Crime and guns. The two seem to go hand in hand with one another. But are the two really associated? Do guns necessarily lead to crime? And if so do laws placing restrictions on firearm ownership and use stop the crime or protect the citizens? These are the questions many citizens and lawmakers are asking themselves when setting about to create gun control laws. The debate over gun control, however, is nothing new. In 1924, Presidential Candidate, Robert La Follete said, “our choice is not merely to support or oppose gun control but to decide who can own which guns under what conditions.” Clearly this debate still goes on today and is the very reason for the formation of gun control laws.
Guns are extremely powerful weapons. They can cause destruction, harm or even death. They can be used to defend and protect or to threaten and kill. Any way you look at it, guns are powerful tools, not only physically but socially. As college students it is important to stay abreast of the current events and issues circulating our country today, one of which is the controversial issue of gun control. It is extremely important to pay attention to where gun control laws are headed. The directions they take not only affect our nation and society but our future as well as we all move to communities and begin to raise families.
So why is gun control such a hot debate? Perhaps to answer this question it would be important to look at some key statistics concerning handguns in our society. In this nation, where nearly half of all US households own at least one gun, nearly 30,000 people die from a gunshot each year (Dahl). From this alone it is no wonder gun control is such an important issue, however as bad as this may seem, the number of firearm related incidents have decreased over the years. In the early 1990’s the number of people killed or wounded by firearms soared. Since 1993 however the US has seen a steady drop in deaths due to firearm (The Lancet). Fatal firearms accidents have declined as well, nearly 40 percent in the last decade, and are now at the lowest levels ever recorded (Poe). So why the sudden drop? Antigun advocates would like to attribute this to an increase in gun control laws while pro gun advocates point to a decrease in unemployment rates along with other social factors.
The real question here is, do gun control laws work? From the statistics it would appear so. But in order to fully understand the issue it is important to first take a look at the current gun control laws that are now in effect. There are a number of laws both at the federal and the state level restricting the sale, purchase and use of guns. Though they vary from state to state there are some basic federal laws which are in affect nationwide. Some of these include that no person convicted of a crime can own a gun, a person must be 21 or older to purchase a handgun and that “persons who engage in the business of buying or selling firearms must be licensed” (NRA). Perhaps one of the laws having the most profound impact recently was the passing of the 1993 Brady Handgun Control Act which is now in effect in 32 states. This act requires a waiting period for the purchase of a handgun as well as background check system to ensure against the possession of guns by criminals.
The effects of gun control laws have been extensive and far-reaching though they don’t altogether deter people from acquiring a firearm. The Brady Handgun Control Act made it increasingly more difficult and trying process to purchase and own a gun. Gun control advocates say this is not enough, that although firearm related incidents have declined since its enactment tougher laws are needed or more acts of firearm violence will continue to plague the nation. Pro-gun advocates see gun control laws as only a way for the government to control its citizens. The real debate, for both sides, comes down to who should own a gun and under what restrictions should they be able to possess it?
This is an important question to everyone involved in the issue, and extremely important to society as a whole. Guns play a role in everyone’s lives to some degree, whether it be your own personal possession of a hunting rifle or a pistol in the hands of a youth in your neighborhood. We as Americans value our rights to freedoms granted to us by our forefathers, which includes the possession of firearms as stated in the Second Amendment. As citizens we must ask ourselves; do we really want gun control laws which are created to protect us, to take away our basic rights as citizens?
As such an important issue, there is a myriad of groups involved in the debate. It is not simply one of pro-gun/anti-gun but rather is one that transcends the usual pro and con debate to become a national issue on a number of levels and approaches, three in specific, all with different interests and views. These approaches include the political approach the social approach and the criminality approach.
The political approach on gun control deals with the issue of laws and political organizations that surround the debate. The government is where the critical laws are made concerning gun control, which in turn effect the entire country, and therefore is important to look at as a key player in the debate.
There are two major sides or parties in the political realm that are lobbying either for or against gun control. These two would of course be the Democrats and the Republicans, the two dominating parties in the country today. The Republicans have long been supporters of the pro gun movement, largely due to both their conservative nature as well as an increased backing over the years by the National Rifle Association, a powerful force in the pro gun movement. During the 2000 elections the NRA gave 92 percent of its Congressional campaign contributions to the Republicans (Stell), giving the party ample ammo to promote their cause. Democrats are known to be largely for gun control but as public support has waned, in part due to an increase in gun sales after the 9/11 attacks so too has the Democrats enthusiasm to bring up the issue. No doubt both sides seek to win votes by appealing to a specific side of the debate, in this case the Republicans are winning.
Of course one of the main responsibilities of a government is to keep and protect the basic rights of its citizens as well as to make new laws that ensure their safety or well being. This is especially true in the area of gun control. One of the great debates in gun control is to whether or not the Second Amendment truly does grant the freedom of firearm ownership to common citizens. Recently, the stand on the issue held for nearly 70 years that the amendment granted these rights to only militia was challenged by Attorney General John Ashcroft. In his Supreme Court filings in 2002 Ashcroft wrote that “the Second Amendment more broadly protects the rights of individuals…to possess and bear their own firearms.” (Tulmulty) This statement shook the foundation of gun control as well as earning praise from pro gun advocates. Citizens are greatly affected by the laws enacted by the government and it is hoped that they are working in the best interest of its citizens.
The citizens, of course, are the very core of the issue, the social side of the debate. The social approach deals with society and its citizens either working to help promote or to help prevent gun control laws. As we all know laws are only enacted in this country through the vote of the people, therefore, society as a whole is a powerful force in the gun control debate. In his article “Gun Control and the Regulation of Fundamental Rights” author Lance Stell states that the “major controversy with gun control is to whether owning or the purchase of a gun is a significant ‘social cause’ of Americas homicide and suicide rate.” This is of course the very backbone of the gun control debate and an important reason as to why gun control laws are enacted.
There are many groups behind the issue even those of racial affiliation such as the black community. There is no doubt that the black community most heavily feels the effect of guns in this country, firearm deaths are nearly 5 times that of white non-Hispanics (Poe). The problem is eminent and is addressed by Earl G. Graves Sr., editor of Black Enterprise, who seeks a solution to the problem by paying closer attention to the youth as well as taking a “serious stand in favor of the passage and enforcement of gun control laws.” But do stricter gun control laws ensure against gun related crime? Most people associate more guns with more violence but this is not always so. Switzerland, which has more per capita firepower than any other country in the world has lower murder and robbery rates than England where guns are essentially banned (Poe). Here in the US, John Lott author of More Guns, Less Crime explains that “states experiencing the greatest reduction in crime are also the ones with the fastest growing percentages of gun ownership.” So do less guns actually mean less crime? Perhaps to answer that it would be important to look at another side of the debate, that is, criminality associated with guns.
Besides taking the guns away from common citizens in order to supposedly ensure their safety, one of the other main purposes of the gun control laws is to ensure that guns do not reach the hands of criminals. However, where there is a will there is a way and criminals often see no barriers when acquiring a gun despite the numerous laws preventing their ownership. Such laws are known as Dangerous Possessor Gun Control, which prohibits gun possession for anyone charged or convicted of a crime carrying more than a one-year sentence (Stell). Apparently these laws aren’t doing much good. The typical murderer usually has a prior criminal history of at least 6 years with at least 4 felony arrests before he commits murder (Poe). Phyllis Schafly, president of the Eagle Forum, a pro-family organization, states that gun control advocates often “propagate the myth that most of the perpetrators of violence are ordinary citizens rather that criminals by trade.”
So who are the gun control laws taking the guns away from? It may be said that if criminals know their victims are unarmed they are less likely to be afraid of committing a criminal act against them. In Canada and England where there is a virtual ban on guns the burglary rate involving guns (known as a “hot burglary) is nearly 50 percent compared to 13 percent in America (Poe). Of course gun control advocates may disagree with the notion that putting guns back into the hands of citizens would halt the majority of crimes. Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center says that, “Unrealistic scenarios in which criminals meekly surrender at the mere sight of a handgun shouldn’t be our guide. Real life is different.” Clearly the issue over whether gun control laws hurt or help the people they are trying to protect will be met with endless debate.
So who is most responsible for the enactment of gun control laws? The answer is each side, political, social and criminal. The connection can be easily made between the three. It is the criminal aspects of gun control, which cause significant social strife and in turn political action. The net effect is that all three together are working to either prevent or promote the enactment of gun control laws, laws that have a significant impact to every person on every side of the debate.
It is clear from the number of groups involved that the debate over gun control will not soon fade. It is certain that in our lifetime we will see significant changes in the current policy dealing with the possession of firearms. It is important that we pay close attention to this debate seeing as how it will have a great impact on our lives. Do gun control laws help or hurt the people the citizens they are trying to protect? Does enacting these laws take away our fundamental rights as citizens? We must all think carefully.