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Jesse Bloecker:
2013 Winner
FDNY Engine 307

Jesse Bloecker

Winning Essay

The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut calls for a review of our nation’s laws and regulations regarding gun ownership. Before creating or altering any of such laws, we must consider the rights guaranteed to our citizens by the Constitution, which our nation’s founders designated the “Supreme Law of the Land.”

The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, commonly referred to as “the right to bear arms,” in full, reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Originally, in 1791, when the 2nd Amendment was ratified, there was no formal military or police force, but security needed to be ensured somehow. The violence that had arisen in Shays’ Rebellion was perhaps the most significant indication that the people needed to be guaranteed better protected by the federal government. Thus, the framers deemed it necessary to grant the right to own guns to the people, so that they may protect themselves against threats, both domestic and abroad. These rights were given because “a well regulated militia” is necessary; does that mean the right to possess guns only applies to militias? According to the Supreme Court in a 2008 ruling, it does not. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the court held that the 2nd amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.

Although the Supreme Court determined an individual’s right to bear arms extends beyond service in a militia, there must be certain limits to the scope of the rights protected under the amendment. We must be aware that the 2nd amendment reads the right to bear arms “shall not be infringed;” it does not read “shall not be regulated.” It is important to consider the advancements in weapon technology since the ratification of the 2nd amendment. If today’s technology were available when the amendment was ratified, would the right to possess all types of guns be granted? One must consider the spirit of the law before claiming they are protected under the 2nd amendment. Weapons that go far beyond what is necessary for self-defense purposes should not be protected under the 2nd amendment. Outlawing automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons, at least for personal use, would certainly make mass homicides considerably more difficult. Along with placing stricter limits on the types of weapons allowed to be sold, it is important to have extensive screening to become eligible to purchase a gun. Perhaps the most important aspect of the screening should pertain to mental health. Under the Brady Hand Gun Violence Prevention Act (1993), a person is ineligible to own firearms if he “has been adjudicated as a mental defective.” However, as evidenced by the Sandy Hook tragedy as well as the Virginia Tech massacre, both involving perpetrators with histories of mental disorders, the mental health screening process may not be adequate. More funds should be allocated for improving the detection and treatment of mental health issues, and stricter steps should be taken to ensure weapons are not accessible to the mentally ill.

In order for an average citizen to own a gun, I believe several tests should be done do ensure that he/she is responsible and properly prepared to handle and safeguard a gun, one of which would be an extensive mental health screening and background check. Prospective gun owners should also be required to pass a test that assesses their ability to operate and handle the gun properly, similar to the way a driver’s test assesses one’s ability to operate a vehicle. This would help prevent accidents and better prepare a gun owner in an emergency. Thirdly, there should be an extended waiting period before one can obtain a gun. This would help discourage a person who has malicious intentions motivated by emotion or spite. These regulations require government implementation and enforcement. Debate about the appropriate level of government involvement in all citizens’ lives is always a political dividing point in our country, and has been especially true regarding gun control laws. The National Rifle Association has historically been very influential in preventing strict gun control laws from passing through Congress by contributing large amounts of money toward lobbying politicians to support a pro-gun agenda, while other special interest groups, such as Americans for Gun Safety and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence have lobbied Congress to support strict gun laws.

The first priority of any government is to protect the people. With that in mind, there needs to be a certain degree of government involvement in enacting laws regarding guns, in order to ensure citizens’ safety. Reform of the existing gun laws in the United States seems necessary when we compare the gun related homicides in the United States to some other countries. The annual rate of gun homicides per capita in the United States is among the highest in the world. In 2010, there were about 40 times more gun homicides per capita in United States compared to England. Australia is another country with a very low gun homicide rate. This largely can be attributed to The Port Arthur Massacre that occurred in Tasmania, Australia in 1996. A few days after the massacre, the government enacted strict gun control legislation which has proven to be very effective, with a 27% decrease in gun related homicides from 1996 to 2010. This supports the thesis that stricter gun control laws will result in lower homicide rates.

Over time, interpretations of the Constitution have adapted with the changing United States culture and technology. The gun and weapon technology of today does not compare to what was available 200 years ago. Unlike in early America, where local militias were a necessary reality, today we have fully functioning military and police forces that we trust to protect the public both domestically and abroad, however gun ownership for personal protection can still be justified. The issue of gun control laws in the United States may not be easy to solve, but I have faith that we as a country will be able to reach a compromise that will both protect the individual’s right to make their own choices and protect the safety of the public.

 

Biography

My name is Jesse Bloecker. I grew up in Old Bethpage, NY with my parents, two older brothers and one younger brother. My father is a member of the FDNY and Captain of Engine 307 in Jackson Heights, Queens. I will be graduating from Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School this year, and attending the University of Delaware in the fall.

I have always been passionate about music and sports. I am currently a member of our school’s chapter of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and Principle String Bassist of our school’s orchestra. Although it is uncommon among people my age, I enjoy classical music and admire the brilliance of past composers; without their work, music as we know it today would not exist. I also play bass guitar in our school’s jazz ensemble as well as with other bands. I also like to tutor younger players. I love to play sports and be active. I have played roller hockey throughout high school and currently play for our school’s Varsity team. I plan to continue playing in college as well. As much as I like playing music and sports, my primary interest is skateboarding; I am a devoted skateboarder and have been since a young age. Progressing in skateboarding helps me gain confidence and accomplish goals in all areas of my life. Some of my interests include snowboarding and unicycling.

Academically, I have begun to focus on physics and engineering and plan to pursue these areas in college. I am fascinated by the way the universe can be explained through mathematics. I have a strong curiosity to learn more about science and I am excited to begin my college career and prepare for my future. I hope to find a position in the field of mechanical engineering.

I would like to thank the Santora family for establishing the Christopher A. Santora Educational Scholarship Fund. Your hard work has provided me and so many other students with a much needed opportunity to pursue a higher education by helping alleviate the financial burden associated with a college education. With the help you have provided I am confident I will succeed.

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