As a consequence, it is difficult to conclude that strict liabilities for gun owners (a la LaFollette) represent and appropriate and reasoned response. "Gun ownership fails to clearly possess any of the three characteristics of ultra-hazardous activities." It fails to be an activity that is not commonly done, that necessarily involves a risk of serious harm, and that cannot be made safe even with extreme care (Hunt, 2001: p. 41-42). (Stell, 2004: p. 45).
Further, the U.S. National Safety Council has almost 100 years of data on fatal firearms accidents. Despite popular conception that fatal accidents have been increasing and particularly threaten children's lives, the data shows that fatal accidents have been declining since the 1930s, and at an accelerating rate in the last decade -- declining 40% in those ten years (Stell, 2001: p. 30). Undermining the claim that increased gun ownership results in higher crime rates, Moorhouse and Wanner (2006) analyzed:
30 different facets of state guns laws, enforcement effort, and the stringency of local gun ordinances [...] Using a vector of demographic, economic, and law enforcement variables, the empirical analysis presented here provides no support for the contention that gun control reduces crime rates [...] by contrast, the article provides empirical support for the idea that high crime rates generate political support for the adoption of more stringent gun controls. (p. 121)
The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that gun ownership is not nearly as dangerous or necessarily as unsafe as we might first assume. Also, it would seem that the causative correlation between gun ownership and crime rates does not move in the direction assumed by gun control advocates. Rather, calls for legislation on gun control is more often the result of higher crime rates instead of the answer to them.
How then, can we understand the arguments for gun control, if the evidence does not seem to support it? First, Hunt (2001) suggests that the argument for strict gun control is based in part on the moral repugnance towards the use of violence. Since guns are designed with violence as their ultimate aim, it stands that guns should be viewed as morally repugnant. However, such a position necessitates divorcing the violence employed from the context in which it is used, self-defense being the most obvious justifying context (p. 44). We are forced to accept that society cannot provide equal protection to all, nor should it.
Because some members of society are inherently weaker or are of less interest to society as a whole, the cost of preying on these individuals is less than it might be for others. For instance, the extreme poor represent an underprivileged class in the United States who do not have access to the same kinds of social protections available to the very rich. Consquently, they can be attractive targets for assault. The right to own a gun can act as an equalizer for these individuals, increasing the cost of an attack and enhancing their ability to protect themselves and their own lives (Stell, 2001: p. 31). Logically, prohibitory gun laws undermine the nation's capacity to respect the right of the individual to protect him/herself and said individual's property, livelihood, family, ...
Additionally, we might consider the political aspect of gun control advocating. If we accept that evidence for the gun control as the cause of high crime rates is weak at best and that calls for legislation are the result of high crime instead of the solution to it, then we must consider the political aspects of regulation. On one level, it is a "political football" that politicians can use to avoid the complexity of the crime. Rather than confront law enforcement factors or socioeconomic conditions, politicians can simply point to guns as the cause. Wheeler (2001) argues that the fundamental reason that crime rates are so much higher in the U.S. than other modern nations has little to do with gun laws, but instead wider disparities in poverty and wealth. Greater disparities exist in the U.S. than other nations, with most of the usual violence occurring in the lower socioeconomic groups. For example, five percent of the population possesses +60% of the wealth while the bottom 40% must divide up only 0.5% of the wealth. But because the U.S. also has higher than average civilian gun ownership rates than other nations, politicians seize on this and "propose to pass laws to reduce gun ownership and thus reduce violence: if the underclass if violently unhappy about its lack of economic power, what we should do is make its available weapons illegal" (p. 20).
Some Conclusions about Gun Control
In the final analysis, then, we are forced to decide whether or not the U.S. Second Amendment suggests an individual or collective right. As Amar (2002) has pointed out, that distinction may have utterly missed the point of the original argument, language, and intent of the Constitutional Framers. The question at hand is whether or not the existing evidence, and rhetorical arguments, can justify expanding the government's ability to regulate and legislate the ownership and possession of firearms in the United States. Anecdotal stories of school shootings or NRA-heroism must be set aside in order to rationally examine the issue: "At the macro-level it may well be the case that bad and good cancel each other out. No anecdote-war can settle this" (Stell, 2001: p. 30).
A careful examination of the evidence and arguments of both the pro- and anti-gun control stances suggests that the support for increasing or enhancing gun control regulations is tenuous at best. The empirical evidence simply does not solidly support the claim that increased access to guns will increased accidental or intentional fatalities, nor that gun regulations will diminish crime rates significantly. In fact, as we have already seen, the roots causes of socioeconomic violence are more likely to be found in socioeconomic conditions, rather than in the access to firearms, as some politicos would have us believe. Because guns are an extremely effective means of equalizing dangerous situations, they are especially well suited to defensive situations and, indeed, in some cases may be the only viable means by which an individual can protect him or herself. Wheeler (2001) explains, "Arguably, the right not to be unjustly assaulted qualifies as a 'human right'" (p. 19).
Guns provide the means by which individuals can resist such unjust assaults both from the private and the public sector. The former includes individual attacks, acts of violence, and other expected situations in which a gun might be the only viable tool of self-defense. In the latter case, the right to individual gun ownership can act as a deterrent for an unjust or oppressive government, by raising the cost of that oppression. Consequently, in lieu of actual evidence of the social harm represented by guns, the only rational response in the gun control debate is to admit that open -- if regulated -- access to firearms represents a viable means for individuals to protect themselves from abusive assaults and oppression and should be preserved as an individual right.
Amar, a.R. (2002, Spring). Second thoughts. Law and Contemporary Problems, 65(2), pp. 103-111.
Hunt, L.H. (2001, Winter/Spring). Epilogue: is there an issue here? Criminal Justice Ethics, pp. 40-44.
Kwon, I. And Baack, D.W. (2005, April). The effectiveness of legislation controlling gun usage. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 64(2), pp. 533-547.
LaFollette, H. (2001b, Winter/Spring). Controlling guns. Criminal Justice Ethics, pp. 34-39.
Moorhouse, J.C. And Wanner, B. (2006, Winter). Does gun control reduce crime or does crime increase gun control? Cato Journal, 26(1), pp. 103-124.
Stark, C. (2001, Winter/Spring). Fundamental rights and the right to bear arms. Criminal Justice Ethics, pp. 25-27.
Stell, L.K. (2001, Winter/Spring). Gun control and the regulation of fundamental rights. Criminal…
(Stell, 2004: p. 45).
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