DANIEL: Instead Of Raising The Age For Guns, Raise The Age For Smartphones

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

Hayden Daniel Deputy & Opinion Editor
Font Size:

The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would raise the purchasing age of certain semi-automatic rifles to 21 in an effort to curb gun violence, specifically mass shootings carried out by young people.

The idea has caught on among Democratic politicians and the mainstream media after a 19-year-old carried out the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that left 19 kids and two teachers dead. Introducing such legislation, even if it is doomed, allows Democrats to claim that they are trying to “do something” about the crisis, but this particular “something” will not address a core reason why young people keep carrying out mass shootings.

The core issue behind mass shootings isn’t gun accessibility. Guns, including military grade weaponry, have been widely available since the founding of the nation, but we’ve only seen this surge in mass shootings in the last 15 years or so. (RELATED: The Collapse Of Teen Mental Health — And Deadly Mass Shootings — Can Be Traced To One Single Trend)

Almost every mass shooter under 30 in the last decade and a half have had a few things in common more relevant to their horrible crimes than firearm accessibility. They grew up spending ever-increasing portions of their lives disconnected from any real community; instead spending time online in chat rooms, posting boards and on social media.

The rise in mass shootings happens to coincide with the proliferation of social media and smartphones. Congress could more effectively curb youth gun violence by reining in the overwhelming influence social media has over the lives of young Americans instead of paying lip service to gun control fanatics by restricting gun access to an overwhelmingly law-abiding majority.

Since the introduction of the iPhone and the explosion of social media in the late 2000s and early 2010s, both have come to dominate the lives of American teenagers. Ninety-five percent of teens aged 13 to 17 have access to a smartphone, and 97% are active on at least one social media platform, according to a Pew survey from 2018. The survey also found that 45% of teens are online “almost constantly,” while another 44% are on several times a day. They also use screens for seven hours a day on average, according to CNN.

In 2018, only 24% of teens said that social media had a negative effect on their lives, while 31% said it had a positive effect, but there is overwhelming evidence that it has had an extremely negative impact on kids.

Facebook became available for anyone over 13 in 2006, the first iPhone released in 2007, and Instagram launched in 2010. Before this, several indicators of teen depression were stabilized or were even decreasing. The rate of suicide for those between 15 and 24 had skyrocketed from 1950 to 1990, but it decreased from 1990 to 2000 before shooting back up again in 2010.

The number of young Americans diagnosed with depression or anxiety increased 20% from 2007 to 2012. By comparison, only four percent of them had been diagnosed with those problems in 2003. Teen drug overdoses were relatively stable from 2006 to 2009 before steadily increasing to the present day.

The number of teens who reported feeling “lonely” a lot was on the decline until 2007 before surging to unprecedented levels.

The teen suicide rate was 14.5 per 100,000 — the highest ever recorded — in 2017. Almost 50% of high school students reported feeling persistently sad or lonely. In 2017, only 25% of high schoolers reported seeing their friends in person “every day,” compared to 50% in 1990. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have almost certainly caused that proportion to crash even further.

The rise of social media has also coincided with the rise in political polarization and deeply antisocial behavior that has contributed to the mental health crisis. Social media has provided both echo chambers in which ideologies can insulate themselves from outside scrutiny and an arena in which competing ideologies can battle it out in the most brutal, cynical and opportunistic way possible.

In fact, social media has not just spread animosity between different ideological groups; social media companies have commodified it and gotten people addicted to it. Facebook and other social media companies manipulate their algorithms to promote the most divisive content possible because it keeps people engaged.

For the vast majority of kids who are glued to screens and social media, this type of environment breeds negative traits, including narcissism and cynicism. When these traits combine with real world struggles at school or at home as well as bouts of severe anxiety and depression, it’s not hard to see how someone could quickly transform from a troubled teen into a mass shooter.

But Congress isn’t concerned with addressing the mental health crisis in our schools or the power that Big Tech has over the wellbeing of our youth. They’re far more interested in chipping away at the Second Amendment with each new “sensible” gun control “compromise” following a major mass shooting. They want to appease the rabid gun control lobby, but more than that they want to appear as if they’re actually doing something to address the crisis without actually having to put in the hard work of governing a nation or tackling truly complex problems. It’s easy to blame a gun and put restrictions on it, especially if it gets you applause from the mainstream media, but it’s immeasurably more difficult to find solutions to the root cause of these tragedies — the devastating effect social media is having on young people.

It’ll never happen, but a truly conscientious government would take steps to limit young people’s access to the darker sides of smartphones and social media. Congress or a regulatory agency could require Big Tech companies to fix their algorithms so that they don’t deliberately promote the most divisive content. Or we could ban people from buying smartphones until they’re 18 or 21 — when their brains are a little more developed.

There is no magic cure that will stop these horrific events from happening, but it is clear that the interconnectivity that social media promised has decisively, and all too often violently, backfired.

These innovations have revolutionized our world and made untold riches for the companies that developed them, but the fact still remains that smartphones and social media are killing America’s kids — mentally and physically.

Hayden Daniel is the opinion editor at the Daily Caller.