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A uniquely American problem

For all my regular readers, of whom I am sure there are exactly two, this article may come as quite a surprise. After all, I have always avoided contentious issues like the plague. Most of my articles are just my silly thoughts on the issues that don’t matter, at least not to most people. Perhaps that’s why I only have two readers …

Regardless, I’m a bit selfish in that I only write about what matters to me. The opinions that I hold most fiercely are all about the most random, obscure, and inoffensive topics. I’ve often said it would take a real personal tragedy for me to publish something serious and controversial. And because life is a cruel comedy, along came such a tragedy.

On Feb. 13, the day before Valentine’s Day, a man opened fire on the campus of Michigan State University in Easting Lansing, MI. He killed three students and wounded five others. After a three-hour manhunt, the gunman was found by police. He then shot and killed himself.

Usually, when a mass shooting like this occurs, I get a notification from Apple News about it and then proceed to ignore it. In fact, when this event did occur, I did get a notification about it. It wasn’t from Apple News though, nor was it just summarized coverage from the morning after. Instead, I received an alert on my MSU email ordering me to shelter in place immediately.

As a Michigander, the name “MSU” has often cropped up in my life, from school-related events to football scores. I personally became involved with the university when I dual enrolled there to take math courses, receiving an official email account in the process.

Upon hearing the news at the same time as my MSU friends hiding in their dorms, I was completely in disbelief—not over the fact that there was another school shooting but over the fact that the school in question was mine. Mass shootings have become so frequent in my life that they aren’t just unsurprising, they’re expected too.

This time, however, was different. No longer was something terrible happening in some far-off land to some nameless, faceless strangers. Now, the tragedy had literally hit way too close to home.

It’s easy to ignore tragedies when they occur over and over and over again. It’s not until one of them affects you and your life that you really start caring. This is, indeed, the only reason I’m writing this article. If this were any other school, I probably would not have batted an eye. But here we are.

Essentially everyone, American or not, understands that the United States has a gun violence problem. A few simple statistics highlight this better than words do. The MSU shooting marked the sixty-seventh shooting incident of the year in which at least four people were killed, maimed, or otherwise injured. It also marked the forty-fourth day of the year. While there is no generally agreed-upon definition of “mass shooting,” the above description is the one that the Gun Violence Archive uses, a non-profit organization that tracks, records, and distributes data on gun-related incidents in the United States. In 2022, they recorded 647 such mass shootings.

The truly strange thing about the gun violence problem in the United States is that it is heavily politicized. In general (though with many exceptions), the Democratic Party is in favor of increased gun regulation, while the Republican Party is against it. After a shooting occurs, Democrats often rally for more gun control, while Republicans oppose it and point to other possible real causes for the deaths, such as the mental illnesses of the perpetrators.

This divide is much out of place in the context of other so-called “developed” nations. For example, after the Dunblane Massacre in 1996, which left 16 children and one teacher dead, the Conservative and Labour parties of the United Kingdom immediately began working to pass strict handgun laws, effectively banning the purchase and possession of handguns. Other types of guns, already had restrictions put on them. Since Dunblane, there have been no school shootings in the United Kingdom. 

Since 2000, there have been 421 school shootings in the United States, several of which were much more deadly than Dunblane.

If the United States were to follow suit with the United Kingdom, decades after the fact, it’s possible that gun violence and mass shootings would plummet. According to the Pew Research Center, about fifty-nine percent of all gun violence in America during 2020 was attributed to handguns. Rifles, including assault rifles, only accounted for three percent. The MSU shooter used legally purchased handguns, as did the Oxford shooter (though his weaponry was illegally given to him by his father). Not all weapons of massacres are military grade.

Of course, an outright ban of any firearms in this country is not only unlikely, but an absolute pipe dream. The political divide in America is so extreme that people tend to see everything only through the lenses of red-, blue-, and sometimes yellow-tinted glasses. There aren’t many issues that are truly bipartisan. Instead, nearly all of them are associated with the parties; gun control isn’t a humanitarian stance, it’s a Democratic stance. Because of this, Democrats push “vote blue” as the only solution to the gun problem and every other issue in society. While it’s true that Republicans tend to oppose any kind of gun legislation, Democrats aren’t without their flaws, either. By viewing the entire world as red versus blue, Republican versus Democrat, actual humanitarian issues devolve into purely political ones. Recall that gun regulation is not a political issue in the United Kingdom, but it is here.

Why might this be? A possible explanation may involve the Constitution, the supreme law of the United States. In modern political culture, the words of the founding fathers are treated like holy words from God. The greatest cardinal sin one can commit in the United States is to violate the sanctity of the Constitution. And just like other holy texts, it doesn’t matter what the document was intended to say, but rather what you interpret it to say. This nuance in particular is used to abuse the Second Amendment, one of the ten additional provisions added to the Constitution before ratification. 

The intended meaning of the Second Amendment was to guarantee civilians the right to form armed militias, especially to combat the development of a tyrannical government. However, many interpret the amendment as granting citizens the unqualified right to own guns. This is not a right guaranteed by other nations, including the United Kingdom. And because many Americans practically worship the Constitution, especially Republicans, it is very unlikely that this interpreted right will die anytime soon. 

Bear in mind that the Constitution was also intended to be changed with the times. At the time of its ratification in 1788, a skilled soldier could reload a musket in about twenty seconds. The speed at which modern weaponry can kill is unspeakable.

In the words of my international friends,  Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, and myself, we are truly dealing with a uniquely American problem. Guns are so ingrained into our culture that it is doubtful we will ever climb out of the massive grave we’ve made for ourselves. 

No one should have to fear being murdered in a Walmart. No one should have to scan for possible exits every time they enter a new room. No child should have to go through numerous drills to practice for if a “bad guy with a gun” prowls the halls. No parent should have to worry that their kid won’t come home from school. No college student should ever have to receive an email telling them to “run, hide, fight,” while they hear gunshots just outside their dorm.

No nation should be this backward.


~ Pat Mallory ’26

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