Gun Control in the United States:
A persuasive argument in favor of gun control
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 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." This brief statement has proven to be one of the most controversial sentences ever codified into law, perhaps because the situation which inspired it has changed so much. "When the Constitution was debated, many Americans were afraid that the new national government would be able to crush the 13 state militias, made up of citizen soldiers with their guns at home. That fear led directly to the Second Amendment," according to NYU Law Professor Michael Waldman (Brody, "Decoding the gun debate"). The Second Amendment was passed to effectively protect state's rights. Today we live in a nation where the federal government has accepted dominance over state militias. Yet the Second Amendment is used by opponents of gun control to oppose even the most reasonable regulations placed upon the purchase, storage, and use of firearms. This paper will argue that there is a demonstrated need for some sort of restriction upon the unfettered sale of guns in the United States and gun control legislation is not a violation of the Second Amendment. Universal background checks and required gun safety classes should be required in all fifty states, of all gun owners.
True, gun control is not a panacea for all violence. But some precautions are clearly needed given the consistently high rates of gun violence in America, particularly compared with other nations in which firearms are more tightly regulated. Guns are pervasive in the United States: over 40% of all U.S. homes have guns of some kind. It should be noted that the number of gun owners is something of a decline: in the past more than 50% of all households owned guns. But "the overall number of guns has increased to about one gun per person, up from one gun for every two persons in the 1960s. This means that gun ownership has gotten much more concentrated among fewer households: if you own one gun, you probably own several" (Stray 1). In many areas of the country the 'gun culture' has grown stronger, not weaker (Stray 1). The United States continues to have the highest rate of gun ownership in the general population than any other nation in the world "by a wide margin" (Stray 1).
Rather than serving a purely protective function, a number of statistics suggest that the presence of handguns in the home actually inhibit rather than enhance personal safety. Statistics indicate that a gun in the household is more likely to be used against its inhabitants, rather than to protect them. In 2012, 259 children died because of improperly-stored firearms, for example and over 8,000 people per year are killed as a result of gun-related homicides ("Background on gun control," 2014). Not only are these figures tragically high, they also compare unfavorably with other Western democracies. "Over 100,000 people are shot each year in the U.S.; 72% of all violent killings use guns as the weapon. Compared to Japan, where gun laws are very strict regarding both ownership and punishment, only 4 people were killed by guns in 2012. Japan has a smaller population, but even counting that, the per capita death rate is 1,000 times higher in the United States" ("Background on gun control," 2014). Japan is a highly urbanized nation, with most of its population concentrated in cities yet it still more effectively contains gun violence.
A number of highly-publicized recent mass shooting has increased the public's concern about gun violence and generated more support for gun control than in the past. Approximately 62 highly-publicized mass shootings occurred in the U.S. from 1982-1962. "Killers used a semi-automatic handgun in 75% of incidents, which is about the same percentage as the 72% in overall gun violence" (Stray 1). However, "killers used an assault weapon in 40% of incidents. This is much higher than overall assault weapon use in crimes, estimated at less than 2%" (Stray 1). Assault weapons are one of the most contentious aspects of gun control as proponents of control note that they seem to serve little apparent sporting purpose. These guns were the subject of a ten-year ban by Congress, but the ban was allowed to expire and there appears to be little support for it being instated: "2012...
Semi-automatic weapons contain a number of military-like features "such as large-capacity magazines and pistol grips" and enable the shooter to fire numerous rounds without reloading, thus making any attack with one of them exponentially more deadly because of the ability to engage in multiple-round shootings (Stray 2). Weapon choice does matter. A study of knife vs. gun violence in the crime-prone city of Chicago found that gun assaults "were five times more deadly. Moreover, the two sets of attacks were similar in all other dimensions: age, sex, race, whether the victim knew the assailant beforehand, and so forth" (Stray 3) A comparison of assaults with small and large caliber guns yielded the finding that "the victim was much more likely to die from larger caliber guns" (Stray 3).
The fact that such a large percentage of the guns in the mass recent shootings were obtained legally -- in 79% of all cases -- underlines the fact that current gun regulations are too lenient (Stray 1). At present, there are two major federal regulations on weapons in the United States. The National Firearms Act of 1934 prohibits ownership of "automatic weapons, short-barreled shotguns, hand grenades, and other powerful arms" and other weapons deemed to have a primarily military purpose while the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits "mail-order sales of weapons, and requires anyone in the business of selling guns to be federally licensed and keep permanent sales records. It also prohibits knowingly selling a gun to those with prior criminal records, minors, individuals with mental health problems, and a few other categories of people" (Stray 1). The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires background checks of individuals purchasing guns but prohibits any of the information obtained to be used in a national gun registry (Stray 2).
Opponents of gun control measures such as background checks claim that reducing the number of guns and prohibiting the sale of certain makes and models of guns would not eliminate violence: for example, the Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza obtained the guns he used from his mother, Nancy Lanza. He was a trained marksman but that was because his mother legally allowed her son to engage in regulated shooting on a firing range. But his mother's unfettered gun ownership and the type of weapons she possessed (semi-automatics) allowed Lanza the capacity to engage in substantially more violence than he would have otherwise. Additionally, a gun safety class would have at least provided the mother of the shooter with some guidelines about securing the weapons against the violent fantasies of her unstable son. Although the shootings at Sandy Hook were unusually well-publicized, it is sobering to reflect that school shootings happen on a very regular basis in the United States: one every ten days. Even after the Sandy Hook shooting, the "a bill requiring universal background checks for firearms purchases" was withdrawn from the Senate because of a lack of votes to pass it (Straw 1). "70% of post-Newtown shootings were carried out by minors, and three-quarters involved guns brought from home" (Straw 1).
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the primary lobbying group claiming to protect Second Amendment rights. It has "worked to change public opinion about what the [Second Amendment] meant. It worked to change what the agencies of government thought" about how to contain gun violence (Brody, "Decoding the gun debate"). It has opposed even the most apparently reasonable restrictions that place no apparent constraint upon legitimate gun ownership at all, such as legislation which would make it a crime to improperly secure firearms. For example, in California, the Firearm Safe and Responsible Access Act "makes it a third-degree misdemeanor to knowingly store a loaded firearm in a place where an unsupervised child is likely to access it -- regardless of whether or not the child actually does. Violators risk a potential $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail" and in Minnesota "a person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor who negligently stores or leaves a loaded firearm in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a child is likely to gain access, unless reasonable action is taken to secure the firearm against access by the child" (Peters 1). Securing…
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