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Gun control is one of the most polarizing issues of our time. Because this is such a controversial subject, it is actually harder to make a coherent case -- others are arguing in circles, twisting facts to suit their agendas, and misusing statistics as a matter of routine. This does not mean that we cannot have a reasonable discussion about the subject of gun control, just that we seldom do. This paper will examine the issue of gun control, what governments hope to achieve with gun control and whether or not gun control actually addresses those issues. The latter component of the argument is important, if often overlooked. It is believed that the evidence will show that most gun control efforts are ultimately not aimed at achieving higher levels of safety, and not surprisingly gun control efforts fail to achieve higher levels of public safety.
There are many different forms of gun control. You can usually spot a gun control effort by the froth coming out of the mouths of local NRA members. In all seriousness, however, gun control can range from erecting barriers to purchasing weapons to outright bans. Moreover, some gun control efforts are sweeping, covering a broad range of guns, while other such efforts are narrow. This is actually one of the problems one runs into in formulating a coherent argument about gun control -- a patchwork of laws and cultures to which those laws are applied makes it difficult to compare across jurisdictions. Some writers seek to make their point by offering up comparative statistics but it is where those comparison fall down. Gerbis (2014) does things like comparing the U.S.S.R. To the U.S., as if the two countries are even remotely comparable. It was spurious enough when Michael Moore compared Canada and the U.S., much less some of the multinational comparables we see. Instead, the best approach to offer before-and-after comparisons in the same jurisdiction, where such data is available.
The biggest reason that people have for owning a gun is fear. Squires (2001) notes that this fear manifests itself in the feeling that one needs to be armed in order to defend oneself against threat. The threat is a rare occurrence in the U.S. What this means is that the threat has become sensationalized, something the media is responsible for but which the gun lobby also foments as well. They have a fairly consistent message that guns are the best way to protect oneself; even if that argument has no statistical basis an American culture raised on images of gun violence on televisions finds it emotionally compelling. Pew Research (2013) notes that "protection" is now the reason for 48% of gun ownership, compared with 26% in 1999. Hunting has dropped dramatically in that time -- people are less likely today to own a gun for a practical purpose than they are to own a gun on the idea that they will Dirty Harry their way out of a problem.
As discouraging as that is, and how strong a case it might seem to make in favor of gun control, this is not necessarily the case. While fear is clearly marketed as a reason to buy a gun, fear of guns is marketed with equal enthusiasm. The media, again, bears blame -- they like guns because guns make news sell. So when there is an accidental shooting, it makes the news, and this fuels fear of firearms to an irrational extent (Lott, 2010). So both sides of the gun control debate rely on fear-based arguments, augmented by whatever statistics they can find that support their claims.
This brings up the question of what the objectives of gun control actually are. We know what the purpose of the NRA's gun lobbying efforts are -- to sell more guns -- but why do government enact gun control? The UK banned handguns in the wake of the Dunblane school shooting (Squires, 2001), indicating that this was a reactive policy based on high public emotion. The debate about Sandy Hook took much the same tone -- new laws were tabled in response to that tragedy, but none of those law would have addressed the fact that the perpetrators mother had purchased those…[continue]
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