Opinion | Criminal Justice

Stopping the violence is much more complex than just banning guns

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Growing up in rural South Carolina on my family's farm, I developed a love, appreciation and, most importantly, respect for firearms. To this day, I remain a collector of firearms and a supporter of the American right to keep and bear arms as enshrined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, I have always encouraged responsible gun ownership and use for all Americans because, as I was taught, safety is the most paramount aspect of gun ownership. 

That said, we have all noticed a disturbing trend in our country - the ever-increasing number of shootings and gun-related deaths - and while the quick response from some, mainly on the left, is to ban weapons, it appears to me that we have a serious issues with mental health and poverty in this country that contribute significantly to gun violence. I don't believe that banning guns will result in any significant decline in shootings that arise because of these two categories. 

Since January in the United States, we have had 126 mass shootings, according to Wikipedia, resulting in the deaths of 148 people, including the perpetrators, and injuries to 485 others, including the shooters. While it's important to acknowledge that there is not a wholly accepted definition of "mass shooting," these numbers are staggering - some of the highest in the industrialized world. 

Let's contrast 2021 to when I was growing up, a time when mass shootings rarely happened. Back then, family structure and parental involvement in their children's lives mattered greatly. Children were taught discipline and respect. My generation largely grew up in two-parent households where most of us were taught how to de-escalate tensions and talk things out when problems arose. That's often not the case today, however, and I believe this contributes to crimes such as shootings and other violence. 

We have a moral and social failing in our country that has caused an increase in shootings, predominantly by young men. Pause to think about what's different today from 30 or 40 years ago - it certainly isn't the prevalence of guns, because it's harder to get guns today than it was in the past when you didn't have to go through nationalized background checks. When I was growing up, you could simply purchase a firearm with no questions asked - and yet, we didn't often hear of mass shootings. 

Many of America's young men appear to be struggling with mental health issues, or are living in poverty with the challenges it brings. Some may have come from single-parent homes where their mothers struggled to survive. When these young men cry out for help, we owe it to them to listen. Mental illness in this country has been stigmatized for far too long; families may be unaware or unwilling to confront it, and some apparently will not acknowledge what their children may be experiencing. Even families that do recognize or acknowledge mental health issues might not know how to get proper help. 

This could all be changed at the federal level if lawmakers committed more funding toward treatment for mental illnesses. We also need program funding at the state and local levels to assist families and schools with recognizing signs of mental illness early on, so that necessary steps can be taken to mitigate potential violence. 

Another important facet of this dialogue is religion. We don't talk publicly about religion much these days, but religion is important to instill moral and ethical values that are key to a society's success. Religion creates boundaries that inform us of what is good and what is bad. Many of history's greatest thinkers have talked about the importance of morality and ethics for all civilized people - how they are key to "a good life" and to setting boundaries against bad behavior. 

We often hear or read arguments from the left about America's "inner cities," particularly Baltimore and Chicago, which have become examples of violence run amok. Some point to the high gun-related death rates in cities as exemplifying the need for gun control. However, proponents of such measures don't always want to deal with the poverty, family breakdown and lack of education or economic opportunities that could help bring such violence to an end. When people are better educated, financially secure and happy with their family life and community outlook, they are more likely to be constructive members of society and less likely to go down a dangerous path.

Today in America, there clearly is a lack of pride, security, belonging and ownership that is so fundamental to the continued success of any society. If we start focusing on those things and truly try to tackle problems without making excuses or blaming "the system," we actually might be able to get to the root of the problem.  

We can acknowledge that gun-related deaths are a problem in our country, but with that discussion comes the responsibility of taking a nuanced approach to uncovering what leads to gun-related violence in order to heal the problem most effectively. Simply banning guns won't stop the shootings. It is a multifaceted problem, and addressing mental illness and deplorable conditions in our cities are the first steps we should be taking. 

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of "Reawakening Virtues."

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