Firearms are an essential aspect of the American culture, and many consider the right to own a gun essential freedom under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, the level of gun violence exacerbated by a number of mass shootings in peaceful communities and schools is creating a significantly tense public and political debate. This paper argues that although gun possession is a protected freedom in the United States, there should be extensive legislation to heavily regulate the market for the purposes of reasonable firearm control and public safety.
Reducing Gun Violence
The United States remains one of the few developed nations with such lax gun regulations and has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the world, eclipsed only by a few impoverished countries. The level of gun deaths in the U.S. is approximately 4.43 deaths per 100,000, which exceeds other developed nations by tremendous margins (Aizenman). The effectiveness of firearm control legislation has been debatable, with state levels having mixed results. However, states which saw the greatest decrease in firearm mortality as a result of passed legislation focused on aspects of universal background checks for purchase and ammunition, as well as identification requirements for guns.
These are the conclusions that Kelasan et al. determined, suggesting that the application of such regulations and background checks at the federal level could statistically reduce gun deaths to as low as 1.8 per 100,000 in the U.S. (1847). Gun laws serve as a comprehensive and effective measure at the purpose of reducing gun deaths and injuries by ensuring that those who are incapable of handling such dangerous weapons or can be a danger to society have difficulty in obtaining firearms.
Gun control legislation has been proven to be effective in other countries around the world, including those with similar perspectives and gun culture as the U.S. at one point. Nations such as Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Norway, and New Zealand chose to implement restrictive gun control measures after a wave of mass shootings in the late 20th century. These countries adopted legislation which either outright banned gun ownership or placed severe restrictions on firearms, preventing civilians from owning military-grade weaponry. Legislators took a gradual approach by instituting a grace period and expansive government gun buyback programs.
However, after such regulations were placed, the countries saw a decline in annual gun violence and deaths, with mass shootings being extremely rare (Masters). This is indicative that gun policy can be effective at addressing the primary concern of firearm ownership, which is abuse through dangerous violence.
Social Safety and Responsibility
Another argument for gun control partially stems from the gun violence perspective but essentially argues that regulation is necessary to prevent firearms from being placed in the hands of dangerous individuals and ensuring safety to deter accidental deaths. Although the gun debate often centers around mass shootings and crime, there is a more social and domestic side to it. Guns are commonly used in small domestic conflicts and can lead to violent situations becoming deadly.
Guns are used to threaten spouses by domestic abusers or can be a threat to those who have access to guns in the household without proper background or training (such as children). Furthermore, gun regulation can include aspects such as ensuring proper safety features are included and limiting ammunition capacities, among others, in order to minimize domestic impacts of firearm ownership.
Examining historical trends, in brief, small regulations have had an impact on daily or domestic situations. For example, the right to carry (RTC) laws introduced were meant to ensure that only those with special permits and permissions could own firearms. Thus, it helped place guns in the hands of more responsible adults while deterring crime and open carrying of firearms by criminals.
Meanwhile, the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, which disqualified felons and others convicted from owning a firearm, at one point had a dedicated section to domestic abuse. Although this part of the legislation was eventually overturned in the Supreme Court, its brief implementation did demonstrate an effect on domestic gun violence, and the general law still has some impact on preventing felons from obtaining firearms (Cook and Donohue 1261). Therefore, gun control legislation addressing even minor aspects of firearm use or sales can have profound impacts on society with such a rich gun culture.
Legal and Regulatory Aspects
The argument for gun control also has some legal basis, although it does place some limits on the extent the regulations can reach. The growing consensus among legal scholars since the 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller is that the Second Amendment concerns individual right to bear arms. In this case, the D.C. area attempted to virtually ban all firearms, including handguns, arguing that the Second Amendment applied only military or militia contexts. The court overturned this, allowing possession of handguns, but did emphasize that the state has a right to regulate guns in terms of individuals who are allowed to purchase them, areas where guns can be carried, and various sales protocols which must be followed.
Furthermore, in another Supreme Court case, the United States v. Miller, it was ruled that the registration and perhaps outright ban of certain types of firearms is legal since it has no direct relationship to the “preservation of a well-regulated militia,” which the Second Amendment includes (“Bearing Arms Second Amendment”). Therefore, there is a legal basis to enacting gun control, with even the conservative Justice Thomas suggesting that the legal framework may change eventually to federally regulate gun sales.
The issue of gun control falls largely along the lines of political and cultural divides in the United States. One of the biggest arguments against control is the fundamental right and value set by the U.S. Constitution regarding the right to bear arms as a manner to protect one’s family and land against impostors or an oppressive government, and if needed to use the weapons to defend one’s freedom and country. It is a principle that many conservative Americans strongly uphold and believe the country is unique in that regard, particularly due to its history, which allowed regular citizens to form militias and overthrow oppressive rule. Therefore, firearms become a symbol of freedom and independence (Wozniak 17).
Another argument against gun control suggests that legislation will not prevent mass shootings and criminal use as those who desire to obtain a firearm would do so using illegal methods, which would further restrict any attempts to prevent tragedies. Some of the mass shooters in recent years obtained the firearms illegally, demonstrating that this can be done, and jurisdictions with strict gun control laws such as Chicago still experience a high rate of gun homicides. Instilling gun control without alternatives could have unintended consequences (Malcolm). Meanwhile, it may violate the rights to protect themselves of those who carry firearms legally and safely, an aspect which the opposition sees as a potential deterrent to anyone choosing to commit a crime with guns.
In the context of any legislative argument, it is important to consider the realities of modern social attitudes and political possibilities. With a rapid rise of conservatism, the Republican control of the government (including courts), and heavy lobbyism, gun ownership is becoming a valuable right to uphold. Therefore, any gun control legislation must take the form of light regulation that focuses more on identifying public threats, background checks, education, and other forms that are more precise rather than blanket bans which were instituted in other countries after mass shootings.
The success of gun laws greatly depends on public attitudes, and gradually, support is shifting away from pro-gun legislators and the NRA towards organized gun control groups. In recent mass shootings, it has become evident that the current background check system is insufficient, while assault weapons and technology, the likes of a bump stock that improve deadliness, do not belong in the hands of civilians if they plan to use it for peaceful means. The argument of the right to self-protection using such weapons can be logically limited to handguns. Meanwhile, the Constitutional rights can still be upheld, with comprehensive regulations addressing aspects of public safety that most countries have successfully implemented without consequences to freedoms that pro-gun activists commonly cite.
Gun control remains a controversial topic, although evidence demonstrates that firearms are becoming an issue in American society. While the Constitutional amendment will remain an apolitical centerpiece to preventing a complete ban on guns, strong regulations can be significantly beneficial. Gun violence can be curbed, social safety ensured, and legal rights are protected through competent gun legislation focusing on background checks and education, with the gradual removal of assault-type firearms. Such an approach is the most reasonable to curb the level of gun violence and mishandling occurring in the U.S. in the modern-day.
Aizenman, Nurith. “Deaths From Gun Violence: How The U.S. Compares With The Rest Of The World.” NPR. 2018. Web.
“Bearing Arms Second Amendment.” Cornell Legal Information Institute. Web.
Cook, Phillip J., and John J. Donohue. “Saving Lives by Regulating Guns: Evidence For Policy.” Science, vol. 358, no. 6368, 2015, pp. 1259-1261. Web.
Kalesan, Bindu, et al. “Firearm legislation and firearm mortality in the USA: a cross-sectional, state-level study.” The Lancet, vol. 387, no. 10030, 2016, pp. 1847-1855. Web.
Malcolm, John. “6 Reasons Gun Control Will Not Solve Mass Killings.” The Heritage Foundation, 2018. Web.
Masters, Jonathan. “U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2017. Web.
Wozniak, Kevin H. “Public Opinion About Gun Control Post–Sandy Hook.” Criminal Justice Policy Review, vol. 28, no. 3, 2015, pp. 255-278. Web.