Gun politics and gun control is one of the most controversial issues in the United States of America’s politics. The relation between gun availability, gun control and crime are subjects that have continued to arouse so much interest from criminal psychologists with a view of establishing any form of causal relationship. Though there are various forms of crimes caused with the possession of guns, this does not guarantee the argument on gun usage in relation to crime rate to be true. Gun control does not necessarily check or control crime. The possession of a firearm in the US acts more as a protective measure rather than a deterrent one.
There are various discussions on Gun control and whether it reduces crime rate or is it crime rate that precipates Gun control? Lawmakers are of the view that gun control laws reduce the violent crimes using firearms hence, according to them, there is less crime when few guns are circulating among individuals. In this research paper, I will try to examine if there is any relation between gun possession and the prevalence of high crime rate in the United States and in trying to establish that relationship, I will discuss briefly on the historical usage of guns in U.S, the current trends, evolution of gun control laws, laws governing ownership of firearms in U.S and the constitution development that has incorporated gun control laws. Finally, in the conclusion I will indicate whether gun control checks or controls crime.
Gun use in the U.S
Historical background of gun use in the US
Gun use is not a new phenomenon in the U.S culture but rather it has a historical perspective. To capture this historical perspective of gun use, this research paper will look at guns in American society both in the past and in the present to ascertain the trend of gun usage and how this trend has influenced gun usage in the modern American society. Thereafter, the rate of crime in relation to the possession of gun would be established
Guns in the American Society
Since the formation of the American nation, a culture known as gun culture came into existed. This culture prescribes certain fundamental needs of owing a gun in American society. This goes hand in hand with all hunting sports carried out using guns in those early days. During the early days of the American society especially during the Agrarian revolution, gun possession became inevitable since gun served as an important asset to an individual. During the Agrarian revolution, obtaining food especially wild meat required one to have a gun and further still, the need for protection against predators in the process of hunting made possession of guns inevitable. Through hunting the American society could sustain their livelihood through the sale of hides which acted as a means of earning incomes. Shooting skills among the young American boys became so essential thereby making every child conscious of acquiring the skills. Possession of guns therefore became inevitable in society and as a result, gun culture became part of the American culture. (Carter, encyclopedia of history and politics).Consequently each and every community possessed a gun or two for purposes of hunting. Today, it is not certain whether this culture has faded away or it is still in existence since the issue of gun control has really affected the rate at which people wish to hold guns. However, in other communities such as those living in Texas, this culture has continued to be practiced despite the increasing laws on gun usage. The cultural practice of gun usage in Texas has not been eroded compared to other States that have witnessed an influx of immigrants who have diluted their culture. In addition, the practice of large scale farming in Texas has allowed an environment similar to the ancient one to prevail thereby proving good reasons to continue with the culture. Important to note is that gun culture requires a less populated environment which has very few youth population and this environment is found in Texas. As seen in various movies and programs concerning Texas, gun culture is illustrated clearly through the ‘Cowboys” who try to portray the American gun culture. (Ludwig 56).
However, gun culture not only included cultural practices of shifting from childhood to maturity but also involved military combat with enemies. Unlike modern America where security is fully provided by the government, the ancient American society relied more on self defense than government protection. As a result, the possession of a gun became the most important thing for a family to have as it was the surest method to guarantee security especially from foreign attacks. It is also important to note that during the 18th and 19th century, the government had little resources to maintain a huge army and therefore relied on the citizens who were armed to act as a source of army in cases of attacks from outside. Consequently, it was inevitable for a man to have a loaded gun at all times. As a result, a culture emerged that required each and every family to posses at least one gun to offer security services to the nation whenever necessary. Consequently, voluntary militia emerged in the U.S that served as a regular army (Ludwig 56).
Lastly, the issue of Westward expansion contributed to the gun culture of the American society. The desire by the Americans to conquer the West and expand the American territory necessitated the need for guns which acted as a weapon to eliminate the natives of a country hence forcing them to flee. To achieve the Westward expansion agenda, the American society incorporated gun usage into their culture to allow for easy invasions especially in the Indian dominated States (Carter, encyclopedia of history and politics).
It is seen clearly from the above illustration that gun usage in America is not a new phenomenon. As a matter of fact it is part of the American culture and practices adopted in the early years of American history. However, there is a great difference in gun usage in the modern American society compared to the early American society. In the Modern American society there is a lot of gun misuse compared to the ancient American society which believed that gun is basically for protection and hunting purposes. The misuse of gun comes in various forms of criminal activities conducted using guns. They include homicide, suicide, robbery and assassinations all of which are dangerous criminal acts to the society. Looking back to the late 20th century, there are several deaths caused by misuse of guns especially among college students. A memorable case is the 1999 case where two students killed twelve students in their school and injuring twenty three others. The incidence which resulted in the death of one teacher occurred in Colorado where guns and other explosives became the main weapons of committing the crime. Thereafter, the two students killed themselves leaving everyone in suspense as to why they committed such an evil act. Prior to this incidence, numerous other cases in the early 1990’s had also occurred (Kleck 156).
Clearly, from the observation, the real intentions of owning a gun in the modern society greatly differ with early society’s intention of holding a gun. The need for protection and other leisure activities such as hunting is what comprised the major intentions of the early society’s need to hold guns. However, in modern society the need for protection is still fundamental though many owners of guns tend to misuse the guns. Though Americans still appreciate the need for owning guns as a form of security, its relevancy has greatly reduced since the government has the capacity to provide enough security to its citizens unlike in the past where the government was unable to guarantee security for everybody. Therefore, as time passes, the need for guns for security purposes is declining due to the security being offered by the government through its various police departments. However, demand for guns for purposes of committing crimes is gaining ground day in day out. Most of the Americans who acquire guns are of the view that their sole intention is to protect themselves against criminals who might attack them. This therefore indicates that, the rate of crime committed using guns is steadily increasing with time and if not properly checked may lead to increase in illegal gun possession among wrong people. As a result, it can be observed that the American culture of acquiring shooting skills have greatly reduced as a result of erosion of culture which has increased crime in the society (Long 89).
The erosion of cultural practices of gun is what has resulted in the misuse of gun in the modern society. Instead of gun acting as a symbol of passing childhood and achieving maturity in modern society, it has become a symbol of heroism by committing gun crime. This argument is based on statistics of crimes committed by firearms obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This has destroyed the initial intention of gun culture in American society thus making gun possession irrelevant. The history of gun culture therefore helps in understanding why gun possession in American society is so vital though the modern societies have destroyed the initial intentions of gun control.
Guns Crime relationship
Having discussed the history of gun use, it is easier to ascertain why gun use and possession is rampant in American society. This is because gun use and owner ship is as old as America itself. However, the possessions of guns in the modern society are surrounded with a lot of controversy, especially the misuse of guns in committing crimes. As a result of the controversy, various politicians, scholars and religious leaders have offered their views on the relationship between gun ownership and crime. Many have associated the possession of guns to the rising crime rate in the country. Therefore, in this research, validity of those views would be examined by looking at different types of crimes and how they were committed. To examine these views clearly there is need to consult recent statistics on crime that involved gun use. Statistics according to Bureau of justice indicates that the crime rate that involves firearms has a fluctuating tendency over the years. However, the increases in firearm crimes have always been greater than the decline. Prior to 1980 and 1990’s, crime rate associated with gun did not exist in big numbers and various crimes manifested themselves inform of riots. Early gun crimes include various assassinations especially among the top political figures such as Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, President James Garfield and John Kennedy. Since then, crimes committed using guns tremendously increased thereby causing an alarm that led to various debate that related possession of guns to crimes. It is to this extent that I will examine different types of crimes that involve crime and ascertain whether gun possession has any relationship with increased crime (Carter 23).
Homicides are the crimes that have recorded the highest number of occurrence that involved usage of guns. Looking at statistics provided by Bureau of justice, homicides committed using guns have greatly increased over the years in comparison to homicides committed with other forms of weapons. The graph below helps in illustrating the increase in the number of homicides in the country.
Looking at the graph above which indicates homicidal incidence in the U.S from 1976-2005, it is observed that actually, homicides committed using gun especially hand gun has by far outweighed homicides by other weapons. It is also observed that the incidences have been fluctuating with 1990’s having the highest numbers of homicides committed using hand guns. As a result of introduction of laws on gun control, the trend reduced a little bit but is still greater than before 1980’s. Therefore, it is asserted that there is a clear relationship between guns and crime as shown by the above diagram. It is alleged that homicides by guns is easier compared to homicides by other means therefore, the access to these hand guns and other forms of guns have highly precipitated crime rate especially homicide. An interesting observation is that these homicides have been committed by teenagers aged between 16-19 and other youths of ages 20-25 especially college students. This clearly indicates the changing trends in gun culture among the American societies. Unlike in the past where guns were used responsibly and acted as a symbol of transformation from childhood to adulthood, the modern youths have misused it thereby making the gun culture in America to lose its original meaning (Adam, New York Times)
Another crime that has been constantly associated with gun is robbery. Robberies committed using guns are in most circumstances fatal compared to robberies that are committed without firearms. Since this is the easiest way to get away with crime, robbers have constantly employed guns in their missions thus increasing the number of crimes committed using guns. In the US, various acts of robberies have been reported since 1980’s and almost all of them ended up being fatal in nature. As a result, many scholars and politicians have indicated a positive correlation between robbery crimes and gun. Lastly, assassinations are other forms of crimes that have employed the use of guns. Guns have made various assassinations in US easy since guns provide opportunity for assassins to terminate the life of their target at a long range thus increasing the number of assassinations in the country. It is clear since many of the US leaders have succumbed to death through assassination hence there is no doubt that gun has increased the assassination crimes in the country. However, it can not be said that guns have 100% increased on crimes but there are other factors that have contributed to the rise in crime (Moorhouse 103-124).
Therefore, according to this research, it can be ascertained that there is some close relationship between guns and crime rates basing on the above data which indicates that most of the death caused as a result of crime occurred due to the use of guns to execute the crime. Though the rate has since reduced, it is still high compared to other forms of deaths caused by crimes using different weapons other than guns (Goss, Princeton University Library)
Evolution of Gun control movements in US
Gun Ownership and attitudes
Ownership of gun is allowed to any person above the legal age who is able to acquire a gun legally and the fully license the gun. Data relating to gun ownership is usually kept by the General Social Survey (GSS). According to GSS, firearm ownership declined by 10% from 1989 to 2004. The decline is associated with single parent hood where the female population has increasingly been practicing single parenthood. Looking back at history, it is seen that guns are mainly meant for the male population and therefore, the increasing number of female families has reduced gun ownership in families headed by a women. The ownership of guns survey carried out in 1994 revealed that most Americans own guns for self protection while a few own guns for hunting. Those Americans owning guns for hunting are only eleven percent of the total population owning guns. An interesting phenomenon to note is that the survey revealed that approximately 69 million people owned riffles; 65 million people had handguns; approximately 59 million possessed shotguns and the remaining people out of 192 who owned a gun possessed other types of guns. The ownership of guns according to GSS is mainly by adults who use them for protection and hunting (Katarzyna 229-247).
The peoples’ attitude towards gun ownership can be said to be positive. Almost all the people interviewed concerning ownership of guns have asserted that they own guns for positive reasons especially for self protection. Therefore, it is seen that most people own guns to guard against attacks by people who have their arms illegally or acquired the gun for sinister motives and as some criminologists have asserted that there is no clear correlation between gun ownership and violence involving guns. Examining statistics, most violence committed using guns in most families are done by outsiders and not the family members who own the guns. Further still, most families can defend their life’s against attacks through the use of guns they posses. Therefore, a part from a few criminals who have misuse guns for their sinister motives, most Americans have a positive attitude that guns are for protection purposes (Katarzyna 229-247).
Gun control and Citizens rights
Gun control has the sole intention of prohibiting the regular access to guns by unlawful citizens. Therefore, it acts as a regulatory measure to acquiring firearms in the United States. As a result, gun control intends to limit access to guns by people believed to be untrustworthy citizens, minors, individuals who are believed to be criminals or terrorist in the ‘eyes’ of the law. But gun control should not come at the expense of American society’s rights of owning a gun. It should be noted that the process of acquiring a legal gun in America has become tedious and lengthy thereby limiting most of the citizens with decent intentions of owning a gun from acquiring one. Though this process helps in limiting the access to guns by unfit persons it should in the same way not limit rights of the citizen to own a gun (Long 73).
Looking at the American history, guns have formed part of the society for many years and even gone to the extent of being incorporated in the ritual rites of signifying the transformation of a child into adulthood. Therefore, to reach a time where access to gun becomes a problem is to indicate that there is an absolute erosion of American’s culture and the denial of Americans’ fundamental rights as provided in the constitution. I am not of the view that gun control should be abolished but what I mean is that the process of acquiring gun should not be that stringent to deny some of the innocent citizens from accessing guns for protection purposes. It should be noted that while formulating gun control policies, emphasis should not be placed on the process of acquiring the guns but on the enforcement methods. The current gun control laws have a lot of emphasizes on the methods of acquiring gun but relaxes on the methods of enforcing proper gun usage. Once an individual has acquired a gun, there is no proper channel to ensure the gun has been appropriately used according to the requirement stipulated. Therefore, the gun ends up being misused by the owner. In addition, the is no provision for the storage of the guns once they are acquired and as a result, poor storage always result into the gun falling into the wrong hands such as in the hands of a minors or an intruders who may use it to commit crime (Wilson 336-337).
Therefore, as the government considers restricting access to gun through gun control, it should first examine the enforcement agents and methods to ascertain the major cause of crimes caused by firearms. There is no need to deny the citizens the right to own gun when the government it self cannot enforce the use of guns in the country.
Development of gun control legislation
Legislation on gun control begun as early as 1790 when the need to restrict access to firearm became inevitable due to the increasing numbers of crimes committed using guns. Initial legislation meant to restrict access to guns by the black population who were then considered as slaves by their white counterparts. However, as the misuse increased, it became inevitable to incorporate gun control laws in the constitution. This is discussed in the following paragraphs.
Laws and legislations on gun ownership and control
There are various laws on gun ownership and control in the United States. The Federal authority provides the general rules on gun ownership and control but each State has the authority to formulate subsidiary laws in relation to the main law provided by the Federal authority. The laws are divided into the following categories; persons who are ineligible to own guns and they include convicted persons, fugitives, citizens who renounce their citizenship, minors, illegal immigrants, drug addicts, convicted persons, and discharged members of armed force due to indiscipline; the second category is the acquisition of guns from dealers whose provisions include acquisition of gun by any person above 21 from any federal licensed dealer, individuals above 18 years can access gun from any licensed dealer in any State, prohibits licensed dealers from selling imported arms without the necessary authentication, persons holding the C & R license can purchase guns that are above fifty years from anyone; the third category is the sale between individuals which requires an individual to posses a license before transferring any arm to another person in a different State; the fourth category is on the use of the fire arm which provides that an individual may borrow a friend’s gun for use so long as the gun is fully licensed, right to carry the gun depending on the State an individual hails from, and the fire arm shall not be used in any crime otherwise an individual is subject to imprisonment; the fifth category is Antiques category recognized in the Gun Control Act which allows an individual to posses firearms that were manufactured prior to 1898; the sixth category is concerned with shipping firearms and states that one may be allowed to ship a firearm for hunting purposes to another State, firearm can only be shipped to other States within America when it has federal firearm license, and shipment of firearms must be accompanied by a letter indicating the contents of the shipment ; the seventh category of gun laws is related to transporting of the firearms hence the law prohibits crossing a State into another State without the required documentations, it also exclude the carrying of gun while in an aircraft and in cases where an illegal gun is carried on board, it should be handed to the appropriate officials and in this case, it should be handed over to the Pilot or Captain; the last category is on ammunitions which has states that it is illegal and punishable by law to illegally manufacture any kind of firearm ammunitions (Utter, Encyclopedia of guns).
Constitutional development on the laws of gun control began in 1791 with the ratification of the Second Amendment which recognized the need for citizens to be issued with the right to legally own guns. The second amendment therefore protects the right of individuals to purchase and own a gun. Since its ratification in 1791, it acted as the only source of law on gun usage and with time, misuse of gun became so rampant leading to the enactment of the National Firearm Act in 1934. This Act instituted tax on the sale of firearms both at home and abroad. Further still, the manufacturing of guns became restricted allowing only a few individuals to manufacture guns hence reducing the numbers of guns available. Soon, the Federal Firearms Act was enacted in 1938 to creative a provision for the shipping of firearms. In this provision, all merchants involved in selling firearms across the States and within the States were governed by this law hence reducing illegal transfer of firearms to unwanted persons. This law brought into light the licensing of every dealer in firearms so that individuals could only purchase firearms from licensed dealers (Utter, Encyclopedia of gun control and gun rights).
The crucial development in gun control laws came in 1968 when the gun control act was enacted following the assassination of President Kennedy, and other prominent people. The act created a provision limiting mail sale of firearms by dealers. The next step came in 1972 with the formation of Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco department to ensure the enforcement of the Gun Control Act. In 1986 another act known as Law Enforcement Officers Act was enacted to prohibit importation of bullets that were able to penetrate bullet prove gadgets. Other development came in 1990 with the enactment of Crime Control Act and finally in 1994 when Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act were formulated which restricted selling of guns to minors. The 1994 enactment became popular since it restricted gun access to minors who at that time had very easy access to guns. This is seen in the high levels of crimes committed in the early 1990’s and late 80’s. Most of the crimes were executed by minors of age 14-19. Therefore the enactment of this law served to reduce on these high levels of crimes by juveniles. However, this law did not completely eliminate juvenile crime as in 1999, another serious gun crime in U.S history occurred. This led to the formulation of other minor laws meant to supplement the existing ones. (The Editorial Board, New York Times).
As of present, the debates on gun controls laws stills continues and as days passes, many provisions and amendments are being included in the constitution to provide for a safe environment as well as the rights to own guns among the citizens. Whether these amendments and provisions will last to provide a positive impact on gun ownership and gun control is yet to be established and is only a matter of time before the true fats come abode.
Effects of Gun Control Legislation
As a result of the various Acts enacted, the rate of crime has somehow reduced though not to the levels prior to 1980’s. Gun control legislations have offered an avenue for gun owners to be more responsible with their firearms so that they avoid prosecutions. The legislations have also reduced on the illegal guns coming into America. As a result, there has been a peaceful co-existence among the society members unlike in the early 90’s when crime committed using guns was so rampant (Linda, New York Times).
In several States in America, carrying a concealed gun which is licensed is legal and therefore any person with a licensed gun can move with it anywhere so long as it is not exposed. The gun control law that included this provision has brought in positive effects especially among the women. It is now hard to attack somebody without a second thought of whether he/she is carrying a firearm. As a result, many women who are the major causalities of crimes such as rape and other victimization are able to protect their lives more easily. Let’s take an example of a women walking down an aisle and all of a sudden she is attack by a criminal who may either demand money or may force the woman to have sexual intercourse. In this scenario, there are two options, one is to defend herself and the second option is to succumb to the demands of the aggressor. In situations where the woman has a concealed gun, she can easily come out of the hand of the aggressor. However, if she has nothing to protect herself, she will succumb to the masculine strength of her aggressor. To this extent, the introduction of the law of concealment of firearm has greatly improved on the safety of American women.
Gun control has in other States resulted in more crime than the initial intention of reducing on the crime rate. According to Moorhouse (103-124), States where strict gun control is in place, are the States where levels of crime are high compared to States with less restrictive gun control. For example, the State of Texas which has a large majority of its population having guns has reported a low rate of criminal acts using guns. Despite the high prevalence of guns and less restrictive laws on gun ownership, crimes are still low. This is attributed to self responsibility of persons owing guns and the limited pressure on laws controlling guns.
Public Opinion on Gun Control
Many people are of the view that the legal age of acquiring guns should be raised up to 25 and in that process; many juveniles would be blocked out in accessing this firearms. It is because of the age in which people acquire guns that precipitates the crime rate since most of the youths are not certain of the clear use of a gun. As a result most of them resort to showing others their heroism using the gun and the end result is crime. Restricting the age to around 25 would act as a means of totally banning minors from accessing guns and would provide the opportunity to more mature persons to own guns (Marjorie, New York Times).
Many people have differed on whether to impose control over gun ownership or control the rights of owners of the guns. In 2000, approximately 66% of the total population considered gun control on ownership as a more appropriate way to limit access to gun by minors and other ineligible persons. This survey occurred a few months after the 1999 shooting incidence in Columbine High school and indicated that approximately 29% supported gun control laws on the rights of owners. Currently, most people view laws on gun control more appropriate than laws on gun ownership rights. This trend has fluctuated from the year 2000 but still most people are of the view that gun control laws on ownership helps limit the rate of crime in the country.
On whether gun sale of guns should be completely banned, opinions vary across the population with most men opposing the ban on sale of hand guns. Approximately 55% of the US population is opposed to the ban on the sale of hand gun and about two third of this percentage are men. This is attributed to the fact that most men use guns to protect their families unlike women who rely mostly on the government to provide this service (Katarzyna 229-247)
Opinions on whether to have restrictive gun control or less restrictive gun control
People in support of a more restrictive gun control laws have three main strong points to support their argument namely the high rates of death associated with guns, that the second amend enacted in 1791 does not provide gun right to individuals and lastly they are of the view that there is need for the American society to have appropriate gun laws. Let’s begin with the society’s need for a safe environment where the proponents of this point ague that having individuals in the society with guns makes the whole environment unsafe for living.
Secondly, the high rates of crime committed using firearms is what has necessitated the call for restrictive gun laws and finally, the proponents of restrictive gun laws cite the second amendment which only allowed a collective ownership of gun for States and not private individuals whom are now allowed exclusive rights to own guns privately (Long 35).
On the other side, people who have proposed a less restricted rule argue that gun act as a means of self defense. Therefore to put restrictive laws on acquiring guns would jeopardize the lives of many civilians who rely on guns for their protection. In supporting their arguments, they have cited various incidences of crimes in States where the restrictive laws have been adopted and yet the levels of gun crimes have continued to increase. Secondly, proponents of less restrictive gun control laws argue that these laws restrict people from participating in recreational activities that require the use of guns. These activities include hunting and shooting competitions. Third is that this group of people believe that the second amendment clearly provided for the right to any American citizen to own gun without too much restrictions though this second amendment is still subject of debate on whether it gave the right to collective ownership of guns or private ownership of guns. Nevertheless, proponents of less restrict laws argue that the second amendment gave the citizens the rights to resist any tyrant government using the gun (Long 35).
According to this research paper, it can be asserted that crime increases gun control. This is because, looking at the constitutional development, all the amendments made were based on the prevailing crime situation precipitated by firearms. All the amendments were incorporated to tackle a given particular concern of firearms thereby reducing crime. Prior to 1934, the United States had stayed for a period of more than 100 years without amending its constitution with provision for firearms control. However, as the crime rate increased during the better part of early 20th century, there was need for laws governing gun ownership and gun usage. Therefore, as a result of the increased crime, gun control laws were inevitable. In addition, legislatures rely on the rate of crime to determine whether to initiate gun control laws or not. When crimes associated with guns increase, it prompts the legislatures and other politicians to adopt laws that would control the increase in crime. Therefore, it can be ascertained that due to increased criminal activities using firearms, gun control laws will continue to be formulated (Moorhouse, 103-124).
In my own opinion I would not prefer stringent gun control laws since in most States where this has been applied, crime rate tend to be high. Self discipline and responsibility is what should be adopted by every member of the society. When this is done, American society would be able to return to its good olden days where gun culture was an excellent practiced.
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