Millennial voters in gun control focus

  • Ryan Ye was nervous. The Toronto native was set to embark on a new journey, 520 miles from home to Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. He had left behind friends, family and an undergraduate degree in biology in Canada for a fresh start in a brand new area of study: journalism.  His mind swirled throughout the almost nine-hour drive down Interstate 95. “How will I adjust to life in a new country? Will I find new friends? How will my professors view a science-inclined student from Canada entering into a graduate level program in journalism?” he questioned.

As he finally neared the university, Ye saw the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, an arena Ye recognized as the home of the New York Islanders hockey team. He smiled as he saw McDonald’s, Starbucks and Chipotle, which were familiar from back home. He began to feel slightly more at ease, but that only lasted a brief moment.

There, cushioned between the fast food outlets and coffee shop, across the street from the university campus he was about to call home, lay Coliseum Gun Traders, a business that prides itself on its website for its wide selection of “both new and used handguns, rifles and shotguns.” Suddenly, Ye realized how far from home he was.

“I’ve never seen a gun shop before, not once in my life” said Ye.

Strict gun laws in Canada, mandating that all gun owners be licensed and all handguns registered, among other stringent requirements, have made it “a lot tougher to acquire a gun in Canada than in the U.S.,” according to Ye.

As a result, north of the border, the issues of gun violence is largely a non-issue when compared with other pressing governmental matters such as immigration and the legalization of cannabis.

“In Canada, you don’t hear about gun policy too much in the media,” said Ye.

96 Deaths a Day

A gun shop is nothing out of the ordinary for Americans, with more than 64,000 gun dealers nationwide as of September 2017. Nearly 1,800 of those shops are here in the Empire State according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“There’s no other advanced industrial society in the world that has the level of gun violence that there is in the United States,”- Alan Singer

The ease of procurement has been linked to the persistent gun violence in the US – violence which regularly makes the US the leading gun violence nation of the world. It is believed that there are 35,141 deaths a year in the United States stemming from guns. That amounts to 96 deaths a day amongst Americans, according to figures from Everytown Gun Research.

Gun control has emerged as a key issue ahead of the Nov. 6 midterms as student activists from across the country united after the Parkland shooting in Florida which claimed 17 lives.

“There’s no other advanced industrial society in the world that has the level of gun violence that there is in the United States,” said Alan Singer, professor at Hofstra University’s School of Education and expert on social issues in public education.

Parkland has ‘mobilized teens to be activists’

Amid the school shootings and urban gang violence, students have made their voices heard, organizing and participating in rallies across the country denouncing gun violence and calling for increased gun control.

Singer cites Parkland as a turning point for younger Americans. “It has mobilized them to be activists,” he said. “My hope is that this issue and their organized response will generate a more progressive and more positive voting in the United States.”

The professor points to racial tensions in the US during the Klu Klux Klan and civil rights movements as catalysts behind the current state of affairs when it comes to gun policy.

“The big battle over guns has often been related to the European American tensions with Native Americans and African Americans,” he said. “There is that tradition. Guns have now become a symbol for rural white Protestant America that feels displaced by changes in the modern world.”

He claims that gun policy in the United States is going backwards and not keeping up with today’s society.

“There are political forces that want unrestricted gun ownership and the ability to parade around with them,” he said. “This is not about constitutional rights, it’s about a heritage of racism and ongoing racial tension.”

Kathleen Rice: a Supporter of Gun Restrictions

In New York, elected officials have continued to fight for stricter gun laws, including Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY District 4). Rice is committed to keeping the community safer by increasing the restrictions on gun sales. According to her website, Rice has seen what gun violence can do to a community after serving as a prosecutor and wants to impose restrictions on gun sales to help save lives without interfering with Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

Guns Not Only an Issue in New York

Elsewhere in the nation, especially in more conservative states, laws are different. New Yorker Chloe Elizabeth, a student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, is active in her school’s community in the fight for stricter gun laws.

“The laws here are way more lenient than in New York,” she said. “I know a few kids who own guns. The thought of that definitely creates tension; kids my own age that could be “certified” to carry and use guns by simply taking an online course. The whole scenario here seems backwards.”

Chloe regularly attends protests and public hearings in favour of gun control.

“It takes one shift in mindset to start a change,” she said. “I believe cracking down, and making sure only those who absolutely need a gun and are properly and professionally trained are the ones who hold the responsibility of owning a gun.”

A ‘Sense of Worry’ Lingers 

Back in New York, as Ye makes his way around campus, he still remains on guard. While he is comfortable with the security presence at Hofstra, he nevertheless keeps an constant eye on his immediate surroundings for any potential sign of trouble.

“There will always be that sense of worry in the back of my mind,” he said.

While the Canadian-born Ye is not eligible to vote in the upcoming midterm elections, he is hopeful that his American peers will vote in the midterms and change the mindset around gun control.