Point of View: In Pursuit of Happiness

Wesley Koswara  |  Contributing Writer

THE GUN PROBLEM

Verbal storms rage all over the country as friends and family argue over our right to bear arms. Our right to bear arms is brought up in the media again and again in the context of highly publicized innocent deaths.  The need for us to violently overthrow the government seems, at the very least, a very long ways off. So why the continued need for our guns?

This question has been repeatedly pushed into the minds of Americans, now more than ever with the lineup of highly publicized mass shootings culminating in the nine deaths at Umpqua College. Virginia Tech in 2007 left 33 dead. The Dark Knight theater shooting in Colorado in 2012, 12. Santa Barbara in 2014, seven. Many cannot help but wonder if the infringement on our right to keep and bear arms would have saved these people. Are we buying this right with the blood of innocents every time a shooting like this happens?

The Second Amendment to the Constitution made sure that future leaders of the United States would not be able to interfere with citizen’s rights to bear arms. In their eyes, an armed populace insured the continuation of a democratic government. But times have changed. Most people no longer need to hunt to keep their families fed. Meat is as close as the nearest grocery store. Optimistically, a solid law enforcement agency does our protecting for us.

“We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction,” said President Obama in response to the Oregon school shooting.  “When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer.  When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer.  When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities.  We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives.  So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense.”

In 2013 Barack Obama released a proposal that would strengthen background checks on those attempting to purchase firearms, ban military-style assault weapons and allow healthcare providers to warn law enforcement about threats of violence from patients.

However, numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics in a report released in 2013 tell us that the number of total firearm homicides in 2011 totaled 11,101. This might seem like a large number, but the report also shows us that firearm homicides are down 39 percent from a high of 18,253 in 1993. Additionally, homicides make up only about 2 percent of all firearm-related crimes. Nonfatal firearm-related victimizations have also decreased from 1.5 million in 1993 to under 500,000 in 2011.

So do we need to be scared? The numbers say gun violence has been steadily decreasing. Are several isolated, highly publicized tragedies being used to blow the issue out of proportion? After all, the cases we hear about in the news aren’t armed robberies or cop killings or racially motivated murders. They are the result of one or two isolated, often mentally unstable individuals one day deciding to end life for the sake of ending life. The purpose of gun laws is to keep them out of the hands of criminals, and it seems like that is what they are doing.

IT’S ALL IN THE DYING

The issue of death prompts lingering questions. As we have control over our own lives, shouldn’t we have control over our deaths? How we die, or when we die, or why we choose to die? Under some circumstances, the state of California says yes.

On Oct. 5 Governor Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act into law. The law allows for those with terminal illnesses to request and self-administer drugs from a physician that would hasten their deaths.

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” said the governor in the signing message for the bill. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

Detractors and adherents to many religious groups like Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, would say that the law constitutes nothing less than the legalization of assisted suicide, but advocates have a different view. Applicants for drugs must be terminally ill, and advocates hold that physician-assisted dying is a hastening of a death already in progress, as opposed to suicide, which is the ending of a life that would otherwise continue.

“People with a terminal illness with a prognosis of having less than six months to live can request that kind of medication to hasten a death that’s already occurring,” said Peter Korchnak, Digital Communications Manager for the Death with Dignity National Center. “So in the case of death with dignity or physician assisted dying, people are in the active process of dying. In the terms of suicide, suicide is an end of life, a termination of life that would otherwise continue.”

Peter Korchnak is the Digital Communications Manager for the Death with Dignity National Center. Death with Dignity is an organization that advocates Death with Dignity Laws, such as the one that recently passed in California and others which have passed in Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

Death with Dignity maintains, says Korchnak, that individuals should have the same range of options at the end of life that we have during life. They believe and promote that just like we are able to make decisions about how we live, so should we be able to make decisions about how we die, if terminally ill.

“It’s really about self-determination and individual freedom at the end of life. And that’s what we advocate for, for terminally ill Americans to make their own end of life decisions, and not for the government to make those decisions for them, or a faith organization, a church, or other people,” said Korchnak. “You yourself should make those decisions for yourself. But within of course, the guidelines and limitations of the law.”

On top of moral disagreements, opponents to the law say it takes away liberties of the poor and gives it to insurance companies. Why insure for treatment when assisted suicide has suddenly become the cheapest option? The “right to choose” has also come under fire. If the law is really about choice, why shouldn’t those undergoing other forms of pain, such as muscular dystrophy or severe rheumatoid arthritis, be denied the right to hasten their death? As pain or suffering can be argued to lie on subjective scales, the right to choose should be extended to anyone regardless of prognosis or disease type.

SLAVERY TODAY

It should come as no surprise to us that forms of slavery still exist in today’s world. Although often easily glossed over and forgotten in developed countries, human trafficking is an industry that operates all over the globe, including the United States.

The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was espoused by the Declaration of Independence. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution says in Section 1, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

While governments have outlawed the practice officially, the ownership and trade of human beings still exists in the backwaters and dark places of any society.

Human traffickers use many different types of coercion, including physical violence, threats and debt bondage to force people to work against their will. According to a global estimate from the International Labour Organization, 20.9 million men, women and children are trapped in jobs that they cannot leave. 4.5 million of these people are exploited sexually while another 14.2 million are involved in manufacturing against their will in industries such as agriculture and construction.

Human trafficking comes in many different forms, but the demand for human bodies in today’s market usually springs from the need for labor or sex.

In 2014, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline received 3,598 reports of sex trafficking in the United States. Out of all the reports of trafficking they received, sex-related trafficking made up 71.4 percent. Sex slavery in the U.S. many times operates out of seemingly legitimate businesses advertising as massage parlours, but can also operate on streets or in truck stops, strip clubs, and hotels.

Victims of street-based sex slavery are often expected to earn a nightly quota, which can range anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Women working in businesses often live on site, where they are forced into engaging in commercial sex to six to 10 men a day.

A BETTER WORLD?

Why do people have so much trouble in the simple pursuit for happiness? In the world we live in, it is no surprise that true peace is only prophesied to come as Christ does. Until that time, our governments try their best in divine absence. To that end, sometimes all we can do is think of others above ourselves and try to make the world a better place.

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