Dialogue on eliminating hate in America should complement rather than eclipse discussions of gun reform

Claire Smith

Following the tragic shooting at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, Americans launched a serious reevaluation of the place of Confederate symbols in public spaces. Our campus has not been excluded from this debate. Sadly, what has been excluded from this debate is the role lax gun laws played in this tragedy.

The shooting in Charleston last week would never have happened without two major factors. The first factor is the hate, bigotry and racism that so defined the alleged shooter Dylann Roof, which is prominently featured in his online manifesto. The second factor, of course, is that Roof was able to own a weapon.

We are told that our gun laws are safe. We are told carrying a weapon protects us from wrongdoers and that only law-abiding citizens can arm themselves because of vigorous background checks. We are told that the current system balances public safety needs and constitutional rights to bear arms as best as could be expected. Well, we need to start expecting more because what isn’t said, of course, is that everyone is a law-abiding citizen until they aren’t, and, by that point, they have armed themselves and the government has let them.

The checks imposed by law that are supposed to protect us either are not restrictive enough or are simply not enforced as in the case of Roof: With a pending drug charge, Roof was still, somehow, able to arm himself. This was not a mistake or an accident  these claims imply that the errors can be reversed or didn’t cause significant harm. Simply, Roof exploited a broken system because he could.

The system for purchasing weapons does not protect us. Could the need for reform be any clearer?

More guns is not the answer. I have done copious research into the effectiveness of using firearms in self-defense; the results of my research can be found here (spoiler alert: you won’t like what you learn). Even in isolated circumstances, the effectiveness of firearms in self-defense, the No. 1 reason gun-owners list for purchasing a firearm is not as big of a protection as people think: Trained NYPD officers, who are required to participate in regular gun training, can only shoot accurately 34 percent of the time. Even if one of the deceased in the AME Church was carrying, it is doubtful they could have reacted in time or fired with enough untrained precision to protect themselves or others and stop the eventual slaughter.

The system for licensing and purchasing firearms is the most culpable of all in perpetuating the fantasy that guns are good and we are safe. The national conversation following the shooting in Charleston has rightly focused on race, the position of Confederate symbols and how we as a society can root out hate and bigotry in contemporary America. What it hasn’t focused on is the shooter was armed with more than the intention to commit evil — he was armed with a weapon that he was able to purchase despite being a criminal who should never have been able to buy a gun.

The shocking part is this state’s regressive reaction to the recent growth of gun violence. Texas is undergoing a period of loosening gun restrictions. This year, open carry was passed, campus carry was passed and proponents of “constitutional carry” continue to lobby for expansive gun rights.

All this when, once again, America has suffered an entirely preventable tragedy. Had only gun laws been stricter, or in Roof’s case had the regulatory systems done the job that the law demands of them, American children would be safe in their kindergarten classrooms, American teenagers would be safe eating lunch in their high schools, Americans of all ages would be safe in movie theaters and churchgoers would be safe as they attend bible study. Danger from lax gun laws has invaded every area of American life. If Texas continues down this same path, how many Roofs will it take? How many mundane days made infamous before we reexamine the limitations placed on gun licensing and purchase and take back our right not to bear arms or be affected by those who do?

How many more times does America have to have this conversation?

There is no question that these tragedies were committed by evil doers and sick men. There is also no doubt that not all gun-owners are enemies of peace. All the same, the men of infamy behind the worst shooting tragedies of our day — Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston — were empowered by the current broken and lax system to commit the evils they planned and executed, for no other reason than that they could and the system let them.

There must be a system of restrictions that supports gun-owners and non-gun-owners alike. I value the Second Amendment, and I appreciate the philosophical reasons and safety concerns that push representatives and citizens to promote greater Second Amendment liberties. But I also value the rights of Americans not to keep and bear arms or be negatively affected by lax laws. The myth of self-protection is incompatible with the reality of statistical success. There must be a change, either at the federal or state levels, if not both, to expand the number of checks prior to lawfully purchasing a weapon without lengthening a currently hours-long process between application and purchase into weeks or months. Needless to say, those who are law-abiding citizens and psychologically fit enough to carry should still be able to do so. Still, what is convenience in the face of something so much greater, like eradicating these slaughters from America’s social and political landscape?

Gun violence is not novel in the U.S.; it happens everyday, every 17 minutes. Our lawmakers and gun lobbyists are complicit in these acts of violence, accepting a flawed system without making effective efforts to improve it. Their impotence betrays the safety of the American people as does their obedience to the richest lobby in America and the paranoia of reactionaries who cry, “Obama is taking our guns!”

Let America undergo a cultural transformation as it focuses on and confronts the hatred and intolerance that is so shamefully embedded in our national history. And let the conversation turn to the fact that guns are as harmful as hate in Charleston and elsewhere.

Smith is a history and humanities senior from Austin. She is the editor-in-chief.