Written by Sam Toumlin
Another week, another shooting. On the morning of Oct. 1, a gunman killed nine people and injured nine others at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Shootings like the tragedy in Roseburg are all-too-common in our nation. Many say we are becoming desensitized to these events, including President Obama, who lamented in response to Roseburg that such shootings have “become routine” and that the American population has become numb to them. It is hard to disagree; according to an Everytown for Gun Safety report, there have been 45 school shootings in America in 2015. This widely cited report also states that there have been 142 school shootings since Newtown. According to the Washington Post, by Aug. 26, there had been 247 mass shootings, or shootings with four or more victims, in 2015—an average of more than one mass shooting per day. Much of this violence goes relatively unnoticed. At this point, only particularly horrible events, such as Umpqua or the Charleston church shooting, receive much national media coverage.
When these events do receive attention, there is a predictable response; the debate over gun laws is recharged, and both sides, including politicians, use the event to support their cause. Anti-gun advocates see the shooting as another tragic example of why there is a desperate need for more gun regulation. Pro-gun advocates claim that if only those present at the shooting had possessed guns, then perhaps fewer people would have died. In the case of school shootings, pro-gun advocates often blame school gun-free zones, although this argument does not apply in the case of Umpqua, as Umpqua is not a gun-free school.
I, too, would like to weigh in on the gun debate. However, I am not going to use the Roseburg shooting in my argument. This past Saturday, Oct. 3, in Jefferson County, Tenn., an 11-year-old boy killed his eight-year-old neighbor with a shotgun. The boy had asked to see the girl’s puppy. When she said no, he retrieved the shotgun, and firing from within his home, he killed her. The shotgun was kept unlocked in a closet. The biggest point of contention in the debate surrounding this murder is that the shotgun should have been kept under lock and key. Many have called for more laws surrounding the storage of guns (only 28 states have them), especially regarding keeping guns from children, and many want the owner of the shotgun, the boy’s father, arrested.
I do not disagree that the shotgun should have been locked away. However, this argument is partly missing the point. The boy, though he is only eleven, potentially did nothing illegal when he picked up his father’s shotgun. There is no minimum age or permit requirement for the possession of a rifle or shotgun in the state of Tennessee. Anyone under the age of 18, according to federal law, cannot purchase a shotgun without a license. However, in Tennessee, it is perfectly legal to gift a shotgun to a minor. Any kid in the state, whether he or she is six or sixteen, can own a shotgun without passing any sort of test. If the boy in this event had permission to borrow his father’s shotgun, then he did nothing illegal in retrieving a loaded shotgun and carrying it, unsupervised, through his house. Even if the boy did not have permission to use his father’s gun, he could have potentially owned his own. The fact that the shotgun was not locked away is a secondary issue, as the boy could have legally acquired and possessed his own.
Hopefully it is not a controversial statement to say that the complete lack of regulation surrounding a child’s ownership of a shotgun is a travesty. This shooting in Jefferson County does not just deal with minors. It deals with children. In this case, the shooter is preadolescent. Children are far too irresponsible and impulsive to be legally entrusted with a weapon capable of killing others. According to the victim’s mother, there had been issues in the past of the boy bullying the girl he killed. However, the kids also reportedly played together. It seems that the boy, after a minor dispute with the girl, killed her on impulse. I doubt he fully understood the implications of his actions. Regardless of whether he did or not, how can one expect someone his age, or younger, to be a responsible gun owner? It is absurd to think that a six-year-old has the maturity to be allowed to own a gun, but Tennessee law allows just that.
Therefore, in the wake of the Jefferson County tragedy, I make a small demand within the grand scheme of the gun debate: a federal law must be passed banning children from owning shotguns and rifles. I believe that this law should apply to all minors, or those under the age of 18, but at the very least, children who are not even teenagers should in no way, even after acquiring some license, be allowed to own a gun. We do not allow kids to drive or to drink, why do we allow them to own guns?
Although I focus on Tennessee, this argument is not a red state versus blue state argument; as stated in the Washington Post, 30 states, including Massachusetts and California, have no minimum age for long gun possession. There is much work to be done to improve our nation’s gun laws, and there will be much more debate. For this issue, there should be no debate. Banning a child from owning a gun is simply common sense.