English Composition II
13 April 1995
Thesis Statement: Society benefits from firearms in the hands of responsible citizens. Attempts to keep firearms away from these citizens do more harm than good.
Gun control is not one issue, but many. To some people gun control is a crime issue, to others it is a rights issue. Gun control is a safety issue, an education issue, a racial issue, and a political issue, among others. Within each of these issues there are those who want more gun control legislation and those who want less. On both sides of this issue opinions range from moderate to extreme.
Guns are not for everyone. Certain individuals cannot handle a firearm safely, and some individuals choose to use firearms inappropriately. Our society has passed laws regulating the ownership and use of firearms, and more legislation is being considered. Most of this legislation restricts, to some degree, the rights of individuals to possess or use firearms. Some restrictions may be necessary, but some recent legislation has gone too far. Society benefits from firearms in the hands of responsible citizens. Attempts to keep firearms away from these citizens do more harm than good.
To begin with, a definition of a "responsible citizen" is in order. The definition used in this paper was provided by Steve Rusiecki, a local police officer. When asked what makes someone a responsible citizen in regard to firearms ownership, Mr. Rusiecki replied, "The citizen must be law-abiding, with no felony record, must not abuse alcohol or drugs, must not be mentally ill, must not have renounced U.S. citizenship, must not have been dishonorably discharged from the military, and must be in the U.S. legally" (10). This definition combines elements from the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, and Arizona's concealed carry law.
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states: "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." The Founding Fathers included this in our Bill of Rights because they feared the Federal Government might oppress the population if the people did not have the means to defend themselves as a nation and as individuals (Halbrook 65-84). This idea was not new. The Founding Fathers' thoughts on the right to keep and bear arms were influenced by Aristotle, Cicero, John Locke, and Algernon Sidney (7).
The militia referred to cannot be construed as meaning the Army or National Guard, in the words of Samuel Adams: "The Militia is composed of free citizens" (qtd. in Halbrook 62). Additionally, George Mason considered a "well regulated Militia" to be one "composed of . . . Gentlemen, Freeholders, and other Freemen" (qtd. in Halbrook 61). The Revolutionary War was won with the help of "An armed populace composed of partisans, militias, independent companies, and the continental army . . ." (63). It is obvious from this that the Founding Fathers thought that society benefited from firearms in the hands of the people.
Many years later we began placing restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. The first restrictions concerned the manner in which citizens could carry arms. In 1850 the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the constitution did not grant the right to carry a concealed weapon; although earlier court cases had ruled that the constitution did protect the right to carry concealed weapons (93-96). Shortly before the Civil War, some southern States passed legislation denying slaves and freed blacks the right to possess firearms. The basis of this legislation was the Dred Scott Decision. They reasoned that since blacks were not considered citizens they did not have the rights of citizens, including the right to keep and bear arms (96-98). The gun control legislation of this era resulted from prejudice against an entire race of people. These laws were in effect until after the Civil War when the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution were ratified. The legislation referred to here must be considered harmful to society.
The rational given for most modern gun control legislation is "Crime Control." The Brady Bill is one example. The Brady Bill is named after James Brady, who was shot by John Hinckley during an assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981. Supporters of the Brady Bill used that incident to gain support for their gun control legislation, claiming it would reduce crime and save lives. The fact is that the background check and waiting period included in the Brady Bill would not have prevented John Hinckley from legally purchasing the handgun used in that incident. Records show that "a police background was run on Hinckley four days before he purchased the revolver he used to shoot President Reagan and Jim Brady. The check showed he had no felony convictions in any jurisdiction. Neither had Hinckley any public record of mental illness" ("Guns" 51).
An even greater shortcoming of the Brady Bill is that it only affects legal transactions. By definition, a criminal is someone who breaks the law. Criminals have many ways to obtain weapons without going through the process mandated by the Brady Bill. Two obvious examples are theft and black market purchases. According to studies "only one firearm of every six used in a crime is obtained legally" (Thomas 277). Since the passage of the Brady Bill, only four felons have been apprehended trying to purchase a firearm (NRA, "Grassfire"). When I asked Steve Rusiecki for a policeman's opinion of the Brady Bill, he replied: "I think it is an emotional attempt at crime reduction rather than one based on legitimate facts" (6). In view of the facts presented, it is obvious that the Brady Bill is not an effective crime prevention tool.
The Brady Bill is not effective in fighting crime, but it does affect crime victims. The five-day waiting period during which the police conduct the background check is also supposed to serve as a "cooling off" period to prevent crimes of passion. Fortunately, this five-day wait is waived in states like Virginia which have an instant background check system in place. The following article is an example of how waiting periods affect crime victims:
Marine Cpl. Rayna Ross of Woodbridge, Virginia, might be dead if a waiting period had been in effect. Instead, the instant check system in place in that state allowed her to defend her life against a former boyfriend three days after she purchased a pistol. The man, a Marine under orders to stay away from Ross because of previous assaults and threats, broke through a door and rushed into her bedroom with a bayonet. Ross fired twice, mortally wounding him. The shooting was ruled to be a case of self-defense ("Armed Citizen").
If the five-day waiting period had been in effect, it is likely that an innocent woman would have been killed. During the debate in Congress over the passage of the Brady Bill, supporters claimed passing the bill would be worth it "if it saved just one life." Surely the bill is not worth it if it costs just one innocent life.
Another example of gun control legislation that affects the wrong people is the "Assault Weapon" ban included in the Crime Bill of 1994. While supporters of the ban claim the firearms banned by this bill are the "weapons of choice" of gangs and drug dealers, the FBI Uniform Crime Reports show this contention is unfounded (Rusiecki 7). However, at Congressional hearings held on March 31of this year, several people testified that they had used guns which are now banned to defend their lives and to prevent crimes ("Survival"). It is fortunate that these citizens had firearms to defend themselves. Society does not benefit from the death or serious injury of innocent citizens.
As mentioned earlier, crime is not the only issue related to firearms ownership. Hunting is a popular sport and, in some parts of the country, an important source of food. On the surface, it might appear that hunting is harmful to wildlife and the environment. The fact is that the opposite is true. Wildlife biologists have found that well managed and regulated hunting programs are beneficial to wildlife. If the wildlife population becomes too large, food becomes scarce and the population starves to death. Wildlife biologists take counts of game animals in a given area and study the habitat to determine the population level it can support. Then they make recommendations to State Game and Fish officials who set hunting seasons and bag limits. Hunting is a tool used by these officials to manage the wildlife under their care ("Arizona" 18).
Non-game wildlife is also protected by hunters, and even by firearms owners who do not hunt. Approximately 77% of the funds used to operate state Fish and Game and other wildlife agencies are derived from the sales of hunting licenses, excise taxes levied on sales of firearms and ammunition, and the sale of federal duck stamps. More than three billion dollars have been raised from these sources and used to protect both game and non-game animals (22). Firearms ownership is clearly beneficial to the environment and a good environment is beneficial to everyone.
Firearms are also used in competitive sports. The Olympic Games include competitions with pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Shooting is also part of the biathlon and has been part of the Olympic pentathlon since 1912 ("Pentathlon"). There are also many competitions throughout the country in bull's eye, bench rest, silhouette, practical pistol, trap and skeet, and other shooting sports. Men, women, older children, and even individuals with certain disabilities can enjoy these sports since shooting does not require much agility or physical strength.
Even without formal competition, shooting can be enjoyed as a hobby. Recreational shooting may involve paper targets, tin cans, or other suitable targets. This hobby can be enjoyed at indoor target ranges, but is usually practiced outdoors. In fact, shooting can often be combined with other enjoyable outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, and sight seeing.
Shooting is a relatively inexpensive activity which the entire family can enjoy. With close supervision, children can be taught to shoot. Learning how to shoot safely means learning about responsibility, and the time spent teaching a child to shoot is quality time. When a child is ready, they may be allowed to shoot with less supervision. When this time comes, the child knows they have earned their parent's trust and they gain a sense of self-confidence. Sharing a hobby like shooting can bring a family closer together, teach children responsibility, and promote trust between parents and children. This is definitely good for society.
Throughout history violence has plagued the human race. Since ancient times the strong have preyed on the weak and the meek. We have passed laws to protect society, but the violence continues. Laws attempt to change human behavior, but laws are not able to change human nature. Laws are not enough to protect people from aggression. We must allow people the means to protect themselves. Protection is a major reason that about half of all Americans own a firearm (Lester 30).
It is a fact that not all people are the same size or possess the same amount of strength. Sometimes people must defend themselves from stronger aggressors, or sometimes from multiple aggressors. This is especially true for women since they are, on average, smaller than men. Also, older people are generally less able physically to defend themselves than young adults are. Everyone deserves to be safe, but not everyone has the physical ability to defend themselves. Firearms are the most effective tools used today for self-defense, but they are only useful if they are available.
Statistics show that people who are attacked by a criminal are safer if they use a weapon to resist their attacker than if they do not resist. In addition, those who resist with a gun are less likely to be injured than those who use a less effective weapon, such as a knife (Quigley 14). Resisting crime with a gun does not always mean shooting the criminal. Statistics show that in true life instances of self-defense with firearms, firing the gun was necessary only one third to one half of the time (13), the rest of the time the mere presence of a gun was enough to scare away the attacker.
Guns are an effective deterrent to crime. A study involving convicted felons showed that nearly 40 percent of them had decided against committing a specific crime because they suspected their intended victim might be armed (14). In 1966 the Police Department in Orlando, Florida, offered a well-publicized self-defense shooting program to women. As a result, the rate of rape in that city decreased from thirty-six per year to only four. This was accomplished without any of the women shooting anyone or even pulling a gun on anyone. The publicity alone was enough to discourage potential rapists (15-17). Rape and other violent crimes should not be tolerated in any society. It has been shown that firearms are a deterrent to these crimes; therefore, firearms are beneficial to society.
The Brady Bill and the "Assault Weapon" ban in last year's Crime Bill are examples of bad legislation, but some good firearms-related legislation was also passed last year. The Arizona Legislature recognized the benefits of firearms to our society and passed a law which enables many Arizona residents to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. There are restrictions in place to ensure that only responsible citizens are issued a permit. These restrictions cover age, criminal record, and mental competency. Applicants for this permit must pass a sixteen-hour training course. In addition, the applicant must send a copy of their fingerprints to the Department of Public Safety to be used to help them conduct a background check (Korwin 150-151).
It is too early to determine the effectiveness of Arizona's Concealed Carry Law, but statistics show that a similar law passed in Florida in 1987 has been effective in reducing crime. Between 1987 and 1992 murders involving handguns decreased 29 percent (Francis). According to the National Rifle Association, the homicide rate is 31% lower, and robbery rate is 36% lower in states with "favorable carry laws" compared to states with "restrictive concealed carry laws" (NRA, "Fact Card"). Some people may fear that citizens with concealed weapons are more likely to commit crimes, but statistics show that only .007% of the concealed weapon permits issued in the state of Florida have had to be revoked because of a crime committed by the permit holder (NRA, "Fact Card"). Laws that reduce violent crime are good for society, and concealed carry laws have been shown to reduce violent crime.
The Founding Fathers of our country won our freedom with firearms. After we won our independence the Founding Fathers included the right to keep and bear arms in the Constitution to ensure that the freedom they fought for would last. Throughout the history of this country firearms have been used to defend that freedom from both foreign aggressors and from violent criminal aggressors. Americans own and use firearms for many reasons, such as; hunting, organized sports competitions, informal recreational uses, and for protection. Some legislation has been passed recently which restricts our firearms rights, and the shortcomings of these laws have been exposed. Fortunately, there has also been good legislation passed, like Arizona's Concealed Carry Law, which give residents of this state a better chance to defend themselves against violent crime.
I recognize that criminals have misused firearms, often with tragic results, but I must point out that a few individuals committed those crimes. We should punish the individuals who commit these crimes, and we should imprison those who pose a threat to society so that they do not have the opportunity to cause harm. Punishing law-abiding citizens by passing restrictive gun laws is wrong. Guns are not the cause of this country's crime problem. Criminals are. Effective crime control legislation must control criminals, not guns. Effective crime control legislation should provide more prisons to lock up these criminals, and more police officers to deter crime and capture criminals. Effective crime control legislation should give the law-abiding citizens of our country the means to defend themselves. It should not restrict the rights of responsible citizens to own or carry firearms. The best way to ensure good legislation is to elect good legislators, I believe this is what happened last November 8.
Firearms can be dangerous in the wrong hands, that is why I believe firearms training is important. The best training consists of parents passing on our firearms heritage, respect for people and property, and some common sense safety rules to their children. For many people this training will be enough. Formal firearms training courses, like Hunter Safety Courses and the course required to obtain a concealed carry permit, are also very useful. These courses reinforce the basic safety rules that everyone who handles firearms should know. They also teach the legal requirements specific to hunting or self-defense, depending on the course.
Society does benefit from firearms in the hands of responsible citizens. It is our responsibility to use them properly and safely.
Arizona Hunter Education Manual. Seattle: Outdoor Empire Publishing, Inc., 1993.
"Armed Citizen." American Rifleman October 1993: 8.
Francis, Samuel. "The Truth and Tripe About Concealed Weapon Carry Laws." The Mohave Valley Daily News. 16 March 1995: A4.
"Guns, Bias and the Evening News." American Rifleman January/February 1995: 50-51.
Halbrook, Stephen. That Every Man be Armed. Albuquerque: University Of New Mexico Press, 1984.
Korwin, Alan. The Arizona Gun Owner's Guide. Phoenix: Bloomfield Press, 1994.
Lester, David. Gun Control Issues and Answers. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1984.
NRA Institute for Legislative Action. "NRA Firearms Fact Card - 1995." Computer file downloaded from GUN-TALK BBS.
---. "NRA Grassfire!." Vol. 1, No. 4. April 1995: Computer file downloaded from GUN-TALK BBS .
"Pentathlon." Microsoft Bookshelf '94. Computer Software. CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1994. IBM PC.
Quigley, Paxton. Armed & Female. New York: St. Martins, 1989.
Rusiecki, Steve. Personal interview conducted 4 March 1995. 26 questions.
"Survival of the Armed: Hearing Reviews Gun Laws." The Arizona Republic April 1, 1995: A4.
Thomas, Andrew Peyton. Crime and the Sacking of America: The Roots of Chaos. Washington: Brassey's, 1994.
[ Up ][ Gun Control Essay ][ Handgun Ballistics Table ][ Reloading Data ][ The Brady Bill of Rights ]
Argument Against Gun Control Essay
The United States Constitution was constructed from a set of rules, also known as amendments, which were written with the great intention of securing the basic rights of all United States citizens and as such, it serves as an outline for the laws of the land by dictating the powers of the people and what is acceptable under the watch of the United States government. These rights are considered a privilege afforded to the people and should be exercised as indicated within the document.
The history behind the induction of the second amendment began in the nineteenth century when in the summer of 1787, the Framers (included US Presidents) conspired with one another to write the articles of the United States Constitution during the constitutional convention. Fifty-five men drafted this document which serves as the blueprint of the United States government today. The motivation to construct and devise such a plan was created in order to give American citizens the absolute rights to proper enjoyment over their own lives. This point is further illustrated in an article written by Max Farrand entitled “The Framing of the Constitution of the United States”. In it, Farrand starts off his book by stating “Thirteen British colonies had asserted and established their independence because they declared the form of government under which they had been living was destructive of their “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (Farrand, 1913, p. 1) Therefore, the notion of freedom as a nation is detailed within an absolute vital document written over 200 years ago and which is very much closely followed today.
One right in particular is the right to own and operate a firearm. For instance, the second amendment gives us the right to bear arms and states verbatim, “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.” (U.S. Constitution) Due to the terms agreed upon by our forefathers, we have the right to protect ourselves and our families by use of a firearm against threat which can endanger a life. Firearms are responsible for more than 31,000 deaths and an estimated 74,000 nonfatal injuries among US residents each year, most of which are violence related. (Siegel, Ross & King, 2013, p. 1)
Over the past several decades, there has been much debate over whether the use of firearms have been within the standards of the written law due to countless tragedies which have been tied to the use of handguns. Many believe that these occurrences could have been prevented if the United States government had revisited and imposed additional restrictions on the nations gun bearing population by way of recommending effective ways to combat gun use and introduce innovative approaches towards the severity of gun activity.
With that being said, it remains transparent that gun control is an issue which has had a vast negative effect on our society as a whole and as a result, an evaluation of the second amendment should be conducted and the meaning for the right of the people to keep and bear arms must be reassessed to benefit all.
Legislation and the United States Supreme court system have been in debate for quite some time over the issue of gun control. There have been various loopholes and laws being challenged by groups which are both against and for the use of firearms. Whether the second amendment has been taken out of context is a topic of discussion with has had little resolution. By far, the hope will always be to find common ground in this meeting of the minds so that as a nation, we no longer have to live through the battles of gun violence and hear about the effect it has on innocent bystanders. “Ordinary forms of gun control such as licensing laws, bans on concealed carry, and prohibitions on particular types of weapons are, by contrast, attempts to regulate the right rather than eliminate it and are routinely upheld. So long as a gun control measure is not a total ban on the right to bear arms, the courts will consider it a mere regulation of the night.” (Winkler, 2007, p. 717)
Consequently, the government must take greater responsibility to control who is given access to firearms due to public safety measures, prevention of violent crimes and misuse.
Before delving into these touchy subjects, there are six ethical points to touch upon with relation to gun control which is of importance since the debate is on each end of the issue. It is fair to accept that there will always be opposing sides with respect to gun control and groups who will depict the pros and cons of the second amendment, therefore, it is important to know the difference between all parties involved. However, it is equally important that privileges are not being abused or mismanaged rather used for the greater good.
First and foremost, libertarianism and fundamental rights are two sets of individual groups who are all for the use of firearms. These groups believe in the second amendment and the ability to protect oneself as well as the rights of loved ones against imposed threat. To further illustrate, the attitude of someone who is pro-gun is detailed in the article, “An ethical analysis of the 2nd amendment: The right to pack heat at work”, as it states “the contention is that criminals will more carefully think about committing crimes if they know that potential victims might be armed.” (Martin, 2014, p. 10) In addition, these groups concern themselves with protecting their assets and strongly believe that state law and the second amendment defend their right to do so. With that being said, there is statistical evidence which supports the idea that firearms are in the best interest of the people and that a trend in possession of firearms is equal to less crime. In Kates and Moody, “Testing the more guns equals more murder thesis”, “The homicide rate for 2010 was roughly 32% lower than the rate in 1946. And year by year in the 2000’s, American murder rates remained nearly the same or dropped—notwithstanding that each of these years saw the addition of four to five million new guns to the total gunstock.” (Kates & Moody, 2011, p. 1446)
Gun Control Research Paper
The creation of the Bill of Rights in 1791 sparked the beginning of the gun control debate. There are essentially two sides of history centered around this debate; one side argues for gun rights and the other side argues for gun control. “Gun rights” refers to the right to keep and bear arms, whereas “gun control” refers to the policies and laws that are enacted to regulate the manufacture, sale, possession, and use of firearms. America owns more guns than any other nation, therefore it is not surprising that America has the highest death rate due to gun violence in the world (Horsley, "Guns In America, By The Numbers."). This alarming fact supports the idea that stricter laws need to be enacted in the United States. This ongoing conflict is deeply rooted in American history, and endless speculation has proved this conflict to be of interest for all U.S. citizens.. However, the turmoil created by both views is unlikely to cease in the near future.
The danger that comes with guns demonstrates that stricter gun laws need to be enacted in the United States. This paper will explore the alternative interpretations of the Second Amendment and its role in American history. Next, the reality of homicide as it relates to gun control will be considered. Finally, the positive and negative effects of gun-control policies will be scrutinized. The recent shootings at Newtown, CT and Orlando, FL have indicated the urgent need for stricter regulation that will make it more difficult for citizens to possess a firearm.
In December of 1971, the Bill of Rights in the Constitution announced the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment states, “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.” The aspect of this amendment that needs to be emphasized is ‘well regulated.’ These two words give modern day politics a context for which it was written. It is important to realize that different time periods mean different political atmospheres. In the eighteenth century, the Founding Father’s fear was a large federal government. The idea of a union of sovereign states was new and potentially dangerous. Though the fear of state militias was relevant in the eighteenth century, this fear is unnecessary today. The mention of a militia suggests a military force from a civil population. This clarifies that the Second Amendment is predicated on groups, not individuals. The reason this amendment centers on groups is because at this point in history, the threat of a standing army was extremely prevalent. The notion of a militia points to a citizen’s army of self-defense that was under governmental authority. Shay’s Rebellion exemplifies what a militia was intended to be used for. Shay’s Rebellion was a 1786-1787 uprising in Western Massachusetts that occurred prior to the construction of the Constitution. This rebellion, however, would not have enjoyed constitutional protection. The Framers would have most likely viewed this as an armed mob, which as mentioned before, is decided to be very different than a well regulated militia, which would be under constitutional protection. This rebellion also demonstrated the danger guns and armed groups acting without governmental authority could pose. Therefore, the Framers decided it was necessary to differentiate between an armed mob and a militia. In the Founder’s view, if you do not have regulation, you have anarchy. Only second to tyranny, anarchy was the reality they feared most. The contemporary understanding has become radically different. Allowing this prevalence of weapons and guns to go unregulated has lead to a gun violence epidemic that has spread from cities such as Boston, MA; New York, NY; and Orlando, FL. Overall, every right is apt to reasonable regulation, including gun rights. (Cornell, “The Second Amendment Permits Reasonable Regulations on Gun Ownership.”)
The Second Amendment is a strong justification for gun control advocates. However, the opposing argument of gun rights has also used the Second Amendment as a reason for unregulated gun ownership. Gun rights proponents view gun control policies as an attack on the Second Amendment.
Supreme Court decisions such as the case of Printz vs U.S. support the view that citizens have a fundamental right to own firearms for the purpose of self defense against violence or tyranny. This court decision centered around the Brady Handgun Prevention Act, or the Brady Bill. The Brady Bill was passed in 1993 and required local chief law enforcement officers to perform background checks. These background checks were to be performed in prospective handgun purchasers, until the Attorney General establishes a federal system for this purpose. County Sheriff Printz challenged whether this bill was constitutional on behalf of the local chief law enforcement officers in Montana and Arizona. Using the Necessary and Proper Clause of Article 1 of the Constitution, Congress tried to enact this form of regulation. The District Court found this bill to be unconstitutional, therefore strengthening the gun rights argument. The Court argued that state legislatures are not subject to federal direction, capitalizing on the fact that the Brady Bill could not require local chief law enforcement officers to perform these tasks. Background checks typically involve a look into a person’s employment, credit, and criminal history for security reasons. Therefore, state legislatures did not have to enforce these checks and citizens could own firearms as a right. (“Printz v. United States.”)
According to Scott Vogel, author of A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control of America, modern gun rights ideology seems to be rooted in two main arguments. The first is that gun ownership is a God-given right. Gun rights activists believe that owning a firearm is a right that each individual can exercise, according to his or her own conscience. This enforces the statement that people are the problems, not guns. Again, no regulation exemplifies anarchy, or “a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.” The second most common justification of gun rights is self defense. This can be traced back to slavery in American history. In the early stages of our country, judges in the South thought that every white man should have a gun because they were in constant fear of a slave insurrection. (Cornell, “The Second Amendment Permits Reasonable Regulations on Gun Ownership.”)
While the Second Amendment can help determine the prevalence of guns in our society, the actual results of the United State’s lack of regulation can be seen in all corners of our country. From horrifying mass shootings to suicide, guns only encourage homicidal behavior and violence. Therefore, we must now explore the arguments centered around gun violence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in 2011, approximately 30,000 people die each year through homicides, suicides, and accidents in the United States at the hand of a gun. Moreover, almost a third of gun deaths are the result of suicide. (Lanza et al., “The Effect of Firearm Restrictions on gun-related homicides across US States.”) As previously stated, advocates for gun rights argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. However, this has been refuted. On December 14th, 2012, hours before the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, a deranged Chinese man walked into an elementary school and indiscriminately attacked everyone around him, hitting 22 children using a knife. The use of a knife is significant because if a gun would have been used, the children in the school could have been killed and not just injured. Effective gun control laws in China prevented this man from obtaining a gun. Undoubtedly, a gun would have inflicted much more damage. Ultimately, this event demonstrates that guns can make killings easier. Sociologist Ding Xueliang told CNN, “The huge difference between this case and the U.S. is not the suspect, nor the situation, but the simple fact he did not have an effective weapon.” The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership, with 88.8 guns per 100 people. Therefore is it unsurprising that in 2011, handguns killed 10,728 people in the U.S., compared to 52 people in Canada, 48 in Japan, 34 in Switzerland, and 8 in Great Britain. The U.S. has been noted to be one of the most lax countries in the industrialized world when it comes to gun control. (Griesmann, “Guns Do Kill People.”)
The year of 1968 was also an important year for gun control. The Gun Control Act was fueled by the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. The Gun Control Act meant stricter regulations; license requirements were expanded to include all dealers and a more detailed record keeping was expected of them. This act essentially defined those who were banned from possessing firearms. Handgun sales were restricted over state lines; the list of people who could not buy guns included those convicted of felonies(with exceptions), those found mentally ill, drug users, and more. Rifles and shotgun sales through the mail were also forbidden. The lack of security of mail order sales prior to this act is surprising. Previous to when this act was passed, consumers only had to sign a statement that they were over twenty-one years of age for a handgun. This act clearly supports the gun control movement by adding necessary restrictions on the sale of handguns and rifles. (Gettings, “Milestones in Federal Gun Control Legislation.”)
A key mass shooting that upholds the need for stricter gun laws to be enacted in the U.S. is the Orlando nightclub shooting in June of 2016. Fifty people were murdered and dozens more were left wounded. This traumatic event has been by far the deadliest in the past thirty-four years. As America grapples with this reality, we again ask ourselves what can be done to prevent these events. It goes without saying, but the Harvard Injury Control Research Center has confirmed the direct correlation between the number of guns and homicides. While the relationship between the number of guns and homicide is undeniable, gun rights supporters point out that correlation does not equal causation. For example, the reason for fewer homicides in certain states could be linked to the number of guns present in that state. The number of guns present in that state could be linked to the amount of people advocating for gun rights, which could be linked to the number of gun owners in that state. Therefore, the gun rights advocates argue that the relationship between gun control and violent crime is not as simple as gun control supporters say it is. (Ehrenfreund, “Orlando Shooting.”)
The National Rifle Association is of course a major gun rights group. The NRA’s president Wayne LaPierre insisted, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This statement reinforces the justification of self-defense for ownership. Ultimately, the NRA argues that guns cannot be blamed for the final decision. The rights of one individual should not be hindered by another’s intent to cause harm on him/herself. (Lanza et al., “The Effect of Firearm Restrictions on Gun-related Homicides across U.S. States.”)
Finally, we must take a look at the past and present gun regulation policies in the United States. It is important to note that the goal of the following policies is not to impose on certain rights, but to simply reduce gun violence. The three most critical gun control policies put forth are universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and a ban on certain assault weapons.
Background checks, like all other gun control policies, have always been controversial. A background check includes looking up criminal, commercial, and financial records of a person or organization. Gun control advocates argue on behalf of safety. Background checks do not only include the history of a buyer, but also at a person’s mental health. About 80% of the general public blames the mental illness of the shooter. This demonstrates the importance of background checks; if a mentally unstable person possesses a gun, the likelihood of a mass shooting only grows. This consensus has led to demands for tighter restrictions on the mentally ill for purchasing a firearm. Another case in which background checks are necessary is a person’s substance abuse record. Alcohol and drug abuse influence a person’s behavior greatly. Alcohol abuse is twice as strong of a predictor of violence as mental illness, whereas drug abuse increases likelihood of violence to three times as likely. These dramatic increases in chance indicate that background checks have the potential to prevent guns falling into the hands of those who should not be in possession of a lethal weapon. (Lindgren, “Forward: That Past and Future of Guns.”)
Another policy that has also been controversial is a ban on high-capacity magazines. A high-capacity magazine is a storage and feeding device that holds more than a certain number of rounds of ammunition. In several decades in the future, when this policy has decreased the circulation of high-capacity magazines, there is a strong potential for a decrease in mass murders. Among gun control advocates, a ban on high-capacity magazines is favored because this can reduce the number of shots available in the case of a mass shooting, therefore possible gun deaths. For example, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance that would forbid city residents from possessing handgun or rifle magazines that exceed 10 rounds of ammunition. This indicates the logic that most gun control advocates follow; more than 10 rounds of ammunition is unnecessary in self-defense. (Kopel, “The Costs and Consequences of Gun Control.”)
The last focal policy in favor of gun control is a ban on assault weapons. Simply put, this ban restricts the ability to use certain types of firearms which are perceived to be a particular threat to public safety. The purpose of gun regulation is not just about safe storage and the misuse of firearms, but also about actually controlling what weapons are in circulation. (Cornell, “The Second Amendment Permits Reasonable Regulations on Gun Ownership.”)
As far as assault weapon bans are concerned, this policy was actually enacted as a law. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act became a law in 1994, which was a step forward for gun control advocates. This law banned the manufacture, possession, use, and import of nineteen types of assault weapons, including AK-47’s and Uzis. However, this law expired in 2004. Bernie Sanders, an advocate for the ban of assault weapons, argued, “No one needs an AK-47 to hunt.” An assault rifle is not needed for recreational sports or hunting, therefore the use of this rifle is unnecessary to our day-to-day lives. In order to keep firearms such as an AK-47 out of the hands of everyday citizens, new and tighter policies need to be enacted. (Griesmann, “Guns Do Kill People.”)
While the positive effects of these main three policies are evident, opposition in America is nonstop. Conversely, the opposing side sees these policies as overreach. For instance, background checks are opposed by gun rights proponents because the black market would grow. Under the active National Instant Criminal Background Check System, persons who are in the business of selling firearms must perform a criminal background check prior to any sale. Even if the actual sale is prohibited, the transfer of the gun cannot be regulated. Consider a twenty-five year old man or woman who buys a gun, he or she could give the gun to her brother when she is out of town or to a neighbor for protection. Background checks would be ineffective in such cases. (Kopel, “The Costs and Consequences of Gun Control.”)
A ban on high-capacity magazines means that the part of the firearm where the ammunition is stored would be limited to a certain number of rounds. In 1994, the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act was predicated on the idea that using firearms for recreational use is legitimate. However this act also states that other firearm use is not legitimate. Because this act does not specify limits on ammunition, other measure have been necessary. The term itself, “high-capacity magazine” has a legitimate meaning when referring to a magazine that extends beyond what is intended for the gun’s optimal operation. An example of a high-capacity magazine would be a handgun magazine that has 40 rounds. As opposed to gun control logic, gun rights advocates argue that 10 rounds of ammunition would not be sufficient in cases of self-defense. For example, if a victim is facing multiple attackers or faced with a threat behind a cover, the extra rounds can be crucial for the victim to survive. (Kopel, “The Costs and Consequences of Gun Control.”)
Gun rights proponents argue that a ban on assault weapons would also be an invasion of rights, because if a military invasion occurred, assault weapons would be citizen’s last line of defense. To gun rights advocates, banning assault weapons would make individuals powerless against a greater threat. The gun rights perspective believes that the term “assault weapons” is a political gimmick intended to stir public confusion. The confusion surrounding this policy concerns what type of guns can actually qualify as assault weapons. The types of guns that are banned are constantly being modified over time, but what remains consistent is that automatic firearms are not covered and that guns are not banned based on how fast they fire or how powerful they are. The definition of what weapons are banned are instead based on the name of a gun, or on whether a firearm has certain accessories or components. Most of the guns deemed assault weapons are semi-automatics. Gun rights supporters argue that this is not legitimate because the guns used in the ban are semi-automatics, which are less dangerous than automatic firearms. (Kopel, “The Costs and Consequences of Gun Control.”)
No one can doubt that guns are a large part of American culture. However, the question is whether a part of our culture should cost so many innocent lives. Every U.S. community has been affected by the reckless use of firearms, in the form of accidents, suicides, and homicides. Guns can be used as tools and for recreation, but are also potentially lethal. For a majority of rural America, guns are a part of day-to-day life. Though drastically different, the Republican and Democratic parties are equally American. However, both sides fail to realize that gun regulation is also equally American as gun ownership.Through examining both interpretations of the Second Amendment, assessing the relationship between violence and guns, and exploring two perspectives on gun control policies, it has become clear that gun regulation can serve the common good, rather than gun rights. The nature of gun-related crimes makes absolute prevention impossible, but that does not mean that policies that can decrease violence should be ignored. The bottom line is that guns affect everyone in some way; guns can be a weapon of self-defense in the right hands, but an instrument of destruction in the wrong hands. The ultimate goal is to find that middle ground in reaching the final goal of reducing gun violence. Though deeply rooted in American history, it is safe to say that this debate is long from over.