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The Great Gun Debate

A Walla Walla resident trap shoots against a rainbow backdrop.  Photo by Tywen Kelly.

A Walla Walla resident trap shoots against a rainbow backdrop. Photo by Tywen Kelly.

A Walla Walla resident trap shoots against a rainbow backdrop. Photo by Tywen Kelly.

Olivia Gilbert, Feature Editor

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Gun control has been one of the most contentious issues in the 2016 election cycle. Increased awareness of police violence against communities of color, near daily mass shootings, and the alarming figure of 33,000 annual firearm deaths in the U.S. have infused the question of gun policy with renewed urgency and heightened political and social implications. As with many other issues, Clinton’s and Trump’s stances on gun control reflect starkly different choices for America. Clinton’s moderately progressive stance calls for comprehensive background checks and closing the internet sales and gun show loopholes. Trump supports the national right to carry and opposes expanding background checks and regulation of the type of firearms people may own.

Contrary to the sharp division of national rhetoric, many gun control measures garner a broad level of support. According to a Pew Research Center study published in August 2015, 85% of Americans favor expanded background checks, which includes 88% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans. Furthermore, 79% support laws to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing guns and 70% favor the creation of a federal database to track all gun sales.

In an effort to understand why this widespread support has not translated into legislative action, I spoke with a handful of people in the Walla Walla and Whitman communities whose unique experiences with the issue of guns and gun control may shed light on this complicated issue.

Trap shooting practice at the Walla Walla Shoot. Photo by Tywen Kelly.

Trap shooting practice during sunset at Walla Walla Shooting Sports. Photo by Tywen Kelly.

Guns: a way of life

For senior Isabel Mills, who grew up in Alaska and leads Whitman’s trap-shooting club, guns are an important part of life. Her family uses guns for trap and skeet shooting and hunting, and many of Mills’ extended family members get much of their food from what they hunt.

“It really has just been a way of life for me for a long time, to be around guns and to use them for practical purposes,” Mills said.

Mills’ family impressed upon her from an early age the importance of gun safety, a lesson she made sure to pass on to the members of the trap-shooting club.

“I was raised to be really respectful toward guns,” Mills said. “As a leader of the trap shooting team, I try to show people how important it is to always be thinking about [gun safety].”

For Mills, the Walla Walla shooting range, where the trap-shooting club practices, is a home away from home.

“Going to the range, it’s a really comforting place for me to be because I’ve grown up around guns and around the atmosphere,” Mills said.

Mills explains that while many members of Walla Walla Shooting Sports (formerly the Walla Walla Gun Club) hold views that don’t line up with her progressive political views, she appreciates hearing another side of the conversation.

“I love being out there just for a change of perspective and to see how a lot of people in the Walla Walla community feel about political issues and guns,” Mills said.

Whitman alum Bob Bloch ‘69, who serves as secretary-treasurer of Walla Walla Shooting Sports and works with young people like Mills to improve their trap and skeet shooting, emphasizes the sports’ ability to teach important life lessons.

Bob Bloch. Photo by Tywen Kelly.

Bob Bloch. Photo by Tywen Kelly.

“Our bent out here is not really shooting,” Bloch said. “Our bent is really to teach people how to get along with other people, how to be team members, how to show up on time, how to be responsible, that kind of stuff.”

Bloch feels that gun control legislation simply does not reach those who use guns to commit violent acts.

“When you talk about legislating firearm crime away, what you’re talking about is trying to legislate against 99.9 percent of the guns that will never get used in violence and then trying to legislate the one, one hundredth of a percent that is,” Bloch said. “And that never works, because you can’t get that fine.”

Mills, on the other hand, supports Clinton’s stance of regulating who is able to get guns through background checks and closing the gun show loophole.

“I’ve always thought more of guns as an object for sport but I can totally shift my mindset to the mass shootings…and be really sad about that and [understand that] we need to control who is able to get guns,” Mills said.

Despite her deep-seated affinity for guns and gun culture, Mills recognizes that reducing gun violence calls for openness to solutions.

“If it came down to it, to stop the violence, I would give up all my guns,” Mills said. “But it would be giving up something that I’ve lived with for a long time, and very few Alaskans would say that…but obviously something needs to change.”

Here we go again: the cyclical discourse of gun control

Anya Tudisco ‘16 studied the phenomenon of mass shootings and their portrayal in the media for her sociology thesis. While Tudisco was originally drawn to studying the causes of gun violence, her focus shifted to the responses it drew. She noticed that each time a mass shooting occurred, it was followed by a flurry of media and political discourse questioning what should be done to prevent more shootings. Within weeks, the discourse faded until another major shooting occurred. Meanwhile, no legislative changes were made.

“It’s just a perpetuation of the same cycle,” Tudisco said.

Tudisco attributes the political paralysis surrounding gun violence in part to the fragmented discourse that surrounds it. While a majority of Americans may agree with certain gun control measures, the consensus on the causes and solutions to address those causes vary widely.

Tudisco explains that in general, people who identify as more liberal tend to see the solution to gun violence as the responsibility of government and society. Thus they tend to align more with explanations that address the social and political factors influencing a mass shooting. People who identify as conservative, on the other hand, tend to see the events as more isolated and without much connection to one another.

“The distinction between seeing it as the responsibility of the individual or of an individual family versus the responsibility of society as a whole is a really big stumbling block to successful political action on gun control and gun violence,” Tudisco said. “Because if you think that the government has no responsibility for why these events happen, then you’re not going to push for any change in that realm.”

According to Assistant Professor of Sociology, Santana-Acuña, the source of political inaction surrounding gun control lies even deeper than ideological belief.

Photo by Tywen Kelly.

Alvaro Santana-Acuña. Photo by Tywen Kelly.

“It’s not something that can be easily resolved as a political debate. It goes beyond that,” Santana-Acuña said. “It’s more than political; it’s cultural.”

Opponents of gun reform frequently call on the Second Amendment to justify unrestricted use of firearms, but Santana-Acuña explains that these pro-gun people are motivated less by a desire to use firearms and more as a reaction to what they see as a threat to the American collective identity. Like National Parks, the Second Amendment has come to be seen by many Americans as one of those quintessential items that makes America, America.

“For many people the Second Amendment…is not really about actually using [guns], but is primarily about a way of defining what America is,” Santana-Acuña said. “So for many people, especially those in favor of the amendment, they feel that having that right is what really makes Americans who they are.”

The problem with this view is it decontextualizes the amendment, adopted in 1791, from its very specific historical context of the French revolution and the fear of invasion of the fledgling America from England. Recognition that the amendment was developed in response to a very specific historical period leaves it open to its evolution so that it better fits the political and social circumstances of the present.

“The Second Amendment gives you the right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about the way you should use these guns,” Santana-Acuña said.

Figuring out the way we as a country should use guns is one of the central problems we face not just in this election cycle, but in this decade.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of evidence that we will ever get there, but…I have to believe that as [gun violence] continues to happen, people will one day see that doing nothing is not an option,” Tudisco said.

Photo by Tywen Kelly.

Photo by Tywen Kelly.

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15 Responses to “The Great Gun Debate”

  1. David on November 4th, 2016 8:42 am

    It’s rather simple, the anti gun advocates have nothing but lies and rhetoric to offer.

    The anti gun advocates can’t prove that lawful gun owners are the problem.

    The anti gun advocates can’t prove that laws that only persecute the law abiding reduce violence by the criminals.

    The anti gun advocates can’t prove background checks save lives.

    The anti gun advocates can’t prove $330 million a year for background checks to prevent 1-2 total injuries is justifiable logical or sane.

    They have nothing to offer but empty emotional rhetoric lies and blatant bs, engendering frivilous fantasies to make them feel better.

    Anti gun advocates have not one single proper piece of govt citation data or law backing their claims, yet they are the reasonable ones,

    Sane people accept that it is reasonable and common sense to expect that people who want frivilous things, should be willing to pay for them, yet anti gun advocates don’t pay for one fkkng thing when it comes to gun control.

    That’s rather childish and immature of them, but then all the anti gun advocates claims are childish and immature at best


  2. Rich on November 4th, 2016 9:00 am

    where are other comments?


    Rich Reply:

    moderation = censorship


  3. jim smith on November 4th, 2016 9:01 am

    Re: ” alarming figure of 33,000 annual firearm deaths in the U.S.”

    According to the CDC, in 2013 there were 33636 deaths from firearms and most were suicides while 11208 were homicides. If someone wants to kill themselves it’s a matter of individual choice where the person can pick the time, place and method and an argument can also be made that an individual’s life belongs to them exclusively and not you, the State or anyone else. Note also that the number of suicides committed with firearms (21175) is almost equal to the number committed by other means (19774) so as long as there are other options, it’s not clear that restricting firearms would have any effect on the number of suicides.

    Homicides are a different story. 11208 people murdered by firearms in the US works out to about 31 people per day. These are the “word doctored” figures the news media and anti-gun folks like to publicize because people relate to the magnitude of those numbers and it sounds like a lot of people until you realize this is out of a population of 319 million Americans. In that context, it works out to about 1 person out of every 28,000 people being murdered by a firearm. Dwell on the magnitude of your individual significance next time you are in a stadium with 28,000 people. To me, 1 in 28,000 is an acceptable cost to help ensure the security of a free state and the right to own a firearm that has harmed no one. It is also estimated there are 109 million gun owners in the US which means on any given day 108,999,969 gun owners didn’t kill anyone yet because the news media magnifies these relatively isolated and infrequent events to the level of an epidemic, the anti-gun folks answer is to take the guns away from people who harmed no one. The number of firearm homicides will never be zero. So given the fact that deranged individuals and murderers are an intrinsic part of the human race and we currently live in a free society, what number of illegal firearm homicides would ever be acceptable to you to the point you would say “we don’t need any more restrictions on the private ownership of firearms”?


  4. Rich on November 4th, 2016 9:02 am

    The TRUTH about the “supremacy clause” – our Constitution does not delegate to the national government authority to restrict our arms, ammunition, regulate firearms dealers, do background checks, etc. The national government may not lawfully circumvent this restriction by means of a treaty wherein the signatory governments agree to disarm their Citizens or Subjects.


  5. jim smith on November 4th, 2016 9:03 am

    Re: ” 85% of Americans favor expanded background checks”

    These polls where large numbers of people support background checks ask questions like “Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gunbuyers “? That is not the same question that is relevant with regard to the laws that are actually proposed like the federal gun legislation that failed to pass the US Senate in 2013. The relevant poll question in that case would have been “do you support or oppose US Senate Bill 649 or any of its amendments”? Read the bill (SB-649) and the amendments. The title of the bill is word doctored to be innocuous but the devil is in the details and what was being proposed as part of the background check process was a litany of vague, abstruse and onerous restrictions on friends and family members that could trip them up and subject them to intimidation and entrapment by overzealous and unscrupulous authorities who are aligned with an anti-gun agenda. In addition, the hastily written Toomey amendment was worded in such a way that existing gun laws that currently protect gun owners (like a prohibiting a registry) could be circumvented by the President simply having the BATF report to DHS instead of the Attorney General.

    The reality is “universal background checks” is progressive speak for wanting to pass laws to monitor and control loans, transfers or physical access of firearms, ammunition, or “high capacity” magazines to distant relatives, friends, domestic partners, significant others, roommates, employees, or other acquaintances you have known for years. You can see this philosophy reflected in the details of the laws passed in CA, CO and WA and proposed in NV, ME and OR.

    If the totality of what is really desired is universal background checks, the answer is simple and easy – give anyone free, anonymous, public access to the federal NICS background check database of persons prohibited from owning firearms and then tell private sellers if you sell or give a firearm to someone and don’t retain a piece of paper that documents you did a favorable NICS check on the buyer, you could be held liable if they commit a gun-related crime. There is no reason to get the government involved any further in the process unless you have other goals in mind like a federal registry of all firearms.


  6. Rich on November 4th, 2016 9:03 am

    Mental health is the avenue to gun control..

    American Psychiatric Asso: Half of Americans are mentally ill..
    After crafting by politicians and Media all will be crazy except for them..

    300 million prescriptions for psychiatric drugs were written in 2009 alone..
    Your children on medication for ADHD?
    Single woman with children diagnosed with depression?

    be careful what you ask for


  7. Rich on November 4th, 2016 9:04 am

    There are over 370 “mental disorders” listed in the latest version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.) The list includes “Tobacco Addiction Disorder” among other equally mundane and ridiculous so-called “mental illnesses.”

    If the DSM is the standard by which politicians wishes to remove our rights to own guns, then I’d guess 90% of the American people could probably be classified with a mental disorder of one kind or another.



  8. jim smith on November 4th, 2016 9:09 am

    Re: ” closing the gun show loophole”

    There are no real “loopholes”. This is progressive speak for wanting to pass laws to monitor and control loans, transfers or physical access of firearms, ammunition, or “high capacity” magazines to distant relatives, friends, domestic partners, significant others, roommates, employees, houseguests or other acquaintances you have known for years. You can see this philosophy reflected in the laws passed in CA, CO and WA and proposed in NV, ME and OR. Since many of these affected people are single and in a rising demographic of voters, opponents of this law should publicize the fact to these people that if they have or want to have firearms, they could be inadvertently breaking the law with their living arrangements and be subject to intimidation and entrapment by overzealous and unscrupulous authorities who are aligned with an anti-gun agenda. The only “loophole” that needs closing is the reluctance to enforce existing laws. You could start by quit allowing people who use a gun illegally to plea bargain away the illegal firearms offense. The feds are one of the worst offenders. Straw purchases and lying on the 4473 form you have to fill out for a background check to purchase a firearm is a felony punishable by 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine – yet in 2010 76142 people failed the background check, 4732 were deemed worthy of prosecution and only 62 were prosecuted. Another thing you could do since most of the gun homicides are caused by gangs or repeat offenders is to advocate for a law that would impose a mandatory death sentence on any recidivist with a violent criminal history that uses a firearm to commit a crime regardless of childhood upbringing, economic impoverishment, mental health, age, IQ or ethnicity.

    Also, if you are really worried about gun shows you should change the rule implemented by Bill Clinton’s administration that prohibits anyone wanting to sell guns at gun shows from getting a Federal Firearms License (FFL) without having a storefront. (Google ATF form 5310 FFL application and look at question 18a)


  9. jim smith on November 4th, 2016 9:11 am

    Re: ” background checks”

    Currently, there are only 2 ways to legally sell a gun in the US to a private citizen. One is a private sale between individuals (typically like between family and friends) or by a gun dealer licensed with a Federal Firearms License (FFL) from the federal BATF. Only individuals with an FFL can run a background check through the government NICS database of prohibited persons. Private citizens cannot. Note that a person can purchase a firearm online, but the physical transfer of the firearm still must go through an FFL at the seller or an FFL local to the buyer. So anyone wanting to improve the process should encourage the federal government to do 2 things:

    1) Allow any small gun dealer to get an FFL without having a storefront. Currently, thanks to the Clinton administration’s effort to reduce the supply of guns, you can’t get an FFL if you want to sell guns only at gun shows (Google BATFE form 5310 FFL application and look at question 18a). As a result someone that wants to sell guns but can’t afford the inventory costs, zoning challenges and overhead of a storefront has to sell illegally or discretely at the edge of the law as a “private individual” and hence can’t run a background check. Rather than throwing these “kitchen table” sellers out of the system like Clinton did hoping they would go away, they should allow them to get an FFL and subject them to BATF rules, audits and oversight like they were before the Clinton administration let political anti-gun ideology get in the way.

    2) Give anyone free, public, anonymous online access to the NICS database. I don’t understand why a federal database of people prohibited from owning firearms can’t be available in the public domain like federal databases for s_x offenders. Unlike the s_x offender database, the NICS system is really a go/no go process and no useful information has to be displayed to facilitate phishing expeditions for identity theft other than what was already known by the user making the query. It’s certainly no more revealing than the FAA’s pilot and mechanic license query system, which provides more detailed information on presumably law-abiding citizens. Once this system is implemented, you then tell private sellers if you sell or give a firearm to someone and don’t retain documented proof that says you did a favorable NICS check on the buyer, you could be held liable if they commit a gun-related crime. This would effectively close the so-called private sale loophole and still preserve the anonymity of the parties involved the same way the current background check system does now. If a private sale firearm shows up at a crime scene, the BATF follows their current procedure of using the serial number of the firearm to contact the manufacturer and ultimately the last FFL that sold the firearm to a private citizen to obtain that citizen’s name and address from the ATF form 4473 the FFL is required to keep on file. That citizen is then contacted and produces the piece of paper from the NICS background check that identifies the second private citizen who is then contacted, and so forth.

    The real benefit of this proposal is how it can help identify the illusive killer with questionable behavior patterns or mental health issues that is causing so many problems. As it stands now there is no easy, fast, non-bureaucratic method for someone to determine if a suspicious person (client, neighbor, employee, student, etc) is a potential threat to society. If someone thinks an individual could be a threat, a query to a public NICS database would at least tell him or her in a few seconds if the individual could obtain a firearm. Then, armed with that information the appropriate authorities could be notified and they could decide if it was erroneous information or whether to investigate further. As it stands now, if you tell authorities you know a suspicious person they will probably ignore you, but if you tell them you know such a person and by the way according to the NICS database he can buy a firearm, they will probably be more inclined to investigate rather than risk embarrassment later if the worst happens. The same would be true if you see a suspicious acquaintance with a firearm when the NICS query says he’s prohibited from having one. It would also help provide piece of mind and a method for victims of violent crimes to ensure their assailants either on parole or still at large have not been excluded from the database because of some bureaucratic foul-up.
    Other specific public safety issues where it would be useful are:

     >Allow potential victims to vet known stalkers or acquaintances under a restraining order
     >Allow gun clubs to vet potential members
     >Allow shooting ranges to vet suspicious customers
     >Help prevent straw purchases by allowing FFL’s to vet all individuals involved with the purchase of a firearm as a gift
     >Allow mental health workers to vet troubled individuals like the Aurora Colorado theater killer
     >Allow resource officers and school officials to vet suspicious students like the Arapahoe High School killer in Colorado
     >Allow the family of the mentally troubled Lafayette, LA killer to verify he couldn’t purchase a firearm
     >Allow police officers to vet anyone they contact – (note the routine background checks performed by police often do not include information about firearms because they don’t directly access the NICS database)


  10. jim smith on November 4th, 2016 9:15 am

    Re: “The Second Amendment gives you the right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about the way you should use these guns”

    Not true. The purpose of the Second Amendment is clearly stated in the preamble to the Bill of Rights – specifically “The convention of a number of states having at the time of their adopting of the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse, of its powers that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added”. Note that when the Second Amendment was written, every weapon was a weapon of war, there were no restrictions on the private ownership of weapons and the militia was equally matched with the regulars. After all, if they weren’t equally matched, it would be pretty hard to deter or prevent a “misconstruction or abuse, of the government’s powers” – so in reality, the citizen militia of today should have the same firearms as the current US military. Unfortunately we are no longer equally matched because we have let our gun rights be eroded by buying into this notion if we just compromise to accommodate the people who – for whatever reason – don’t like guns they will quit trying to take away our gun rights. History has shown that no matter how much we compromise, it’s never enough so we need to stop compromising.


  11. jim smith on November 4th, 2016 9:28 am

    Re: ” Within weeks, the discourse faded until another major shooting occurred. Meanwhile, no legislative changes were made.”

    The sad fact is you can’t stop every lone wolf who is a first time offender so the reality is you need to get used to it. Even if all the guns could be banned, there are plenty of other methods available to kill a lot of people thanks to the internet – i.e things like pipe bombs (San Bernardino), pressure cooker bombs (Boston), propane tank bombs (Columbine), truck bombs (Oklahoma City), gasoline cans and a match (Happy Land fire on 3/25/90), heavy truck crashing in to a crowd of people (Nice, France), home made flame throwers made from plumbing parts and gasoline (nowhere – yet) and any pressure vessel filled with shrapnel and gun powder manufactured the same way it has been since the 6th century that will momentarily confine an explosive pressure wave. And when any of those things are used and there are no civilian firearms to deter the government from limiting our Bill of Rights, it’s likely no one will know about them because at that point in order to silence any criticism for actions they can’t control and to maintain civilian support and power, the government has no reason to allow them to be reported. In other words, banning things like “assault weapons” and standard capacity magazines just starts us down the road of incessant, progressive bans on other firearms with the end result being that only criminals and the government will have guns. The bottom line is people willing to break the laws will always have guns if they want them. If worst comes to worst they will be smuggled into the US from Mexico inside a bale of marijuana and sold on the black market.


  12. Jeffrey Dege on November 4th, 2016 10:31 am

    “85% of Americans favor expanded background checks”

    A majority support extending background checks to private sales, but the bios that have been proposed don’t do that. Instead, they outlaw private sales – and most other private transfers – entirely.

    This is why there is so much support in the polls and so much opposition to the bills. They’re authors are performing a bait and switch.


  13. The Very Deplorable VonZorch on November 4th, 2016 4:22 pm

    Santana-Acuña has apparently not read the Founders on this subject. They were much less concerned with invasion than overreach by our own government.


  14. nicephotog on November 7th, 2016 8:51 pm

    Why listen to the country that developed the worlds first anti-airliner missiles for their Olympics along with one of its colonies that boasts the worlds first semi-automatic/automatic knife and standard machete execution as domestic violence as an example of gun control!?
    Britain and Australia are in actuality not democracies, they are monarchic fascist as a definition of their actual “effect” at governance.
    It makes me wonder if Hillary or any candidate whom ever mentioned these countries is fir to be president in the White-house.

    Much of the problem of guns as a standard use in the second amendment by ordinary US citizens to defend their property, family and life has been overshadowed by the idea that life is a grant to serious criminals when caught in the act by salesmen whom ply small caliber pistols that do nothing much upon an offender in a serious situation leaving the victim defenseless.

    “Knockdown power of the weapon’s caliber, bullet weight / grain and propellant charge” and firing control ability inside a house is the key to successfully removing a criminal that would have cost 50,000 to 100,000 dollars to track forensically after getting away (often to things such as their 40th burglary) with four or five small caliber bullets embedded in them, Although there are worse scenarios, such as firing ten small caliber into them and they can continue to maintain a physical attack and disarm the home owner or rightful dweller.

    Therefore, small caliber and or low powered firearms do not protect you and your family or property, just as not knowing the weapon you use, properly for its operation and safety also just as not properly locating and identifying the target.

    The reason for .223(5.56mm NATO) in the military is because its smaller and cheaper and is the last available size can be made modified to perform at military grade high powered, as too military 9mm pistols with long barrel(at least 5 to 6 inches of rifling) to help use a higher power powder and accelerate for longer to put more inertia punch into the bullet weight loading of its strike.

    Firearms for home defense need to be at least 9mm NATO military caliber (10mm , 38 special 45 ACP ) and 5 to six inch longer barrel type semi auto, as use of rifles such as .303 .308 and .404 7.92mm(8mm NATO) or 30/06 when the target is clearly identified and shielded ( 30/30 caliber at least or more powerful).

    The stupidest action of law enforcement is to attempt to remove the balance of citizen to personal power against criminals because without firearms the community becomes extremely self centered(apathetic and no power to help) but the main problem is it ceases to inform against criminals because of the ineffectiveness of reporting incidents to authorities because of time and lack of direct evidence to work with for an immediate solution that also will take up large quantities of time for no retrievable(of retribution and reimburse) result(the damage is done and not only permanent but will not be solved in an efficient time frame such as days or weeks – usually in decades!)..


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The Great Gun Debate