Tighten Security Checks Instead of Outlawing Guns

In light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, schools all over the nation rehearsed their routines for responding to a shooting. School officials from Ashley Hall Preparatory School in Charleston, S.C. met with police to practice two weeks ago. They did so just in time.

On February 4, a 28-year-old woman named Alice Boland pulled out a gun during after-school dismissal and aimed at two faculty members while about 50 students stood nearby. Luckily, administrators relied on their emergency plan to keep the campus safe and stall Ms. Boland at the gate.

Police charged Ms. Boland with attempted murder, unlawful carrying of a firearm and possession of a firearm while committing a a violent crime. This event was not the first time Ms. Boland had to face the law. 

In 2005, she was charged with threatening to assassinate President George W. Bush and members of Congress while she waited in line at U.S. Customs. Charges were dropped once she pleaded not guilty by mental incompetency. Her parents confirmed that she had been and continues to battle mental illness.

Here’s the frightening part about last week’s almost fatal shooting: Ms. Boland obtained her gun legally from a small firearms store. 

How can a woman with a history of mental illness and criminal record legally obtain a gun under South Carolina law? More needs to be done to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining arms to commit the violent crimes that have recurrently plagued our communities.

President Barack Obama believes we can put an end to this gun violence by reinstating and updating the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004. 

While this ban would hopefully prevent criminals and the mentally ill from acquiring guns, it would also prevent normal American citizens from obtaining them. 

We must not forget the Second Amendment, which clearly states that people have the right to bear arms. While many may think the Second Amendment is an outdated policy, people should be able to defend themselves if they feel endangered, as found in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. 

If we want to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining guns without infringing on American citizens’ rights, we need to create laws that tighten security checks on those looking to buy guns. 

Currently, people only need to disclose their mental health history if they have been committed to an institution or have been declared mentally defective. Security check laws must mandate for a broader definition of those who need to disclose their mental history. Furthermore, new security check laws should include searches on people with a criminal history. 

These security check laws must be instated for all gun sales around the nation, including private transactions like gun show sales that currently are not under the jurisdiction of federal law. 

There are many problems with only tightening security checks though. First, what makes someone mentally unstable? People who have battled some mental issues in the past are American citizens too, and their rights should not be ignored. This is especially true considering that the majority of mentally unstable people do not commit acts of violence. 

It is not fair to limit their rights just because a very small amount of crazed individuals turn to crime. Psychologists and politicians must work together carefully to create a definition of the type of mentally unstable people who should not be allowed to obtain arms without causing discrimination. 

Second, tightening security checks will not correct the gun violence alone. Many individuals obtain guns illegally through trafficking. Politicians need to work together to create laws that seek to prevent such illegal sales. Furthermore, there should be more severe punishments for those involved in such deals and legislators should consider making gun trafficking a federal crime.

Third, just because we have decreased gun violence by tightening security checks and expanding trafficking laws does not mean we have rectified violence issues, for guns are not the only means by which people turn to commit violent crimes. 

On December 14, 2012, the same day as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, a man in China, a country with very strict gun control laws, broke into an elementary school where he injured at least 23 students with a knife. However, creating tighter laws to prevent the sale of large knives will face similar dilemmas that those for the sale of guns face. 

They will just lead to the use of other weapons. What’s next – bombs? We need to look to means of decreasing violent tendencies overall if we want to keep our communities safe.