Counterpoint: Mental health checks for gun purchases responsible path
By Kevin Bertram:
This is part of a Point/ Counterpoint Column about possibly placing restrictions on gun purchases. Click here to see the other side of the argument.
Recent tragedies, such as the Aurora, Colo. shooting and the Milwaukee Sikh temple shooting, have brought the issue firearms’ mass proliferation in this country into the common discourse. While there are other worthy discussions that such calamities should, and will, raise — the state of mental health screenings and the effect of violent rhetoric being two examples — it’s time, as a country, that we had a frank talk about firearms.
Any such talk should begin by recognizing the vast majority of gun owners are safe and responsible with their weapons, whether they use them for hunting or their own protection.
A complete ban on gun purchases — the most radical viewpoint — is not what is up for argument here, and nor should it be. The Second Amendment, regardless of interpretation, seems to presently allow for the broad right to own and maintain firearms. Rather, it is necessary that the current discourse swing in the direction of examining waiting periods, background checks and mental health exams.
Mental health screenings would not prohibit sane citizens from purchasing armaments after a waiting period, and would allow law enforcement to potentially intercept potential incidents before they become tragedies.
This is not a measure that is guaranteed success. It is likely that mass shootings and assassinations — recurring events throughout American history — will continue through the future. Even the prevention of one more death at the hands of a mentally ill murderer is worth it, especially when the cost is so minor.
This is not a supply-and-demand question of economics. To speculate as to whether a plotting mass murderer like James Holmes or Jared Loughner would have found an alternative means of acquiring the weaponry needed to carry out their heinous acts reveals many unknowns, amongst them what connections to underground gun smuggling rings two college students might have had.
It is not simply a matter of choosing between two fountain drink options. Finding weapons and ammunition legally and illegally probably carry different levels of difficulty. In economics, demand often decreases when the cost increases. If the legal purchase of a gun is barred from an individual on the basis that they failed a mental health check, the difficultly and risks in finding the proper connections to buy guns on the black market — as opposed to visiting the local Wal-Mart — may dissuade some. This is not to say that the most dedicated, would-be mass murderer might not find a way, but rather to point out that these are two options that are not equivalent.
What is certain now is that both the aforementioned young men had no need to resort to anything resourceful, as they found access to legally purchasable weapons easily — in the latter’s case, in his local department store. The potential for criminals and murders to find other ways outside to acquire guns is there, yes. But, to suggest that this is somehow a reason for there to be no additional accountability on those selling weapons legally is a red herring, as well as a flagrantly irresponsible way to dodge dealing with a serious issue.
The truth is, we can have both gun ownership in this country and limited approaches to gun control. We owe it to the victims of gun violence everyday to pave a better way forward.