Background and the Context of the US
The laws that control civilian gun ownership vary in different countries, and the history of such legislation is most often connected to notorious tragedies that involve weapons. For example, the modern Canadian gun laws are the result of the massacre at the Montreal engineering school which led to the death of 14 students at the hands of their peer. In Australia, the laws were tightened twice during the second half of the past century, both times after a similarly horrific shooting (Masters par. 12-14). In the UK, the incident in Dunblane (1996) was of consequence: after a middle-aged man had shot 16 children with legally purchased weapons, the government banned handguns (Masters par. 22). In Japan, gun laws are also quite strict, but they are believed to be the result of demilitarization after World War II (Masters par. 26-28).
On the contrary, bearing arms is an “individual right” of the US citizens (Masters par. 3-4). This right was granted to the people by the Second Amendment to the Constitution, according to which arming people (“militia,” which at the time equaled to all able-bodied males) is necessary for the “security of the free State”(Doeden 18). Apart from that, such a measure was meant for the protection of the people from the state tyranny. Since owning arms is a constitutional right, the US resists severe gun control rules, even though there are restrictions that depend on the state (for example, mental disabilities, substance abuse, former law infringements). In general, licensed gun vendors are expected to conduct background checks on their potential customers to ensure security; federal regulations do not ban high-capacity magazines and semiautomatic arms (Masters par. 3-4, 9).
As a result, the US has a disproportionate (when compared to other countries) number of civilian-owned guns that may amount to 35% of those owned by all the civilians of the world (Masters par. 5). The number of firearm homicides is corresponding: the US has the highest rate of them among developed countries. It logically follows that massacres occur in the US as well, and they tend to stir the debate over the extremely liberal gun control in America. For example, in 2015, nine people were killed in a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, and 14 people died in San Bernardino, California in a similar situation (Masters par. 2). In anticipation of a new surge of debates, this paper dwells on the issue by considering the two opposing viewpoints and proposing a possible solution that could appease the opponents.
The most common viewpoints on the issue include pro-gun ideas and pro-control ones. It would be an overestimation to claim that these two viewpoints are in any way homogeneous, but in this paper, they are going to be simplified and summarized. Pro-gun Dr. Kates insists that gun control has no direct consequences for safety but infringes the protection rights that can be traced back to the Second Amendment. Pro-control Dr. Boylan maintains that the sheer power of firearms requires control. Similarly, the position of John R. Lott, the author of the book “More Guns, Less Crime” is strongly against gun control enhancement, while Glenn Beck, Kevin Balfe, and Hannah Beck devote a book to the rebuttal of common pro-gun arguments. Here, the key arguments for both opinions will be presented and compared to illustrate the real-life dynamics of their coexistence.
One of the primary pro-gun argument consists in the fact that the Americans were given this right for a reason: the more there are guns, the less there are crimes. Lott provides a number of examples of people saving themselves and their families: elderly women fending off robbers, women scaring away potential rapists by brandishing the guns and not wounding anyone (1-3). Lott also points out that the statistics of these cases is likely to be incomplete: they are often not reported since there is nothing to report. Other stories also involve shooting assailants. For example, a woman from Atlanta killed a man who was trying to kidnap her and her baby daughter. This situation may be considered a more controversial issue, but it still proves the point that guns defend victims. According to Lott, a firearm significantly increases the chances of a victim to survive. Female victims are four times as likely to escape with a gun than without it; for men the figure equals 1.5 times (Lott 3).
A similarly basic argument of the pro-law group is equally simple and irrefutable: as pointed out by Beck, Balfe, and Beck, “guns are lethal” (3). The authors place a full stop after this argument, and their point is very clear: guns kill people. A legally acquired gun can be used for crime by a law-abiding citizen without and with intent or stolen by a criminal. A gun in a domestic quarrel can result in a tragedy; also, there is the issue of children getting their hands on a piece. For example, Shulman describes the 2015 case of an eleven-year-old boy shooting a three-year-old one after coming upon a handgun in his parents’ closet (342). Finally, there is suicide that is made simpler by the easy access to guns. It might be logical to conclude that gun control has the potential of reducing the number of firearms-related homicide and suicide cases. However, the connection between the access to guns and the related crimes is much more complicated.
To prove the point that gun control does not affect crime rates, Dr. Kates mentions the case of England: in the country, the increasing gun restrictions coincided with growing murder rates (Boylan et al. 3935). This case is the most revealing one that demonstrates the lack of direct connection between gun ownership and crime rates. Other similar cases include Russia: in the state, handguns are banned, but murder rates are four times higher than those in the US. Similarly, in France and Italy, guns restrictions are almost nonexistent, but the murder rates are much lower than that of the US. Likewise, Doeden (who prefers to avoid taking a stance in the debate in his book on gun control) mentions the case of Mexican gun laws: they are much stricter than those in America, but it does not stop criminals from obtaining arms from the illegal market (42). Here, though, it should be pointed out that Dr. Kates speaks about murder rates and does not mention firearms related deaths. Still, according to Dr. Kates, two major studies of the beginning of the century (by the National Academy of Sciences and CDC) have failed to find any evidence to the idea that gun control is capable of reducing “murder, violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents” (Boylan et al. 3936). In other words, gun control is likely to deprive victims of a way to protects themselves, but not the criminals of their weapons.
Dr. Boylan agrees that people have the right to protect themselves, but insists that their choice of the most lethal weapon at hand may be questionable. As Boylan et al. state, “weapon damage coefficient of firearms makes a quantum jump in severity and death” when compared to other forms of weaponry or, in this case, protection (3935). In fact, this “jump” is what makes a gun an “equalizer,” that is, grants the chance of defending oneself to the physically weak: women and elderly people as well as those assaulted by a group of criminals. The point of Dr. Boylan is, this kind of power cannot be left without control.
In answer, Dr. Kates insists that even “law-abiding” gun owners are not going to comply with a ban, which is illustrated by their reluctance to register firearms. Dr. Boylan replies that the difficulties in gun control are not an argument against their introduction. In this respect, a very significant point is made by Beck, Balfe, and Beck: gun control laws (however scant they may be) do exist in the US; the problem is, they are not carried out properly. The background check is controlled by rather strict legislation: lying in the form meant for this check is a felony that can be punished by a prison term of up to 10 years. Despite the danger, the number of such felonies committed during the period of one year amounted to 72,600 in 2010, but of these cases, only 44 were legally pursued (Beck, Balfe, and Beck 155-156). The authors are scandalized by this fact and point out that if a stricter gun law is not an option, the existing one needs to be carried out properly. The opposing groups are unlikely to come to an agreement, which is explained by the complexity of the issue of gun control.
Common Concerns and a Possible Solution
The concerns of the two opposing groups are very similar: they are both troubled by high crime rates and seek a way to protect the people of the US, but they support opposite ways of achieving this common goal. However, as can be seen from the analysis of the viewpoints, the opposing groups agree on one topic: the gun control legislation in the US is not working properly. The pro-gun group uses this argument to insist on the idea that the existing law is pointless and making it harsher is similarly useless: it will not result in crime rates decrease. The pro-law group, on the other hand, insists that the proper management of gun control law should affect the rates of firearms-related deaths at the very least, which, as it was pointed out, are not limited to the crime rates but also include suicide, manslaughter, and other similar issues.
The decision that appears to be logical in this respect consists in improving the control of the gun legislation rather than the gun legislation itself. It is obvious that the disturbing figures of uninvestigated felonies need to be reduced. Such a decision is unlikely to be cheap as it requires increased control over licensed gun vendors that are extremely numerous across the US, but it appears to be among the few solutions that can leave both participants of the debate satisfied. Indeed, the pro-gun group will not encounter harsher rules, and the pro-law one will witness the improvement of the current legislation. After all, it is not the harshness of the law that defines its effectiveness, and since the US gun legislation lacks power, the situation needs to be rectified.
Beck, Glenn, Kevin Balfe, and Hannah Beck. Control: Exposing The Truth About Guns. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013. Print.
Boylan, Michael, Don B. Kates, Ronald W. Lindsey, and Zbigniew Gugala. “Debate: Gun Control in the United States.” Clinical orthopaedics and related research 471.12 (2013): 3934-6. ProQuest. Web.
Doeden, Matt. Gun Control. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Twenty-First Century Books, 2012. Print.
Lott, John R. More Guns, Less Crime. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Print.
Masters, Jonathan. “Gun Control Around the World.” The Atlantic Magazine, 2016. Web.
Shulman, Stanford T. “More Gun Control Ideas.” Pediatric Annals 44.9 (2015): 342-3. ProQuest. Web.