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Illinois Mass Shooting Causes Continued Discussion of Gun Laws

On Friday, February 15th, Gary Martin, an employee at Henry Pratt Company, an Illinois manufacturing establishment, opened fire in a meeting after he was told that he was being fired. Aurora Police Chief, Kristen Zinman, told reporters the day after the incident that Martin shot and killed three employees who were attending the meeting and two others nearby. Ziman also reported that one of the people killed was an intern, Trevor Wehner, who had been attending his first day of work at the company. The other victims included the manager, Clayton Parks; mold operator, Russell Beyer; stock room attendant and forklift operator, Vicente Juarez; and plant manager, Josh Pinkard. Once the Aurora police department arrived at the scene, Martin was shot and killed.

This violent event leads many to question why Gary Martin was able to carry a handgun, considering he was convicted of aggravated assault in Mississippi two decades before this shooting. According to the Washington Post, “he regularly abused a former girlfriend, at one point hitting her with a baseball bat and stabbing her with a knife.” Martin was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail, but he remained imprisoned for less than three years.

Despite Martin being charged with a felony, he was able to attain an Illinois Firearm Owner’s Identification Card in January of 2014. Chief Ziman reported that the felony charge would not have necessarily appeared during the criminal background check. This is because of incomplete background checks recorded in the federal database by some states and jurisdictions, and sometimes information being missed as a result of human error. Evidently, the resulting  inconsistencies in background checks can prove to be detrimental: they allow for felons like Martin to possess handguns.

According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a total of 340 mass shootings occured in 2018. The shooting at Henry Pratt Company is the thirty-ninth mass shooting this year.

The conversation and controversy surrounding gun control continues in the United States as the number of mass shootings increases– prompting citizens to question what causes individuals to commit these devastating crimes. People speculate a variety of reasons for mass shootings; mental illness, for example, remains among the most popular theories. After the shooting last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, President Donald Trump tweeted that the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was mentally ill which implies that Nikolas’ mental illness was the main cause of the shooting. However, though mental illness could be a factor in some shootings, this is not always the cause. Michael Stone, a psychiatrist and professor at Columbia University who created and maintains a database about mass shooters, found that out of the 235 shooters included in the database, only 52 were found to be mentally ill.“The mentally ill should not bear the burden of being regarded as the ‘chief’ perpetrators of mass murder,” Stone concludes.

Arguably, the biggest factor contributing to mass shootings in America is the accessibility of guns. According to CNN, Americans own forty-eight percent of the estimated 650 million firearms worldwide. It was also stated that although the United States makes up less than five percent of the world’s population, the country holds thirty-one percent of the world’s mass shooters.

Though it may not always seem as though rapid changes in gun control are taking place congressionally, some adjustments in state legislatures have been occurring. After the Parkland shooting at Stoneman Douglas, many legislators acted and passed sixty-nine bills for tightening gun restrictions to be passed; in contrast, only nine bills were passed in favor of loosening gun restrictions. Politicians continue to work to pass other bills, yet some are rejected as opponents such as the National Rifle Association feel that these recent laws are an attack on their constitutional right. They cite the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.

As politicians and people are now more determined than ever to address the continued issues surrounding gun control, America should remain hopeful of reform. Let Americans ensure that the victims murdered in these numerous mass shootings did not die in vain; instead, let these tragedies awaken the country and lead to meaningful action and change.