Living in the United States means that every time I get a news notification, I dread that it could be yet another mass shooting. For as long as I can remember, I have heard the names of schools and neighborhoods become synonymous with the atrocities that took place there; Sandy Hook, Parkland, and even my hometown of Charlotte are just a few. These incidents spark outrage and hand-wringing for a couple of days at most before vanishing into obscurity. Nothing ever changes. Common sense gun laws like mental health checks are important in reducing rates of gun violence and suicide, while also serving as a necessary stepping stone for future change.
Mental health checks are by no means the “end all be all” of gun reform. They are only slightly more than the bare minimum. The fact remains that it is far too easy to buy guns in this country. Moreover, the root of the problem lies in the number of firearms in the U.S. We have more guns than people and more than six times as many guns per capita compared to other developed nations. So why do we act surprised when we have gun death rates ten times higher than Canada or 29 times higher than Denmark? We cannot pretend that the two statistics are unrelated. Therefore, the first step to decreasing gun violence must be making it harder to purchase guns on a whim.
Limiting access to dangerous weapons should be commonsensical. It’s all well and good for gun advocates to use the rhetoric of safety, but, ultimately, the presence of a gun can only make a situation more dangerous. Dozens of studies have shown that guns are not an effective means of self-protection; homicide is also 2.7 times more likely to occur in homes with loaded guns than in homes without any guns. Ultimately, claims of needing guns for self-defense are deeply misguided, and so they should not serve as a roadblock to increased gun control.
Mental health checks in particular are necessary because individuals with mental illnesses are more likely to engage in gun violence than those without mental illnesses. Approximately 2.9% of individuals with a mental illness committed a violent act in a year compared with 0.8% of the general population. This is a modest yet important difference; that being said, the larger concern is the risk of suicide. While individuals with mental illnesses are, on the whole, not much more likely to perpetrate a homicide, they are, according to a study of 81,000 Floridian adults, about four times more likely to commit suicide when they are granted unfettered access to firearms. Instituting mental health checks for firearm purchases will save lives that might otherwise be lost to suicide.
As it stands, mentally ill individuals cannot legally buy a gun, and yet many still do. Databases are not updated promptly and allow for people to slip through the cracks. With mental health checks, we fix this problem by having the ability to promptly add people to a “no buy” database. In other words, mental health checks are simply a way to enforce laws already on the books — and that should be uncontroversial.
Even though we have seen gun violence tear this country apart for decades, we have still failed to do anything concrete about it. Mental health checks alone do little more than scratch the surface, but they will begin to lower the risk of both homicides and suicides while doing nothing to impact the ability of individuals to defend themselves. The longer we wait before instituting gun reforms like mental health checks, the more tragedies will occur. It’s time to act, and I for one refuse to wait another day.