The debate on gun ownership has been raging for a long time, with both sides refusing to budge. This comes back after every single tragedy, and it will continue so long as the issue continues to be extremely polarizing. So what is the debate really about?
Facts and Figures About Guns
Here are some quick highlights:
- 31 Americans are murdered by guns every day
- There are 310 million guns in America
- The gun homicide rate in America is 20 times higher than the COMBINED firearm homicide rate of 22 of our peer countries
- 9 of 10 Americans support universal background checks
- 55 Americans use a gun for suicide every day
- Over 100,000 people are shot each year in America
- In 2010, half of all juveniles who were murdered were killed with a firearm
What Does the Second Amendment ACTUALLY Say?
This is a contested part of the debate, as it is often misunderstood and misused. According to the actual text of the Constitution, the Second Amendment 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”
It is the first part of this Amendment is often overlooked, and due to the language, many debate whether there is a complete relationship between the two. Some people understand it as people can have guns for the purposes of a well-regulated militia, while others tend not to reflect on the first half, and see the Second Amendment as the right to have guns period.
What are the Arguments for Guns?
The arguments range from simple to more abstract.
- The first, and most basic argument is: Because we can. This argument calls the Second Amendment into action and says that the Constitution says that we can, so we can. End of discussion.
- The second argument: We need guns to protect ourselves and our families. The world is a dangerous place, and a gun is an excellent way to keep our families safe. If someone breaks into your house, how can you stop them without putting yourself in immediate risk? A gun is the best answer, as any other weapon requires close proximity, and that puts yourself at risk.
- The third argument: We need to protect our property from animals. Again, to urban and suburban people this is not a concern. But further removed from infrastructure, having a gun protects you from the wild aspects of nature that threaten you. Wolves could come on to your property and that could threaten the safety of your family or property. Also, for sheep farmers, coyotes are serious pests. They can eat your livestock and cause financial ruin. So a gun is the safest way to keep that very real and dangerous threat at bay.
- The fourth argument: We are hunters, and we need guns to be able to hunt and provide for ourselves and our families. This is definitely true. There are other methods to hunting, but by far the most efficient and arguably humane, is a gun. Hunting rifles were designed for that purpose, and that should not be ignored. For many city-dwellers, this is not something they consider, but for those living out in the woods, this is a legitimate purpose.
- A fifth argument is one of evening the battlefield: We need guns because they have guns. The people who are trying to kill us, be it gangsters, criminals or terrorists, they all have access to weapons. If Paris has taught us anything, it is that even strict gun laws do not always prevent gun violence. Taking guns away from citizens would put them at a disadvantage against the elements that have guns and want to take from us. In fact, some even argue that those with guns would take more, rob and steal more because they know that we are unarmed.
- The sixth argument is more far-fetched, but is even more relevant these days: We need guns and all sorts of weapons to keep the government in check. The Second Amendment was written in a time when the newly formed United States had just won a war to free itself from an oppressive government that took without any say from the people (taxation without representation), and an armed citizenry was a good way to keep the government from overstepping. Some argue that the current Federal Government has overstepped, and may do so in the future, and the first step to hegemonic domination is disarming the opposition, which in this case would be the citizens of the country.
What are the Arguments Against Guns?
- They are dangerous. This is a true fact, and no one would disagree with this. Some may argue that with proper use and training, etc… but even they would acknowledge that guns are dangerous objects that need to be treated with respect. As the rule goes, Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This sort of rule only applies to dangerous items such as knives or vehicles.
- They do more harm than good. This is a difficult claim to back up because there is no good data on the good done by a gun. People will show videos of a man drawing a gun and thwarting a robbery, but they don’t have any hard data on the number of coyotes shot, or the number of robberies that never even happen because a house is known to have a gun. There are a lot of facts about the damage done by firearms, but there is no clear data on the good done by guns.
- Most places do not have this problem. Again, most of the countries in the world that compare to the United States economically do not have this problem. And before gun ownership is brought in, remember that Switzerland allows those in military service to keep their weapons at home, and gun ownership was 31-61% in 2005, but has fallen to 25% in recent years. Even with gun ownership this high, the number of firearm-related homicides in Switzerland in 2014 was 18. That’s right, just 18.
- They can end up in the hands of criminals and bad elements in society. Criminals have guns everywhere, but the amount of illegal weapons is far higher in the United States than in other places with stricter gun control. Given that the guns are likely illegal and unregistered, it is impossible to truly know how many illegal guns are in the US, it can be said that gun crime is far higher in the US than in other developed countries that have gun control laws. That being said, there is still gun crime in places that do not allow gun ownership, but this if far below the US rates.
- We should not be a society that kills, and that is the primary purpose of a gun. This is more of a moral philosophy, that it is wrong to kill, so why have a weapon that is designed to do what we should be opposed to?
- These are weapons of war, and belong on the battlefield, not on our streets. In fact, more Americans have died from gun violence than from all the wars in American history:
What Is Government Doing About It?
Just last week, the Democrats staged a 14+ hour filibuster after the Orlando shooting. The filibuster ended when both sides agreed to hold votes about certain gun control measures, most notably to ban weapon purchases for those on the no-fly list and other suspected terrorists, as well as institute universal background checks.
There have been numerous attempts to legislate gun control in the past:
- 1813: The first gun control law passes in Kentucky, that prohibits concealed carry of weapons. This law actually focused on hidden sword-canes. It was struck down as violating individual freedoms and the Second Amendment.
- 1934: National Firearms Act passed as a response to Prohibition-era gangland crime, required registration and a $200 tax (~$3,500 today) on almost all weapons aside from handguns.
- 1939: United States v. Miller: A landmark case pertaining to sawed-off shotguns, ruling that they must be registered and owning one was not protected under the Second Amendment as no proof was shown that it would be used for the purposes of a well-regulated militia (however, in reality, it was actually a weapon used by some soldiers). This has opened up interpretation for the AR-15, as it is based on a military weapon, so therefore fits into the category of a well-regulated militia.
- 1968: Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act: prohibited interstate trade of handguns, and set the buying age at 21.
- 1968: Gun Control Act: prompted by assassination of JFK and MLK Jr, this bill prohibited all interstate transfer of firearms except bu licensed exporters, dealers, and manufacturers.
- 1968: Firearm Owners Protection Act banned the sale and ownership of machine guns.
- 1993: Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act: named after James Brady, who was the Press Secretary for Ronald Reagan and was shot protecting the President. This created the waiting periods as well was requiring background checks on purchases.
- 1994: Assault Weapons Ban: Banned certain types of semi-automatic weapons, as well as large capacity magazines. This expired in 2004, and was not renewed yet, however many have called for it.
Where Will It Go From Here?
Guns will not be going away any time soon. It just won’t happen. With gun ownership enshrined in the Constitution, and the difficulty involved in changing that, we will not be eliminating gun ownership any time soon. Gun manufacturing and sales are a huge business, and that has a lot of influence in the government as well. But, most people are open to some form of gun control. There is only a small sect of the population that is outraged that we cannot buy anti-aircraft guns or Howitzers, so there is definitely some wiggle room. The debate is specifically focused on how far this should go. Some places completely outlaw guns. Others require them to be stored at a police station. The United States has some reasonable bans in place, but clearly they do not go far enough. Something needs to be done, but what?
An expectation is some sort of ban on assault weapons. These weapons such as the AR-15 are commonly used in mass shootings, but they do not address the larger issue of gun violence as a whole. Most gun violence is carried out with hand guns, according to The Bureau of Justice Statistics, less than 2% of gun crimes use assault weapons.
Honestly, at this point, nothing much is expected. There are talks of reinstating the assault weapons ban, but that will not likely happen. What is possible to pass is that those on the no-fly list will not be able to purchase firearms. Many are hopeful that a bill that requires psychological evaluation before receiving a firearms license would pass, but this is pretty doubtful.