A reflection on gun violence and policy

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

For 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, a gifted dancer, straight-A student, and aspiring occupational therapist, the possibilities seemed endless. But on Feb. 14, 2018, my family friend walked through the gates of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the final time. She was just one of the 17 students and faculty members whose lives were claimed in the tragic Parkland, FL shooting.

Within the greater Pittsburgh community, we understand that gun violence can happen anywhere. On Oct. 27, 2018, a gunman opened fire in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, taking the lives of 11 congregation members.

Eight months after losing a friend in Parkland, people who share my cultural heritage were slain in our hometown, forcing me to once again confront my ever-increasing proximity to gun violence. Two years after the massacres in Parkland and Pittsburgh, I am still processing the trauma as I reflect on our current gun policy.

Policymakers have yet to take adequate action in addressing the gun violence epidemic. As a result of political inaction, trends of gun violence have yet to slow down. Last year, there were 418 mass shootings in the United States, and 39,426 gun violence-related deaths overall.

Unfortunately, albeit unsurprisingly, the Trump administration has been very lax on gun control policy. The current administration even reversed an Obama-era rule that barred some people with severe mental illnesses from buying guns.

The bill, which would have prohibited some 75,000 people from owning guns, was created in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Though many studies have shown people with mental illnesses are not at high risk of harming others, people with mental illness are at much higher risks of self-harm. By nullifying this bill, Trump and his administration are enabling self-directed gun violence, a form of violence that claimed over 24,000 lives last year.

During Trump’s State of the Union, a man named Fred Guttenberg shouted in response to the president’s opposition to stricter gun laws. Guttenberg, who had become a gun safety advocate after the loss of his daughter Jaime, was subsequently escorted out of the event.

Guttenberg later apologized for his outburst, but he should not have had to. Two years after losing his daughter, Guttenberg had been forced to confront Trump’s weak stance on gun safety that may enable future mass shootings.

At the very least, the government should implement a total ban on the sale of assault rifles. The AR-15, the weapon used by mass shooters in both Pittsburgh and Parkland, can fire eight rounds in a single second.

Some advocates argue for universal background checks on all weapon purchasers. As it stands, the current background check process is not comprehensive enough. The Parkland and Pittsburgh shooters purchased their firearms legally, after undergoing federal background checks.

Stricter gun laws will not undo the Guttenbergs' grief or bring back the 17 slain in Parkland. Stricter gun laws will not stop me from looking over my shoulder for a gun every time I am in a crowded room. The damage to dozens of Parkland and Pittsburgh families has already been done. Should policymakers take the necessary steps to stop the sale of assault weapons, there is space for a future that is free of gun violence.