OPINION | To end gun violence, Congress needs to pull the trigger

Last May, a teen gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In November, a gunman opened fire in Club Q, a popular queer nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five and injuring 17 others. The day after Christmas, a mass shooting right down the road in New Orleans, the 2022 murder capital, left two dead and four wounded. 

These are just a few of the more than 700 mass shootings last year. Unfortunately, tragedies like this have become a mainstay in American life. According to a study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the United States ranks first in homicides per 100,000 people compared to other first-world countries such as Japan or the United Kingdom.

This begs the question: Why is gun violence so prevalent in America? What can be done to stop it?

In my opinion, there are multiple reasons as to why these shootings keep happening. They’re complex, and each needs to be addressed legislatively in order to meaningfully solve the issue.   

The first and most significant problem is this country’s easy weapon access. While the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is a step in the right direction by strengthening background checks for adults under 21 and bolstering red flag laws, it fails to address the harm caused by access to heavy weaponry such as AR-15s or the “gun show loophole” in which citizens can acquire guns from private sellers without a background check. 

To solve this, there are a few pieces of legislation Congress should pass right now. First, the U.S. Senate should pass the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021. The bill would establish background check requirements for firearm transfers between private parties, thereby closing the gun show loophole.

The Senate should also pass the Assault Weapons Ban of 2022, which would make it a crime to “knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess a semiautomatic weapon (SAW) large capacity ammunition feeding device (LCAFD).” 

The act would also establish a buy-back program for owners of semi-automatic weapons, incentivizing them to give up their guns.    

Another problem to contend with is the interstate trafficking of guns. States with looser gun laws directly contribute to the trafficking of firearms into states with stricter laws, leading to more violence. 

For example, in Illinois, over half of the guns used to commit crimes came from other states, mainly Indiana.

Next, to combat gun violence, poverty must be addressed. Proximity to poverty leads to higher rates of crime. A lack of economic opportunity causes people to turn to illegal measures in order to make ends meet. 

Combating poverty would lead to a sizable reduction in crime rates that have ticked up since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the number of impoverished people in America grew to 37.2 million.

The government could accomplish this by establishing a national universal basic income program (UBI). This program would provide everyone with a fixed monthly income with no restrictions. 

Working-class people would have the economic support to cover their basic needs such as housing, healthcare and child care. This would make it easier to hold a stable job and pursue better opportunities. 

UBI pilot programs have appeared across the country and work incredibly well.

“If empirical evidence ruled the world, guaranteed income would be available to every poor person in America, and many of those people would no longer be poor,” The Washington Post said.  

Lastly, for specific mass shootings such as Club Q, bigotry is to blame. The far-right media influence gunmen into believing certain groups of people are worsening society and that it is their job to fix it by murdering them.

On Oct. 27, 2018, a White gunman murdered 11 people in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.

On Aug. 3, 2019, a White gunman murdered over 20 Hispanic people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. 

On May 14, 2022, a White gunman drove over 200 miles to a predominantly-Black neighborhood and murdered 10 Black people in a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. His weapons were covered with White supremacist language, according to the Anti-Defamation League. He livestreamed the entire event.

In each of these shootings, the gunmen cited the Great Replacement Theory, a far-right conspiracy theory that states Democratic politicians are letting Black and Brown immigrants and Jewish people freely into the country to “replace” White Americans by bolstering the Democratic voter base. 

The theory was once obscure and only known in far-right circles online, but has since been promoted in mainstream media by Tucker Carlson on Fox News

The Great Replacement Theory is blatantly false and racist. Unless they go through the arduous process of becoming U.S. citizens, immigrants cannot vote, and their presence does not affect White population levels. However, this has not stopped people on the far-right from taking up arms and murdering people of color to save White people from “replacement.” 

Far-right radicalization has also posed a threat to queer people as well. The Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs was a targeted attack on the LGBTQIA+ community, spurred on by conservative pundits relentlessly labeling all queer people as groomers and pedophiles. 

For example, following the shooting, conservative pundit Matt Walsh tweeted that condemning homophobia is akin to trying to blackmail people “into accepting the sexualization and castration of children.” 

Hateful rhetoric against marginalized groups of people, also known as stochastic terrorism, has led to a sufficient rise in hate crime rates. In the first half of 2022, hate crime rates rose by five percent. 

To solve this, Congress should pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would close the “hate crime loophole” so perpetrators convicted of a hate crime would be barred from obtaining a gun. 

Congress should also pass the Equality Act, which would criminalize discrimination in “public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit and the jury system” based on sexual orientation or gender identity.    

Bigotry stems from a place of ignorance. By allowing marginalized people to freely engage with others in public spaces, preconceived biases begin to break down. Marginalized people begin to be seen as actual people. 

As an American, seeing my country engaged in such high rates of gun violence is heartbreaking. The solutions are on the table. We can and must do better.