Stricter regulations needed for purchasing a firearm

Implementing a higher age requirement for buying a gun in conjunction with mental health screenings could minimize public threats


Katelyn Gardner

School Safety: Signs like the one above inform everyone that guns are not allowed on school campuses. Despite this, school shootings have become a devastatingly common occurrence. “Guns have evolved over the years. So should our gun laws,” activist Shane Claiborne said.

In the United States, 119 school shootings have occurred since 2018, launching children and teenagers to the front lines of gun violence. The Valhalla staff believes students have the right to a safe, uninterrupted learning environment where the possibility of death and violence is inconceivable and not a regular occurrence that rotates through the news cycle within a matter of weeks. 

The right to bear arms is a longstanding value held by American citizens and was written into the Constitution to ensure that people could be armed in case of a government overthrow. The right to own a firearm ensures that individuals have a way to protect themselves in the event of a major emergency and helps create an overall sense of security and safety in a household. However, the power one holds while possessing a firearm is profound and should be treated as such. This right should be implemented in a way that promotes safety for all American citizens.

Although the second amendment is an important part of the US Constitution, limitations to the amendment regarding access to automatic and semi-automatic guns must be put in place. The process of obtaining gun licenses should be stricter, and mental wellness should be a more prominent part of the process. All of these changes are necessary to ensure the safety of students and the public. 

Fully-automatic, semi-automatic, bolt-action and pump-action are all terms that people may have heard regarding firearms. To clarify, fully-automatic firearms are classified as firearms that can discharge more than one round with a single pull of the trigger. These firearms can fire new rounds automatically until the magazine is empty. Semi-automatic firearms are classified as firearms that will shoot one round for every pull of the trigger and automatically load another round into the chamber. A firearm that has a bolt-action requires the user to chamber each round and compress the firing pin, using a manually-operated bolt system. A firearm that has a pump-action requires the user to eject the spent shell and chamber the next one by “pumping” the handguard. 

In Washington state, citizens must be a minimum of 18 years old to purchase bolt-action and pump-action firearms. Citizens must be at least 21 years old to purchase semi-automatic firearms, including handguns. For fully-automatic firearms, purchasers must be at least 21 years old and qualify for and receive a Class III stamp from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and pay an upfront tax. Under federal law, however, individuals who are 18 years old are allowed to purchase semi-automatic firearms. Also under federal law, from a licensed dealer, the buyer must be at least 21 years old. However, from an unlicensed dealer, purchasers must only be at least 18. The rest of the nation should follow suit with Washington and raise the minimum age of purchasing firearms to at least 21 years old for every scenario.

Presently, everyone who attempts to purchase a firearm through a licensed gun dealer must get a background check before owning a gun. The background check process is conducted by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which uses information from the National Crime Information Center, the Interstate Identification Index, and NICS indices to determine whether someone should be allowed access to a firearm. When looking at these databases, the FBI checks for any history of violence or drug use, as well as any arrest warrants and a person’s mental health history. 

While this system may seem comprehensive enough to stop unfit individuals from purchasing a gun, important information is sometimes missing from the database or is missed during the background check. 

For example, the gunman in a shooting that took place in February of 2019 in Aurora, IL had an aggravated assault charge on his record but was still able to purchase a gun. If people who represent a threat to public safety are still able to legally purchase guns, then clearly the databases that NICS use need to be updated in a way where all of the information that might disqualify someone from being able to buy a gun, including mental health issues, is included in the databases. That way nothing is missed when the background check is run.

Furthermore, unlicensed gun sellers and online sellers are not federally required to run background checks on gun buyers. People who the NICS system would normally reject from being able to purchase a gun are still able to acquire one. States can voluntarily submit this information, but they often fail to do so. Introducing background checks for every transaction involving guns, from both licensed and unlicensed sellers, would make it much more difficult for unfit gun owners to own firearms. 

Mother Jones, the progressive American news magazine, conducted a study in 2012 regarding the relationship between mental health and gun violence. Over a period of 30 years, they analyzed 62 mass shooting incidents. Close to 80% of the 62 perpetrators obtained their weapon legally, with at least 38 of them displaying symptoms of mental illness before committing their crime: acute paranoia, depression, delusions, etc. At least 36 of these killers committed suicide at the scene, not including the seven others who died in police shootouts.

The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits the mentally unstable from obtaining access to a gun, and yet in 2011 a man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia after killing six people and injuring 13 in a Safeway supermarket location in Tucson, AZ, was able to get his hands on one. 

Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, a person must be declared mentally unfit by a judge or be committed to a mental institution in order for their right to possess a firearm to be eliminated. However, because people are not required by law to undergo a psychological evaluation before purchasing a firearm, there is no way of knowing whether or not that person is fit to own a gun. 

A mental health screening is an exam of one’s emotional health and can help determine psychological disorders that may be present or developing. If mental health screening becomes a requirement in every state when purchasing a firearm, people with mental health issues that have the potential to harm individuals would not be able to legally purchase a gun. 

A mental health screening should be added to the process of purchasing a firearm, from unlicensed and licensed sellers and on the internet, in all states, to ensure that a gun doesn’t get into the wrong hands. Psychological testing is utilized in high-stress jobs in law enforcement, the medical field, and firefighting. First responders hold great responsibility; most are trusted with the lives of others. When possessing a firearm, citizens have an almost equivalent responsibility to first responders–doing no harm with their weapon unless absolutely necessary. 

It is not an easy task to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer, but there are a number of oversights that have resulted in deadly consequences. If we can make a change, our schools and the general public would be safer. A mental health evaluation should be a requirement in all states, and should be more in-depth about an individual’s mental state. The license to carry a firearm should be more challenging to obtain through all types of legal sales, and the security of the weapon itself should be a requirement; for example, owning a gun safe should be required at the time of purchase and the buyer should have to take a gun safety class. America’s schools could be a lot safer than they currently are.