Should the US have stricter gun control laws?
Guns have a special place in American history and Americans have always had a love for firearms. This love affair for guns started in the seventeenth century, when the early settlers were required to carry gun to protect themselves from Indian attacks. The ‘Kentucky rifle’ of the 1700s, Samuel Colt of the nineteenth century and WWII veterans bringing home their enemy guns as trophies are all symbols of the proud American past. However, the spate of recent mass shootings has called for a stricter regulation of gun ownership and distribution. The debate over the issue of gun control has been going on for many years with no definite solutions. The gun control advocates call for the state and federal governments to do more to regulate gun ownership, while the gun right activists believe that gun ownership should be encouraged and not curtailed.
The second Amendment of though US constitution is pretty much the cornerstone of the entire debate. It states that,
“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.”
While the gun control activists argue that the amendment was drafted for a different context and cannot be considered as a license for distributing gun without check, the gun rights activists consider any gun control initiative to be a violation against the second amendment. The gun rights faction argue that the second amendment has declared gun ownership as the right of a citizen, and any law passed to curb gun ownership is a direct infringement of constitutional rights.
For almost two centuries, there was a lot of ambiguity in interpreting the amendment. For many years, the judges understood that the amendment was applied to firearm possession for military purposes only. They also believed that it limited the power of only the federal government and the State governments can, meanwhile, enact laws that control gun ownership. This ambiguity was cleared by the famous judgment of 2008, in the District of Columbia v. Heller case.
The judgment in this case clearly established that the second amendment protected the civilians’ right to own a gun. This judgment enabled scrapping of strict laws on gun ownership in the states of Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Justice John Paul Stevens, who served on the Supreme court for 35 years, states in his book “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution” that the second amendment should be modified by adding five words.
He says that the second amendment was drafted because the founders had concerns that a national army might pose threat to the security of the States. He also clarifies that the second amendment protects the right of a citizen to carry a gun for self-defense and, in its present form, may prohibit imposing stricter gun laws. So, he suggests that the words, when serving in the Militia, to be added to the amendment, so that it would unambiguously conform to the original intents of the constitution’s draftsmen.
The main argument of the gun lobby is that Americans have the right to own guns, and it would be unconstitutional to infringe on it. They further argue that armed citizens can defend themselves better than unarmed citizens facing violent attacks. Guns, according to them, will enable them to protect themselves and their property lawfully. They also argue for the rights of groups like hunters, recreational gunmen and sports shooters. Gun control laws have evoked strong reaction from groups such as the NRA, and this passion for guns can be traced down to cultural reasons.
Right from the time of the early settlers guns have been a symbol of pride for the Americans. Hunting was an auxiliary source of food for the early agrarian community of settlers, and the ability to handle firearms was almost considered as ‘rite of passage’ for young people entering into adulthood. Also, the militia and frontiersmen depended on firearms to protect themselves from invading armies and hostile Indians. Before the American Revolution, the colony did not have a formal army, and the armed citizens carried the responsibility of acting as soldiers.
In the years immediately preceding the American Revolution, there was growing discontent over the taxation from the British Empire. As a result, the British imposed a gun powder embargo to combat the threat of colonists taking on the British forces. This marked the starting of the gun possession debate and in 1842, the Arkansas High court passed a judgment in State v. Buzzard that “the free white men of this State shall have a right to keep and bear arms for their common defense" but prohibited concealed weapons.
Over the years, there were many debates and judicial battles based on the interpretation of the amendment, but it is widely accepted today that it guarantees rights of gun ownership to the citizens. The issue however is the amount of restrictions and checkpoints involved in the process of a citizen acquiring a firearm. The gun lobbyists argue that stricter controls would discourage citizens to buy guns, which, according to them, would put their safety in danger.
They argue that a criminal, who has the least respect for the law, would find his way to a gun no matter how strict the laws are. A person, who is immoral enough to attack another human being or damage his property, and, in the process, is violating the sacred laws of humanity, cannot be expected to respect man-made laws. It is the law-abiding majority that is going to be put off, if there are strict regulations involved in buying a firearm.
The gun right activists argue that a gun in the hands of one of the teachers in Sandy hook could have saved many innocent lives. Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker argues that nothing proposed in the gun-control debates of today could have prevented Sandy Hook incident. The gun right activists strongly argue that limiting the access to firearms would only create a thriving black-market for firearms. They claim that today unlicensed sellers are flooding the internet with firearms, putting innocent lives in grave danger.
The gun lobby argues that a universal background check might diminish the overall crime rate comparatively, but it will not have any effect on mass shootings. They point out that many of the mass massacres happened during the recent years were done using legally purchased firearms. These firearms were not purchased from a gun show or unregulated private dealers, but many of the perpetrators cleared the background checks easily, before purchasing the weapons used to kill people.
They elucidate that passing a law that has nothing to do with the problem would not put an end to it. Calls for stricter gun laws are dismissed by this faction as a knee-jerk reaction, which would produce no results in the ground reality. The case study of Switzerland is often taken to justify gun rights. The US and Switzerland have the highest guns per capita in the world. According to a study conducted by Martin Killias, a criminologist at the University of Zurich, almost 28 percent of all household own a gun in Switzerland.
The country does not have a standing army and depends on its armed citizens to act as a militia. The gun ownership of Switzerland is highest in Europe, and its crime rate is the lowest. The easy availability of guns has helped this country curb violence. However, in the United States though the rate of gun ownership is high, the crime rate is also high. So, this is cited as a proof that gun ownership has no relationship to crime rates.
John Lott, a renowned author, argues that defensive guns are mostly used to threaten an intruder rather than shoot at them. He explains that usage of defensive guns and their advantages are underreported in news media, while the deaths caused by guns are exaggerated. He gives many examples in his book ‘more guns less crime’ on how having a gun has helped people to wade off attacks. He further describes how a concealed gun is particularly useful for women and people living alone.
“A New Jersey Woman told how two men simultaneously had tried to open both front doors of the car she was in. When she brandished her gun and yelled, the men backed away and fled.”
Proponents of gun control argue that while it is true that a gun in the hands of a teacher could have saved a few children in the elementary school shooting, if the killer was prevented from getting his hands on a firearm the entire incident would not have happened. They argue that stronger laws will make it more difficult for the mentally ill persons and criminals to access a gun. There have been lots of incidents in the recent past where the mentally deranged persons and children were able to easily access a gun.
Gun control faction elucidates that there is more opportunity for a crime or a minor clash to turn bloody and violent when it is accompanied by a gun. America has the highest rate of gun related crimes in the world, and New York City has been successful in diminishing crime rate by putting into practice effective gun control laws. Today, guns are not as essential as they were in the time of the settlers, and the gun related laws needs fine-tuning to fit to the needs of the current time.
If we take the same example of Switzerland, though crime rates there are lesser than its European neighbors, a sizeable percentage of the crimes were committed with the aid of guns. According to a statistics given by the Federal police, in the year 2009, 55 out of the 236 homicides and 416 out of the 3530 robberies were committed with a gun. The Swiss Statistical Office convey that 17% of all suicides that took place during 2009 were committed using a gun. The recent Daillon shooting, which took place in Southern Switzerland, where a gunman killed 3 women and injured 2 men, has raised concerns over gun violence in the country.
“I want people to be afraid of the fact that this could happen to them. But it’s real. It doesn’t have to be understood to be real.”
The above words were said by Peter Lanza, the father of Adam Lanza, who was the perpetrator of the mass massacre in Sandy Hook elementary school. There are many other concerned people who call for some action to be taken to tackle gun-related crimes in the country. Though the root cause of such shooting sprees can be a lot of things, like drug overdose, violence induced by videogames, and lack of proper mental health access, one cannot ignore the fact that access to gun was one of the main causes.
A proper universal check will help in a huge way to prevent gun falling in the hands of criminals, mentally ill and children. Felipe Calderon, the Mexican President, opine that gun laws in the US are too lenient, and state that ninety percent of illegal guns recovered in Mexico originate from the US. Most of the gun related deaths are accidents, like a child accessing a loaded gun or a hunter firing in the wrong direction. According to a 2005 study, almost 1.7 million children in the US live in houses that have loaded and unlocked guns.
In the recent wave of mass shootings, one another important gun related issue that is not debated as widely is suicide. More than fifty percent of suicides in the US take place with the aid of a gun. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the US, and a troubled mind and a loaded gun most often than not lead to drastic results. The fatality rate is more acute among the teenagers who are more easily overcome by impulsiveness.
There are other modes of suicides available, like say knife. But they are messy, time taking and painful. This would give a person enough time to reflect on his decision, and may make him change his mind and call for help. Guns are an effective way to die a quick death and are deadly at the hands of impulsive persons. The person would have died before any temptation to ruminate erupts in his mind.
Laws such as universal background check will bring most of the private firearm sales under the net of background check. The argument of the gun rights faction that gun laws would not restrain criminals from getting a gun holds merit. However, unfortunately classic criminals are not the sole perpetrators of gun violence. Most of the recent gun tragedies were committed by people with little or no criminal background.
So, the problem here is easy access to gun. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, was trained in firearms by his mother who was a gun enthusiast. He had easy access to gun, without which he could not have committed the terrible shooting. Simple misunderstandings become life-threatening incidents when the incident is accompanied by a gun. A moviegoer in Florida shot a fellow viewer because he would not stop texting. The fact that he had a gun and he was allowed to carry it with him in a theater had transformed a simple incident to murderous proportions.
The gun rights advocates say if we make people undergo mandatory background checks it would not stop criminals and it would discourage many people to purchase guns. Gun control faction states that even if this argument is correct, it still may save many a lives. Gun possession sometimes gives a false sense of security, while it actually escalates the danger involved in a situation. The mere sight of a gun in a tense situation urges the opponent to act violently. A study conducted in 2009, by the University of Pennsylvania states that a person carrying a gun gets shot 4.5 times more than a person who is unarmed.
The need of the hour is a sensible and mature approach to the problem of gun ownership. Yes, Americans love their guns, but one should not forget that this toy was designed to kill. The number of children murdered by guns in America is much larger than many other industrial nations combined. Some laws such as the concealed weapons law, which allows persons to carry gun anywhere they go, even to a place like bar needs some rethinking.
Gun ownership is an American right but there is a need for some strict laws with regard to gun ownership and distribution. Freedom and liberty are a person’s birthright. However, if enduring little difficulties like a delay in procuring weapons because of a background check and sacrificing some freedom in form of mandatory gun locks, could save a few lives, then one should willingly accept them.
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