DC shooting is latest sign of need for improved background checks

Mike Trujillo / Daily Titan

Mike Trujillo / Daily Titan

With the memory of the massacre in Newtown, Conn. still in recent memory, people have once again begun to ask whether our country has adequate gun control laws to keep America safe.

The country experienced an odd case of déjà vu when they awoke to the news of another tragedy on Monday when Aaron Alexis killed 12 people at the Washington Naval Yard before being gunned down by a police officer.

The incident in Washington shows the need to update the system of background checks currently used by gun dealers.

This may have been Alexis’ last crime, but it certainly was not his first. Alexis, who had served in the U.S. Navy for four years, had been linked to two separate gun related incidents before the tragic event unfolded.

In 2010, he was arrested for firing a gun at his downstairs neighbor. Six years before that, in 2004, he was arrested for shooting out the rear tires of a Honda Accord that belonged to two construction workers who had parked outside Alexis’ home.

What’s shocking about the naval yard shooting is that Alexis was able to purchase his weapon of choice after successfully passing two background checks. According to the Washington Times, Sharpshooters Small Arms Range, the dealer that sold Alexis his shotgun, ran Alexis’ name through the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Virginia state database before proceeding with the sale.

Although conversations around gun control in the United States center around background checks, different approaches have shown to be effective in other countries. According to the Washington Post, after Australia banned automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles and shotguns in 1996, firearm homicide rates fell by 59 percent and firearm suicides fell by 65 percent.

Time magazine reported that there has been no mass shootings in Australia since the Port Arthur massacre, the event that prompted changes to gun laws.

The United Kingdom, in addition to banning handguns and automatic weapons, also updated their gun ownership laws in 1996 after a shooting that took place in Dunblane.

Some have attributed these reforms for the “successive drops in gun crimes” in the last seven years.

However, due to the immense lobbying power of pro-gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association, an outright ban on assault weapons can be seemingly impossible.

The lobbying efforts of the NRA have been cited as the reason why the Senate failed to pass a measure which would have only updated background checks last April.

More alarming than the NRA’s lobbying power is the rhetoric it uses to advance its agenda. In a piece submitted to the Daily Caller, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, said that “Latin American drug gangs have invaded every city of significant size in the United States.”

He called Phoenix “one of the kidnapping capitals of the world,” and said the U.S.-Mexico border “remains porous not only to people seeking jobs in the U.S., but to criminals whose jobs are murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping.”

These racially tinged remarks feed upon people’s fears of immigrants and communities of color in order to get them to take action on gun rights.

This links two issues that are completely unrelated.

The fear of this author is that the public will soon become desensitized and tolerant of gun violence to the extent that gun violence is viewed as a natural part of life in the United States.

We hear reports of shootings in the news year after year, yet we are okay with doing nothing to address this heinous atrocity.

In January, a month after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., 91 percent of Americans supported expanding background checks for gun purchases.

In April when the Senate bill failed, 83 percent supported background checks. In the last poll taken in June, 51 percent of Americans supported expanding background checks.

It will be interesting to see what polling reveals about support for background checks in the aftermath of the naval yard shooting, though it is worthwhile to mention that public opinion does not necessarily correlate to congressional action. This can be seen with the poll in April.

As the massacre happened less than two miles from Capitol Hill, lawmakers would do well to find the courage to stand up to the NRA before this issue moves any closer.

About Elliot Lam

Elliot Lam is the assistant opinion editor at the Daily Titan. He is currently a student of American Studies. His research interests include American foreign policy and US Presidents.