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Bannister: We need to take responsibility for gun violence

Edmund Bannister, Columnist

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One of the most compelling dilemmas in modern ethics posits a situation in which a train is barreling toward a group of five people on the track. In front of them is a switch which, if it is pulled, diverts the train to another track where a single person is standing. The dilemma asks the question: would you pull the switch? In a study, 68 percent of philosophers polled about the “Trolley Problem” said they would. For my part, I believe inaction in such a situation is akin to murder, and that taking responsibility by saving five lives is not only moral, but courageous as well.

Regrettably, the United States seems to continually opt for the path of inaction in situations where tough decisions are essential. Jeb Bush’s evasive statement that “stuff happens,” in response to the Oregon shooting is an example of the cowardly attitude that has infected the American political system in recent years. His words weren’t just callous toward the victims in Oregon and countless others impacted by gun violence across the country; they were also idiotic and untrue. “Stuff happens” for a reason, and confronting those reasons is the first and only logical step in preventing tragedies, like the one in Oregon, from reoccurring. Gun control necessitates that some responsible citizens will no longer have access to firearms, but such control will, in the long term, save the lives of thousands. It is time for the citizens of the United States to make the decision on guns that our politicians seem incapable of making. It is time for us to pull the switch.

Anyone who remains doubtful of the impact gun control can have on a country need only look to the numerous nations that have virtually eliminated gun violence through smart legislation. In 1996, a gunman in Port Arthur, Australia killed 35 people in one of the largest mass murder incidents in history. Like the shooter in Oregon, he was troubled, and like the shooter in Oregon, he used legally acquired weapons to commit the crime. In response, the Australian government banned private ownership of several types of firearms, introduced a uniform system of gun licensing across the country and started a gun-buyback program that took more than 640,000 guns out of circulation. The Australian parliament passed the bill with bipartisan support and gun control advocates hailed it as a transformative victory. Since then, mass shootings have not recurred and firearm death rates have dropped in Australia to a tiny 1.4 deaths per 1,000,000 people. That compares to a death rate of 29.7 deaths per 1,000,000 citizens in the United States. In other words, Americans die from guns at around 21 times the rate for Australians. In most developed countries where gun use is banned or severely restricted, murder rates due to guns are similarly low. In the United Kingdom the rate is 2.6 people per 1,000,000. In Japan, an industrialized country with a population of around 130 million people, the rate has dropped to zero deaths per 1,000,000, with only two people dying each year.

The argument that unrestricted access to firearms is a sacred and unassailable right is a myth, crafted and disseminated by right-wing advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association, and politicians like Mr. Bush. The Second Amendment guarantees the right of a “well organized militia” to keep and bear arms, not just anyone, and it says nothing about what arms can be used or where they can be carried. The idea that individual citizens have the right to carry weapons at all was only established in 2008 in the case District of Columbia v. Heller by a predominantly conservative bench.

What international statistics on gun violence consistently show is that when developed, democratic countries like the United States restrict the sale and/or use of firearms, gun violence can be virtually eliminated. What form these restrictions should take is a good question and one that should be debated thoroughly. Outrageously, Republicans and many Democrats have failed to push for a debate of this nature, either due to the pervasive lobbying of the NRA or simply because of apathy.

As residents of the Greater Chicago Area, Northwestern students are more aware than most of the damage this apathy can do. In 2014, around 400 Chicago residents were killed in 2,500 collective shootings.

By treating gun deaths as unavoidable tragedies rather than preventable ones, politicians and regular people alike are deciding to allow shootings to continue. In the “Trolley Problem,” they are electing to avoid tough choices and let more people die. It is time for NU students, professors and alumni to take the moral high ground, reject the status quo and demand change from our political leadership on a local, state and federal level. By doing so, we can finally take responsibility for the lives of our fellow citizens and move towards a safer future.

Edmund Bannister is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at edmundbannister2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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