The night of October 1, 2017 at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas was interrupted by the sound of gun fire that was opened by a gunman from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino (Time, 2017). As Time reported, in this massive shooting, which went on for 10-15 minutes at about a crowd of 20,000 people, more than 500 people were injured and at least 50 people were killed (Time, 2017). With this tragic incident, the open-air music concert that was intended for entertainment ended up leaving many people in a deep sorrow. The right to possess guns has a long tradition in America.
Sandra Alters, in the book Gun Control points out that the history of bearing arms in America goes back to the time when the colonists settled in North America, and the Americans used their weapons to defend themselves as well as win their freedom (2007:1). Guns became part of people’s lives especially after the adoption of the Second Amendment. James Madison, who was an American statesman and founding father, wrote the ten amendments to the constitution known as Bill of rights in which he ratified individuals’ rights to possess arms in the Second Amendment (Alter, 2007:2). This gave to the rise of the modern debate regarding gun control in which one side claims that gun ownership is guaranteed by the Second Amendment and helps to protect oneself; whereas the other side proclaims that with the prevalence of more guns, there is more violence. This paper discusses why gun violence is a social problem and what could be done about it.
Gun violence costs the lives of many innocent people. One of the victims are children and young people. Children are susceptible to be victimized of a certain social problem as they can be easily influenced by others. For instance, in today’s world the advanced technology has enabled children to have easy access to violent video games and movies. In these movies or videos, they watch people committing various violent activities, and they try to mimic the actions of those whom they especially consider as “heroes,” leading them to cause gun injuries intentionally or unintentionally. In addition, Collins and Swoveland on Children’s VOICE, state that the exposure of children and young people to gun violence not only inspires them to have violent behaviors, but they could also have trouble with controlling their emotions (23: 1).
Let’s look at some statistical data of children and gun violence from the year 2010-2015. Children’s Defense Fund, in the book Guns and Crimes, reported that 2,694 children and teens were killed from gunshots in 2010 in the U.S. (2015:18). Out of these children 44.73% were Black, 33% White, 19% were Hispanic, 1.52% were American Indian and 1% were Asian or Pacific Islander (Children’s Defense Fund, 2015:21). Not only that, among the gun deaths, Children’s Defense Fund, reveled the 1,773 to be homicide, 749 suicides, 134 accidental gun death and 38 with “undetermined intent” (2015:19). Jacqueline Howard reported on CNN that according to the Journal Pediatrics, from 2012-2014, 1267 children died from being wounded by gunshots (2017).
In 2015, Children’s Defense Fund reported the death of 2,799 children from guns in the U.S. and out these, 42% i.e. 1182 were Black. From the above statistical data, it can be inferred that although there was a decrement in gun-related death of children from 2010 to 2014, the number has shown a significant increment in 2015. And also, it can be noticed that Black children and teens are more likely to die from gunshots than White, Asian and Pacific Islander children and teens. Hence, children are one of the victims of gun violence.
The high rate of gun violence is not limited to affecting only children and teens. It has also been a predominant cause of death among adults and elder people. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the book, Gun Violence, in 2011 about 70% of the homicides were attributed to guns (2016). As the Bureau of Justice explains, the four factors that played role in being the victim of the homicide were: gender, in which men were more likely to be targeted for homicides than females; race, in which black people had a higher rate of gun homicide than white people; age, in which people from the age of 18-34 were victimized in the homicide and location, in which people living in the southern area were at a high risk of the gun homicide (2015).
Christine Hauser, in New York Times, reported that the rate of gun-related deaths in 2017 in the U.S. was 12 per 100,000 people and has increased from 2016, which was 11 per 100,000 people (2017). Furthermore, the 2016 Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, Florida and the 2017 Las Vegas shooting are few examples of the deadliest gun massacres that took the lives of many. Hence, it could be said that gun violence remains to be threat for individuals and society as whole.
Gun violence not only impacts the lives of people, but it also jeopardizes the economy of a nation. As it was mentioned in the above paragraphs, gun violence costs the lives of many people, targeting especially the productive age group. This results in the decrement of the working power or human resource, which in turn compromises the nation’s economy. In addition, in 2017, Jacqueline from CNN reported that according to the American Journal of Public Health, people who are hospitalized from gunshot injuries cost the United States 700,000 billion dollars per year. This means a good deal of the nation’s budget goes to the treatment of patients that are wounded by guns. Also, in areas where there is a high risk of gun violence, for instance in the southern region of the U.S., potential areas for investment are destroyed followed by decreased business development. Hence, gun violence is an obstacle to the economy of a nation. Gun violence could be seen differently from objectivists and subjectivists outlook.
Nathan Palmer, in his article on Sociology in Focus, points out that the former president Barack Obama, having been disheartened to have addressed the nation about mass shooting “15 times during his administration,” he asked the reporters to compare the number of people in America killed by terrorists and the number of people who were killed by gun violence within the last 10 years (2015). Here an objective outlook can be noticed as Barack Obama was comparing gun violence with terrorism. However, even though gun violence has been causing more deaths than terrorism, many people widely recognize terrorism as a social problem than gun violence.
Now the question is, if the number of deaths of people is the basis for considering terrorism as a social problem, why do many people argue than gun violence is not a social problem? That is what Joel Best, in his book Social Problems, explains as one of the limitations of the objectivist approach. In addition, even among objectivists, there could be contradictions as to why gun violence should be viewed as a social problem. For instance, one objectivist might see the mass shooting at the music concert in Las Vegas as a problem, because more people were not armed to protect themselves while another objectivist could attribute the right to own guns by individuals as a cause for the mass shooting.
And this is the second limitation of objectivists that Best points out in his book. The subjectivist outlook explains why gun violence has been around for a long time in spite of the casualties it is attributed to, that is, enough people have not been reacting to it. In fact, many argue that guns do not kill people; people kill people. It is true that guns by themselves are just tools and do not harm anyone, but as they are cheap, quick and portable, they make it convenient for people to commit violence and kill people to a great extent. Furthermore, if we look at the statistical data in the above paragraph, we can notice that the major victims of gun violence are Black people, which makes them likely to see it as a problem.
Also, the fact that terrorism, which not only affects the black people but also compromises the interests of politicians, corporates, the economy and social structure of the nation, is seen as a big social problem leads us to critical constructionism approach, in which social problems that are presented to the public reflect the interests of the elites as explained by Robert Heiner (2016:10). It is no wonder to see people in a very individualistic nation like the U.S., argue that the possession of guns is necessary for personal safety against violence. However, personal solutions do not solve social problems.
Gun violence is not just a trouble that concerns an individual and those whom he/she is personally aware of; it is a public issue that goes beyond limited areas and costs the lives of many innocent people out there. And this is why we need to find solutions that benefit not only individuals, but also the society and the nation as a whole. After all, one does not have meaning by itself without the other. Hence, we need to take some remedial actions. We need organizations that could actively work against gun violence. This is not to say that there are not claim-making groups/organizations that are making great contributions in reducing gun violence. However, we need more of them as only few cannot make the desired difference.
Also, there should be “strict” policies that regulate gun ownership. For instance, increasing the level of penalties for gun criminalists; also before giving gun license, having people go through full training and courses that explain the law, and researches that have been done on gun violence; not only that, even after giving the gun license, strictly monitoring how they have been using the gun on a regular basis. In addition, gun violence calls for the attention of the media.
As Robert Heiner explains, the media has great influence in “shaping” the society as to what extent they consider a certain issue as a social problem. Although we cannot create an environment that is absolutely free from crimes, we can make a better and safer one. Children should not grow up watching others commit violence, and people should not feel insecure about getting back to their homes safely. Innocent lives must not be taken away like flies. How many lives must be taken from us before we recognize that guns are being used for more than just defending oneself? How many gun massacres must we witness before we notice that gun violence is just as threatening as terrorism?