The streak of shootings and mass killings in the United States in recent years should encourage the nation to consider better tracking gun ownership, according to national security expert Erroll Southers MPA ’98.
“There’s at least a minimal expectation of control in regards to who owns a firearm,” said Southers, associate director of USC’s National Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events and a former law enforcement official.
“It’s the same as who owns a car, who owns a house,” Southers said. Information about who owns guns should probably remain out of the public record, “but someone needs to at least know who has those weapons. If there’s some reason someone wants to own a gun and they don’t want anyone else to know about it, we’d want to know why you feel that way.”
Southers spoke at a recent “Students Talk Back” event at USC about gun policies, transportation safety and national security.
Discussion over any form of gun control is heated because the power to own firearms is guaranteed to Americans under the Bill of Rights, and the issue reaches back into the nation’s history and psyche. “The issue of control gets to the heart of America’s formation — the constitution, revolution, a lot of it was around control,” said moderator Raphael Bostic, director of the USC Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise.
But Southers cited the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, in which 12 students and a teacher were killed by two young gunmen, as an example of why the country must think about guns’ costs.
“Columbine was a game-changer,” said Southers, a former FBI SWAT agent. “There have been 182 school shootings since Columbine.”
Any changes in gun policy will require soul-searching and compromise, he noted. “When we say ‘gun control,’ gun control as a phrase already tends to have people draw the line and take sides,” he said.
The “Students Talk Back” events aim to bring experts together in a forum for discussion with students and USC community members. Here are two students’ views:
David Meister, international relations major:
“I believe that according to the Second Amendment, Americans — assuming they’ve been cleared and are not psychologically unstable — should be permitted to carry a firearm. That being said, I’m hopeful that policy will reduce the number of high-capacity magazine clips, and hopefully we can limit the number of automatic — not assault, but automatic — weapons.”
Andrew Myers, a political science major who grew up a five-minute drive from Aurora, Colo., site of the 2012 killing of 12 theatergoers:
“Americans have a Second Amendment right to own a gun. … It goes a lot to what kind of guns people are allowed to own and being responsible with them. The Second Amendment was created in 1776, and when you look at what guns were like then, they had muskets — you didn’t have the kinds of weapons you have today. As you look at how guns have progressed, the meaning of the Second Amendment and what it means to bear arms have changed.”
“Students Talk Back” is a weekly forum organized by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, USC Price School of Public Policy’s Tomás Rivera Policy Institute and USC Price’s Bedrosian Center on Governance and Public Enterprise. To watch the complete forum on gun policies and national security, visit USC Price on YouTube.