The inconsistencies of the United States government: e-cigarette and gun legislation

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Mourners embrace at a shrine outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (Denver Post).

By: Maxine Davey | Head Editor

September 26, 2019

On August 23, 2019, the first case of death by vaping was reported.

Less than half a year and around 50 more vaping-related deaths later, the sale of most flavored e-liquids has been banned in New York, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington as an attempt to protect American youth from health issues stemming from the use of e-cigarettes. More states will likely follow, and the Trump administration is working towards passing the Quell Underage Inhaling of Toxic Substances (QUITS) Act, which would increase federal taxes on e-cigarettes and outlaw flavored vaping and tobacco products.

Meanwhile, almost 14,000 people have died by gun violence in 2019 alone.

It is difficult to fathom the disparities in the ideology of the American government. Since America’s first mass shooting in 1949 (in which the perpetrating weapon was bought at a sporting goods store for $37.50), a common theme has emerged: inability of the government to effectively impact gun control.

No legislation followed the 1949 shooting. In fact, the next law to pass was not until 19 years later—the Gun Control Act of 1968—which imposed stricter regulations upon the firearms industry. Interestingly, this legislation took place the same year as two high-profile assassinations, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, perhaps implying that the lives of popular figures hold more value than those of the masses.

Time and time again, lives are lost by the dozens because our country lacks sufficient gun control. Although the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994 included an assault weapons ban until 2004, attempts to renew the Act have failed, and laws protecting gun manufacturing companies were passed in 2003 and 2005.

Children have died at Columbine, at Virginia Tech, at Sandy Hook, and at Parkland. Innocent young men and women were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. In August, a semi-automatic rifle was turned on shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. America has experienced 372 mass shootings in this year alone.

Even more terrifying was the shooting at Saugus High School on November 18. Santa Clarita is less than two hours away.

The day after the event, I was sitting in Lisa Kerr’s AP Environmental class when, in the middle of a lecture, Kerr sprinted over to the open door, slamming it shut and removing the Lock Block. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m terrified of copycats.” In the days after the shooting, I had conversations with friends who were nervous and scared, and some even had nightmares about a shooting at San Clemente High School. Still, some expressed no surprise that this happened so close to home, exhibiting how desensitized we have become after so many events just like this one.

And yet, legislative action is already taking place merely months after the first death by vaping.

So why is our government unable to take the necessary steps to prevent thousands of deaths per year? There are several possible explanations.

First, the Bill of Rights does not mention e-cigarettes, but it does assure the “right to keep and bear arms.” The Constitution is so powerful and important to our country that even the slightest changes to its ideology come with years of national debate. As a result, the road to effective gun control legislation is fraught with obstacles. While the Constitution is core to our country’s values and beliefs, it’s time to consider the relevancy of the Second Amendment in today’s world.

In the late 1700s, the Second Amendment was written to ensure public safety, when ownership of a gun meant having the freedom to rely on oneself for protection. But times have changed: the invention of automatic weapons has drastically altered the weapons landscape, and owning such a weapon is in no way essential to preserving personal safety—rather, it enables mass murder. The United States government must amend this principle of the Constitution, as it now threatens our freedoms rather than protecting them. Children are no longer free nor protected when they go to school fearing for their lives.

Additionally, the National Rifle Association’s power and influence makes it extremely hard to generate movement in Congress. Senior Esther Mafouta, a speaker at San Clemente’s branch of the national school walkout for gun control in 2018, is passionate about this hypocritical legislation and its influences.

“Money trumps everything,” Mafouta said. “Only seven people have died from vaping, and suddenly, there’s a ban…that’s because all these e-cigarette companies don’t have lobbies as powerful as the NRA.”

And finally, a double standard seems to command thought around vaping and gun legislation. We are pursuing regulation because E-cigarettes have been found to be deadly to humans. When it comes to guns, however, some believe that the perpetrators of shootings, not the guns, are solely to blame.

“Adding more gun control will simply take guns away from those already respecting the regulations,” junior Kaylee Conrad said. “The ones carrying out the shootings…are the problem and every American has the given right to a gun.”

The idea that e-cigarettes are tools for destruction and must be restricted, then, seems to contradict our country’s absence of gun regulation.

However, our country may be on the cusp of change as Democratic candidates make gun legislation a priority. Elizabeth Warren, for example, has talked about an ambitious plan to “break the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress by passing sweeping anti-corruption legislation…so that our nation can no longer be held hostage by a group of well-financed extremists.” Joe Biden, the steady leader in the Democratic Primary popularity polls, would implement a $900 million, eight-year plan to combat gun violence in urban areas. And every 2020 Democratic candidate aims to either set up a buyback program for, or completely ban, automatic weapons.

In addition, the Background Checks Act of 2019 bill was passed by the House of Representatives in January 2019, signaling that at least some members of our government are focused on fixing the issue. However, it is unlikely that the bill will be passed by a Republican-controlled Senate, and even more unlikely that President Trump will pass the law in that event.

“At some point, you have to wonder, ‘are we going to be next?'” Mafouta said.

As chilling as this thought may be, however, Mafouta views the future with optimism:

“I believe we have to elect the right people…we’re the next generation. We can do this!”

Senior Esther Mafouta spoke at San Clemente High School’s branch of the nationwide school walkout, “March for our Lives,” for gun control on March 18, 2018.

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