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Painfully Partisan: The Gun Debate in America
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17 High School students in Parkland, Florida were killed in a school shooting Wednesday. For the sake of not giving the shooter any notoriety that he may have sought, he will not be referred to by name in this article.

As time goes on, we are learning more about the shooter. At this point, we know that he was a former student who was previously identified as a possible threat to the school’s safety and had been reported to the FBI on two separate occasions for being a potential school shooter. In September, a comment on YouTube from a user with the same name as the shooter stated, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” This was reported to the FBI, which was not able to locate who was behind the account. On January 5th, the FBI was again given a tip, this time by someone who knew the shooter personally. Proper procedures were not followed to escalate the investigation. 

Several students have recalled that he frequently talked about and showed pictures of guns, and even introduced himself to others as a “school shooter.” Over the course of the past seven years, police had even been called to his home 39 times. Despite all of this, he passed a background check and was legally allowed to purchase a gun, according to the Miami Herald. He used an AR-15 to kill 17 students and injured even more before being arrested alive by local police. The shooter reportedly also wore a gas mask and carried smoke grenades. His motive is still unclear.

While this is what we know now, people were calling for gun control within minutes of the news breaking. Before we knew any facts about the shooting, #GunControlNow and #GunControl were both trending on Twitter. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) even gave a speech on the Senate floor within an hour of the shooter being caught. Bess Kalb, a writer for Jimmy Kimmel, posted several tweets pointing out the campaign contributions that several Republican members of Congress have received from the NRA. Katie Couric tweeted for lawmakers to “do something.” Thousands of people voiced their support for gun control online, saying that these mass shootings have been far too frequent and tragic for us to just not do anything to stop them.

This reflexive reaction for gun control perfectly shows why these arguments fall flat. We did not know at the time what the motives behind this shooter were, what guns he used, or how he obtained the guns. We didn’t know whether this was a result of an existing law that was not properly enforced, a lack of applicable law that may have prevented this, or what that law would have to be. These calls for gun control are not the result of a logical response grounded in available information. They were the result of an emotional, partisan, already-held belief that our gun laws aren’t “strong enough.” The proposed solutions are impossible to debate because there are no concrete solutions being proposed right now.

Photo courtesy of M&R Glasgow via Flickr Creative Commons.

The notion that we shouldn’t “politicize” a tragedy should be thoroughly rejected. The American people deserve to debate important issues of our time, and no political issue should be held above the sphere of public debate. However, we cannot effectively debate any issue if we do not have a full understanding of the facts pertaining to the issue and do not even have a specific policy proposal to debate.

Gun laws are generally spoken of in a partisan manner of either “more” or “fewer” gun laws, instead of singling out a specific proposal as effective or ineffective, and the potential costs of those proposals. Until we change this, we may never remedy our problem of gun violence.

We now know the shooter used an AR-15. If Democrats wish, they should bring up an Assault Weapons Ban, and we can debate that specifically. We can talk about the impact of the 1994 Assault Weapons’ Ban, and similar laws currently enacted in several states, and have a debate on the specifics of a policy issue. We can ask what the FBI did after being informed of the shooter’s threats, why the school district knew he was dangerous but did nothing, or what went wrong with our background check system. We can ask what the point of new laws would be if the standing laws are not being properly enforced. But if we are to properly address the issues in this country, we must not devolve to vague, partisan attacks devoid of the facts of the situation.

The all-too-familiar cycle has started again with this shooting. Democrats make vague calls for more gun control, Republicans say we shouldn’t politicize a tragedy, and support for gun control has a momentary spike until this tragedy fades from everyone’s minds and nothing is changed. We have the opportunity to have a real discussion based on the facts of the matter; instead, we just hurl partisan attacks at each other and fix nothing.

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