Guns kill 34,000 Americans a year, including almost 5,000 young people under the age of 20. At the current rate, guns will be the leading cause of injury-related fatalities in the U.S. by 2003.For many years there has been an ongoing debate over what to do about gun control. Handguns kill between 20 and 25 thousand people every year, and that includes the 15,000 annual suicides as a result of these weapons. The reason so many of these suicides are successful is because of the presence of a gun. (Cochran, 189)
Bad things can happen with guns, but guns can also make it easier for people to defend themselves and prevent bad things from happening. Potential victims use guns more than 2 million times a year to stop violent crimes. Crimes are stopped by defensive gun uses about five times as frequently as crimes are committed with guns. In this paper I will give an overview of the present gun control issues and try to answer the question do stricter gun control laws correlate with less violence in society.
According to the Violence Policy Center (VPC), “the United States has not so much a firearm problem as a handgun problem.” Clarke Cochran, et al, says in his book, American Policymaking: An Introduction, that the FBI data shows that “a handgun used in self-defense is 100 times more likely to kill or injure its owner than it is to stop a potential criminal.” (193).
What are the major policy issues in regard to gun control? Cochran believes that, “the issue is how much a human life is worth against the convenience of a law-abiding gun enthusiast’s unrestricted access to firearms.” (192). James Meko, professor of criminal justice at Gannon University, believes that the major issue here is the constitutional issue versus social issue.
The reason there is such a fight in regard to gun control is because of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which says, “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 purpose of this amendment was to prevent the national Gov’t from disarming the state militias. It does not prevent Congress from regulating the private ownership of firearms. (Cochran, 192).
Many people believe that this amendment gives them the right, as private citizens, to own firearms. Another major issue, according to the VPC, is the fact that “the firearms industry is exempt from basic federal consumer product health and safety regulation. Guns are the only consumer product in America specifically exempt from federal health and safety requirements.”
Every other product that is produced within the United States is subject to many tests by the federal government. When will it be time for firearms to be put through the same scrutiny as the rest of the products? What is the government doing in regard to each issue? Meko feels that there is a lot of talking going on within the government, but not action is being taken. He also stated that there are a lot of laws that are not being enforced. The reason for this is because the political parties alliances with their own causes. The Republicans support the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the Democratic Party is in favor or stricter gun control laws.
Cochran noted that in 1994 the Brady Bill was passed, requiring prospective handgun purchasers to undergo background checks and go through a five-day waiting period. The reason for the background checks is to prevent members of the high-risk group from buying a handgun. The high-risk group is any convicted felons or persons with violent mental illnesses. (193-194).
In a White House Press Release in January, President Clinton declared his plans to fund 500 new ATF agents and inspectors, along with over 1,000 federal, state, and local prosecutors. “The President with continue to all for much-needed reforms to our nation’s gun laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands.” He also said that he was going to ask Congress to: require background checks at gun shows, mandate child safety locks for handguns, ban the importation of large capacity ammunition clips, and ban violent juveniles from owning firearms for life.
What is the explanation of government’s inaction? The response that Meko gave to this was the constitutional right. There are so many people who believe that it is their constitutional right to privately own firearms that they protest any restrictions placed upon them. The main lobbying group is the National Rifle Association (NRA). They are opposed to any kind of legislation that would set guidelines for storing weapons, let alone any legislation that would take away some of their choices as to which firearms they may own.
The VPC made the statement that, “most of the American gun control movement had given up on trying to ban handguns.” They are afraid of being seen as radical. This allows the NRA more space to do their lobbying, and causes an unjust perception of what the people actually believe in. What are the major contemporary challenges to gun control? Cochran states the two biggest arguments for opposition. The first belief is that gun control would not correct the crime problem. The reason for this statement is because guns are not the only deadly weapons.
He explains that, “opponents of gun control hold that if guns were not available, potential perpetrators of crime would simply resort to other means.” Those that support gun control defend their position by stating that, “the possibilities of resistance are much greater in a knife or club attack, and requires physical proximity, than when one is shot from a distance.” (191). Another reason it is believed that gun control will not correct the crime problem is the fact that any criminal who is intent upon committing a crime will find a way to gain access to any firearms they want.
This would cause them to use illegal means and use them. The evidence that shows that most homicides are not premeditated counters this belief. Most homicides are the result of a domestic dispute or a drunken argument. In these cases, gun control would help to prevent them from happening, unless of course the person already owned the firearm.
The second major challenge to gun control is the belief that it would violate the rights of gun owners. No where in the Constitution does it give a person rights to privately own firearms. The reason the Second Amendment was written was because it applied to the state militias, not the private citizen. Anytime that congress wanted to regulate the private ownership of firearms, then they could do so. (Cochran, 191).
The VPC made the statement that, “no gun control law has ever been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on Second Amendment ground.” What are the different solutions proposed? Cochran believes that we should prohibit the handguns that kill people and not ban the rifles. He says, “guns could be distinguished by barrel length and/or melting point, criteria that would distinguish the cheap, small handguns used in much crime from rifles and longer-range handguns occasionally used for hunting.” (192).
With this proposal, then the hunters in our country would still be able to enjoy their sport and you could also limit the amount of handguns that are on the street. Dr. John Lott, Jr., a fellow in law and economics at the University of Chicago School of Law, proposes a few of his own objections to some of the proposals that have been given. He believes that guns can be used to save people, and that the government is ignoring this fact.
Lott tells us that, “waiting periods allow people to cool off before they do something that they regret, but many people many times are being stalked or threatened and waiting periods can make it difficult for them to quickly obtain a gun for defense. The next proposal that he had objections about was the mandatory gunlocks.
He explained that the locks may keep a gun from firing accidentally, but that it also limits the gun’s use in self-defense. The problems he has with the new rules for gun shows are that the, “dealers who sell guns at a show must perform the same background checks and obey all the other rules that they do when they make sales at their stores. Private sales are unregulated whether they occur at a gun show or not.”
How does the government expect to regulate the private sales of firearms? There has been a proposed ban on the possession of a handgun by anyone under the age of 21. The problem that Lott sees with this is that, “people between the ages of 18 and 21 are not generally criminals and they are also included in victims of crime.”
If a person can be trusted with an automobile at the age of 16, then why couldn’t they be trusted with a firearm at the age of 18? The Violence Policy Center feels that there should be a ban on handguns. That “a clear-cut plan to ban handguns should be developed and implemented soon.” Some of the solutions that were mentioned by Meko were the gunlocks and that requirements for carrying and possessing firearms should be established.
What is the most feasible solution and why? The most feasible solution according to Meko is that the only people that should carry weapons are those people who have a genuine need for them, such as law enforcement, with the exception of hunting. This seemed to be the conclusion for the Violence Policy Center, whereas Lott believes that there should not be any restrictions on firearms.
Cochran made the comment, “gun control does not have to ban guns from the entire population.” (193). I believe that there should be guideline set as to what is considered a handgun and what could be considered a long gun (a rifle or shotgun). It should also be decided as to what would be considered as an appropriate firearm to use for hunting.
I do believe that waiting periods are a good thing, regardless of what Lott thinks about them. If a person is being stalked, then there are other measures that they can take besides buying a handgun, such as they could go to the police for a restraining order. Gunlocks or trigger locks should now be made a part of the firearm, no matter whether it is a rifle or a handgun.
I believe that this can help keep children from causing terrible accidents, if they were to stumble upon it. But children should not have access to any types of firearms, unless supervised by their parent or guardian. I believe that the 21-age limit for the possession of a handgun is a bit high. I feel that the age should be 18, because that is the age you are considered an adult at.
By the time a person is 18 years old, I would like to think that they are responsible enough to care for a firearm. I do want to say that I have been around firearms my entire life. I have grown up believing that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and I still believe that now. The only reason I support some aspects of gun control, is because not everyone in this country is responsible enough to have respect for firearms.
It is because of this that I believe we need to do something to protect the rest of the nation. Take, for example, the question of how often guns are used for self-defense. Gun control advocates say firearms are used 108,000 times a year for self-defense. Gun control opponents say the figure is as high as 2.5 million times a year. Whom do you believe?
The 108,000 figure comes from the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, the nation’s most comprehensive survey of victims. But gun control opponents discount the number, arguing that many people who used guns to protect themselves successfully don’t consider themselves victims and thus are not counted by the study.
They prefer the 2.5 million estimate from Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck, who surveyed 5,000 households and examined other studies. Gun control advocates reject Kleck’s conclusions because, they say, his sample size was too small to be accurate. The political climate surrounding guns is so intense that studies have been done of studies that have been done about studies.
Philip Cook, the director of Duke University’s public policy institute, has examined the data behind the 108,000 and the 2.5 million figures and suspects the truth lies somewhere in between. “Many of the basic statistics about guns are in wide disagreement with each other depending on which source you go to,” says Cook, a member of the apolitical National Consortium on Violence Research. “That’s been a real puzzle to people who are trying to understand what’s going on.”
In conclusion I found that the issue of violence and gun control is not as clean cut as I had originally perceived. Yes I do feel that if there were no guns at all we would not have a problem of gun violence in society. The issue of gun control however, is going to be a problem for some time to come. In our somewhat collective state of panic, the only thing we seem able to agree on is that we live in a violent country. We’re so hardwired to violence that we’ll get it anywhere we can: on television, in video games, at the movies, in the sports arena, at a Wal-Mart gun counter. But if anything, the headline-grabbing tragedies have forced people to sift through the various “causes” of violence – from depression to television sets that are never turned off – and finally grasp that there is no quick answer. So where should America start? “Let none of us rest until every American is safe from gun violence,” President Clinton declared. I guess it may be a long time before we sleep.
Gun Control Facts
Thirteen “children” are said to die every day from guns in the United States. Indeed, in 1996, 4,643 people under age 20 died from homicides, suicides, accidents, or other gun related events. What is not explained is that 53 percent involved homicides for 15- to 19-year-olds, and that almost all of these involved gangs fighting over drug turf. As long as these gangs have something valuable to fight over, banning guns is unlikely to stop gangs from obtaining weapons. For children under age 15, a total of 693 died from guns, about 1.9 per day.
Accidental gun deaths, particularly those involving children, are much less frequent than most believe. In 1996, 138 children under 15 years of age died from accidental gun deaths. Yet, with around 80 million people owning around 240 million guns, the vast majority of gun owners must be extremely careful or such gun accidents would be much more frequent. It is hard to think of any other item around the home that is anywhere near as prevalent and anywhere near as potentially dangerous that has as low of an accidental death rate.
Some myths are made to make us needlessly afraid of those around us. Murders are rarely committed in moments of anger by those who are emotionally close to each other. True, 50 percent of murders are done by so-called “acquaintances.” However, what is never explained is that the vast majority of “acquaintance” murders involve rival gang members or drug buyers or sellers or prostitutes and their pimps or johns. 90 percent of adult murderers have an adult criminal record.
Internationally there is no relationship between guns and homicide rates. In the U.S., those states with the highest gun ownership rates have the lowest violent crime rates, and states with the largest increase in gun ownership have had the biggest relative drops in violent crime.
Works Cited Cochran, Clarke E., et al. American Policymaking: An Introduction. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. Lott, John, Jr. Guns Save Lives. 1 March 2000. Online Posting. CBS News. 1 May 2000 . Meko, James. Criminal Justice Professor at Gannon University. personal interview. 1 May 2000. United States. Office of the White House Press Secretary. President Clinton Unveils Largest Ever National Gun Enforcement Initiative. 18 Jan. 2000. 1 May 2000 . Violence Policy Center. Unsafe in Any Hands: Why America Needs to Ban handguns. 2000. 1 May 2000 .