Opinion: Removing guns from American communities is not a realistic goal, but civilians advocate for change in gun laws to be stricter.
By Melissa Salyk-Virk
The inability of Congress to come to an agreed-upon plan of action to adjust our nation’s gun laws will inevitably lead to more terror attacks on American soil including, but not limited to, returning foreign terrorist fighters and lone actors. This is fundamentally an issue of national security, and is increasingly an issue of human security. In 2017 alone, there were 346 mass shootings across the country that led to over 430 deaths and more than 1,800 injuries. Call them what you want, but many of the mass shootings that have taken place in recent history were acts of terror based on the actors’ motives. This term has become increasingly confusing for many across the country because state definitions of terrorism are different from the federal definition of terrorism, which is different from international definitions of terrorism.
After the Orlando nightclub shooting, a call to action was made for United States gun laws to proactively prevent terrorist acts. This call to action also highlighted the fact that America tends to have two different conversations depending on the circumstances surrounding an incident, like the one in Orlando. Presently, those conversations focus on whether or not the shooter was tied to an international terrorist group like ISIL and, if not, was he/she simply troubled and mentally ill? Depending on the projected answer to the first question, the conversation flows in a few different directions. Yet, the issues of gun violence and terrorism are intertwined in our country; they are not mutually exclusive. And, unfortunately, we as a society cannot get past our focus on the outward appearance of these violent actors, somehow justifying his/her motives based on that. Like international terrorist acts, lone acts of terrorism are not one size fits all. In fact, they are not even one size fits most.
The next focus becomes access to firearms. Gun statistics highlight that most weapons have been obtained legally by culprits of mass shootings, and many of those individuals had multiple weapons. The problem continues to grow as terrorist actors choose guns over other weapons to perform their violent acts, and this number spiked around 2014. Theories for this include tactical changes to focus on civilians versus property, or less regulation on firearms but higher regulation of explosive material, or even a simple call to action. Groups like ISIL, as an example, are aware of gun laws in the United States and are actively pursuing attacks as a result.
What becomes the national call to action? Removing guns from American communities is not a realistic short- or even medium-term goal. Our country’s history is not going to permit that because it requires a generational change. However, civilians can reach out to local members of Congress to advocate for change in gun laws to be stricter – from banning types of firearms to conceal carry laws to stricter background checks to age restrictions, as the recent Florida protests have highlighted. Also, terror watch lists can only be so effective. Lone actors can be inspired from various sources, and not all are on terror watch lists, as we have seen in the mass shootings that have taken place in the past few years.
Our definition of what a terrorist is cannot be defined by the outward appearance of the actor. As a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious country, we must be better than that. As history continues to repeat itself in the United States, mass shooting attacks cannot be seen solely as mental health system failures or terrorist group affiliations. It is a systematic failure. Gun violence can be prevented with action, even if it is slow, but the change needs to happen now.
More from Melissa Salyk-Virk:
Anti-Muslim rhetoric from GOP candidates is helping ISIS win (December 8, 2015)