taught about the weapon they’re purchasing.

The U.S., which has been home to some of the deadliest and most frequent mass shootings, claims to be a proponent of freedom. But the sensationalism of mass shootings isn’t freedom — and having easy access to weapons to inflict violence on people isn’t either. Our country’s tendency to idolize a centuries-old amendment in a bid for “freedom” only privileges certain freedoms: one’s freedom to bear arms is now prioritized over another’s freedom to exist safely in public spaces. Until we recognize that our background checks need to be stronger and our gun laws more robust, we will continue to lust after an ideal that does not protect all of us.

I actually agree with proponents of the Second Amendment that we need freedom. I just want a different kind. I want the freedom to know that the people holding guns have been through extensive background checks, ones that consider their mental state and history of violence. I want the freedom to know that public spaces are not places for hatred and bullets. I want the type of freedom where I can tell my 9-year-old sister: you are safe.

Maddie Solomon is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at solomonm@oxy.edu.