Robert Hass, former senior vice president for marketing and sales for Smith & Wesson asserts that “the company and the industry as a whole are fully aware of the extent of the criminal misuse of handguns… In spite of their knowledge, however, the industry’s position has consistently been to take no independent action to ensure responsible distribution practices”. To have government permission to own a gun or not – is the topic of many debates for the past three decades in the United States.
On one hand, supporters of gun control believe that the ready availability of guns contributes to the increase in crime and violence all over the country and hence should be banned. On the other hand, people who are against gun control believe that crime and violence will increase if people are forbidden to have resources to defend themselves.
Two recent events fuel the debate on gun control: the shooting spree in April 2007 at Virginia Tech University that resulted in the loss of 32 lives of students and faculty (APN 1) and the conclusion of the Supreme Court in June 2008 that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun for personal use, ruling 5 to 4 that there is a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense (Greenhouse 1). Gun control is a significant part of the answer to the problem of crime and violence and should be enforced through regulations of gun ownership and use.
Crime, Violence, and Guns
The United States has the largest number of injuries due to firearms in the whole world. Research shows that suicide rates are positively correlated with the rate of gun ownership (Kaplan and Gelling 1227) (UU 1). Over 50% of all households in the U.S. admit to having firearms (UU 1). In another study, regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or the number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and suicide in the home (UU 1).
Persons who own a gun and who engage in abuse of intimate partners such as a spouse are more likely to use a gun to threaten their intimate partner (UU 1) It has also been found that there is a positive correlation between homicide rates and the availability of guns in developed nations (Siegel 51). Despite these research findings, the number of firearms in the hands of private individuals is growing every year at an accelerated pace. This implies that the laws of the Federal government, as well as the states, are not stringent enough to restrict the manufacture, sale, and use of firearms by ordinary citizens. This makes gun control a necessary social measure.
Crime and Gun Control
According to FBI Director Louis Freeh, the availability of assault weapons increases crime in society. In a speech given to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the new FBI director said: “In a civilized society like ours, there is simply no place for assault weapons, which serve only to provide a source of strength and power to America’s criminal element. These weapons of destruction must be banned. Not just a ban on the importation, but a ban on domestic manufacture and a ban on distribution of these weapons of death” (Arbetter 11). Guns make it easy to kill or injure a person.
According to Jeffrey A. Roth’s Firearms and Violence, which is an NIJ Research in Brief published in February 1994, in robberies and assaults, victims are far more likely to die when the perpetrator is armed with a gun than when he or she has another weapon or is unarmed. Official statistics show that in the United States, about 30,000 people die from gun wounds every year (Update 2-Senate Passes Gun Bill in Response to Rampage, Reuters, December 19, 2007) (Xinhua 1). The USA Today reported on December 5, 2007, that gun killings have climbed 13 percent overall since 2002 (Xinhua 1). An estimated 25 percent of all violent crime incidents were committed by an armed offender.
Examples of Gun Shootings
On April 16, 2007, the Virginia Tech University witnessed the deadliest shooting rampage in modern US history with 33 killed and more than 30 others injured (AFP, April 17, 2007) (Xinhua 1). On February 12, 2007, two separate gun killings in the Salt Lake City and Philadelphia claimed eight lives and injured several other people (The Associated Press, February 13, 2007). On June 9, in Delevan, Wisconsin, a gunman killed four adults and two infants (Chicago Tribune, June 11, 2007).
On October 31, a 38-year-old pregnant woman was caught in gang gunfire while returning home after trick-or-treating with her children on Halloween night. She was shot in the head and killed (Chicago Tribune, November 2, 2007). On December 5, a man opened fire at a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska, killing eight people and injuring five others. The man then killed himself (The Associated Press, December 5, 2007). On December 7, three separate gun killings took place in San Jose, the acclaimed “safest city” in the United States. Four people were killed by guns in the city in less than one month. (Ming Pao, December 9, 2007).
On December 9, two separate gun killings in churches killed five people and injured other five in Colorado (Reuters, December 9, 2007). On December 24 and 25, at least nine people were killed in several gun killings in New York City (www.chinesenewsnet.com, December 26, 2007). On December 26, the bodies of six people who died from gun wounds were discovered at a residential building in eastern Seattle (www.chinesenewsnet.com, December 27, 2007).
Youth and Guns
The children and the youngsters of the nation are the future. To endanger their lives by the free availability of guns is to endanger the future of the nation. Youth are in a vulnerable stage in life and they often equate the use of guns with heroism. In their hands, guns can be fatal and not necessarily used in self-defense. Children are innocent, ignorant, and curious by nature. If guns are left unconcealed at any time, they are likely to play with them and get injured. The responsibility of saving the lives of children and youth rests with the mature adult population who must support gun control.
According to a report by the US Department of Justice in December 2007, among students ages 12-18, there were about 1.5 million victims of nonfatal crimes at school in 2005 (Gottlieb 1). In the same year, 8 percent of students in grades 9-12 reported being threatened or injured with a weapon in the previous 12 months (Gottlieb 1). From July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006, among youth ages 5-18, there were 17 school-associated violent deaths (Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2007, US Department of Justice, www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs) (Gottlieb 1). Statistics also show that firearms injury is the second leading cause of non-natural death in childhood and adolescence (CDC, 2004) (UU 1).
Child Safety and Guns
Accidental shooting deaths are most commonly associated with one or more children playing with a gun they found in the home (UU 1). The person pulling the trigger is a friend, family member, or the victim (UU 1). In one survey, 10% of families admitted to having unlocked and loaded firearms within easy reach of children (UU 1). Another study showed that two-thirds of accidental firearms injuries occurred in the home, and one-third involved children under 15. 45% were self-inflicted, and 16% occurred when children were playing with guns. (UU 1). This shows that the wide availability of guns is proving to be dangerous to children.
Because of such dangers, there has been a call for use of locks on handguns and technology that would allow only the owner of the gun to operate it. The idea has been found highly practical as the industry has responded to this proposal by developing several types of locking devices. This gun control measure is also opposed by gun supporters who feel that if the gun is kept locked it would not serve its purpose in self-defense.
Moreover, in the context of children, gun supporters say that it is more important to educate the gun owners about safe handling and storage of the gun and teach children to stay away from the firearms (DLPF 3). All these are minor gun violence control measures. The most effective step would be to keep firearms away from home to avoid a tragic accident involving a child because children will always be children and it is not reasonable to demand responsible behavior from them. The best way would be to keep guns away from home through gun control.
Shooting Sprees and Guns
On January 17, 1989, Patrick Purdy sprayed 100 or so bullets from a rapid-fire assault rifle into a crowd of children outside a Stockton, Calif., elementary school, killing five students and wounding 29 others and one teacher before committing suicide by shooting himself with a piston. He set off a national wave of shock and horror. If innocent children playing harmlessly in the schoolyard are no longer safe from heavily armed criminals and lunatics, who is? (Church 1).
More recently, on April 16, 2007, at Virginia Tech University a disturbed student went on a rampage shooting 32 students and faculty. This is the worst campus massacre in American history and serves as a reminder of how dangerous guns can be in the wrong hands. But gun-rights defenders point out that guns are not the reason behind violence but the people behind the guns. They hold that violent behavior should be treated rather than controlling the availability of guns. The whole world sees otherwise. They see that the United States has more gun violence than other countries because it is easier to own a gun in the United States.
On a recent list of the fourteen worst mass shootings in Western democracies since the nineteen-sixties, seven of them happened in the United States and no other country on the list has had a repeat performance as severe as the first (Gopnik 1). In Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, a gunman killed sixteen children and a teacher at their school. But gun control was ushered in and the British gun laws were made stringent. There has been no mass shooting there since then. In Quebec, after a school shooting took the lives of fourteen women in 1989, the survivors helped begin a gun-control movement that resulted in legislation bringing stronger gun laws to Canada.
This has reduced mortality due to shooting sprees subsequently (Gopnik 1). In the Paris suburb of Nanterre, in 2002, a man killed eight people at a municipal meeting. Gun control became a key issue in the Presidential election that year, and there has been no repeat incident. All of this proves that this is the time to have gun control laws and it is best to have gun control as swiftly as possible. Making it difficult to buy guns is a logical way of reducing the number of people killed by guns.
Ethics and Guns
Ethically speaking, guns are tools. Some guns are suited for hunting purposes. People who buy these guns, therefore, have a predisposition to hunt, and the fulfillment of having the weapon is realized when the owner gets to hunt down a deer (Wallace 1). Other guns are designed for one major purpose only: the destruction of human beings. People who buy these guns are likely to have thoughts about using them to kill humans, even though it may be under the pretext of self-defense.
Jonathan Wallace says that some gun owners “secretly hope that life will put them in a situation where they can use their weapon for its intended purpose; and a much smaller number has actually sought these circumstances, as did the man in Los Angeles who picked a fight with some graffiti artists, then shot one” (Wallace 1). He further says that an unused handgun, kept for contingencies, is an unrealized potentiality. As humans, there is a basic tendency to use the tools they own and this implies, “the complete fulfillment of the handgun involves the killing of another human being” (Wallace 1). This underlines the need for gun control.
Point of Disagreement: Constitutional Interpretation
The Second Amendment in the Constitution is often cited as a major reason for allowing common citizens to have guns. According to the Second Amendment, “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”. Recently in 2002, this line was interpreted by the Justice Dept., under Attorney General John Ashcroft, as broadly supporting the rights of individuals to possess and bear firearms.
The Supreme Court in June 2008 has upheld this interpretation. But the original context is forgotten here. In its original context, since the late 1930s federal judicial and law enforcement officials have held that this refers to the right to maintain a state militia and not to the individual’s right to have guns. The text of the Second Amendment begins with a reference to militias making it clear that the freedom guaranteed by the amendment is only a collective one. This view is supported by historians as well (Schwartz 1). Hence it is not right to cite the Second Amendment of the Constitution to permit citizens to have guns.
Point of Disagreement: Guns and Self-Defense
One of the major arguments used by gun rights supporters is that guns are used mainly for self-defense purposes. This argument is unacceptable in light of the following facts. Of 626 shootings in or around a residence in three U.S. cities revealed that for every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides (Kellermann et al, 1998).
This suggests that most of the time, guns inflict injuries on the owners and their family members. Tomislav Kovandzic and Thomas Marvell examined right to carry laws in Florida and found that they have little effect on local crime (Siegel 51). Research shows that defensive gun use works only sometimes and only for some people. Having a gun in a violent crisis situation can actually lead to negative outcomes than any other kind of weapon (Siegel 51) as indicated by the above statistics.
Point of Disagreement: Guns and Homicides
The criminal use of guns causes great public concern. Gun rights activists argue that restriction in the availability of firearms would only increase the number of violent crimes as people unable to defend themselves would die and people with the intent of killing would kill anyway with any other weapon. In murder trials, the killer’s motivation and state of mind are explored thoroughly, while the type of weapon is often treated as an incidental detail.
This makes the gun rights activists argue that it is the people who wield guns for crimes, who need to be treated psychiatrically or legally, and there is no point in banning guns. Yet there is compelling evidence that the type of weapon matters a lot in determining whether the victim lives or dies. Guns can be and used easily and are more fatal compared to other weapons. When well-protected people are murdered it is almost always with a gun; over 90 percent of lethal attacks on law enforcement officers are with firearms, and all murdered presidents have been shot (Wilson and Petersilia 273).
When lone assailants set out to kill as many people as they can in a commuter train or schoolyard, the only readily available weapon that will do the job is a gun. Wilson and Petersilia (278) say it best: “The fact that the United States is such a violent country does not have much to do with guns; the fact that our violent crimes so deadly have much to do with guns”.
The mad shooting sprees and gun crimes have to stop. There is no doubt about that. But a few laws banning guns cannot totally eradicate gun crimes. Gun control measures should exist at all levels: federal, state, local, and individual for gun crimes to be effectively reduced. The Federal Government is best positioned to make guns more valuable and harder to obtain while insulating the states from one anothers’ supply of guns.
More can be done at the federal level to reduce gun crimes: raise taxes on guns making them too expensive to be easily bought; reduce the number of federally licensed gun dealers by raising the license fee; make all gun transfers to pass through licensed dealers; take action against gun-running operations; have an integrated approach towards gun control among various state and federal law enforcement agencies, and have stringent safety requirements in new guns. As most people claim they need a gun for self-protection purposes, community policing may be introduced at the local level to ensure the safety of residential areas.
Three things can be achieved locally at the municipal level: reducing gun carrying by offenders on city streets, reducing youth access to and use of all kinds of weapons, and keeping guns out of places that have records of violent conflicts such as rowdy bars, homes where domestic violence often occurs, or other community “hot spots”. On a personal level, individuals should be encouraged to take an active interest in reducing gun crimes and make responsible choices regarding gun ownership and control. Gun control taken on all levels will definitely reduce crime and violence in America.
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