On September 12, 1994, President Bill Clinton approved the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, making it a federal law. Included in this Act is the Federal Assault Weapons Ban or AWB which prohibits that manufacturing of semi-automatic firearms or assault weapons bearing specified features . However, when the Act became void after 10 years as per the ‘sunset’ provision, it was not renewed. There have been constant debates and attempts to have the AWB renewed, although none of the proposed bills have been presented before the House. The sunset provision, however, is not a part of New York’s State law. As such, the ban is still in place here. Further, on January 15, 2013, the governor of New York – Andrew Cuomo – approved the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, also known as the New York Safe Act . This Act introduces more stringent restrictions aimed at enhanced gun control. However, gun control does not serve the purpose of protecting civilians, as can be seen in the example of Switzerland. In fact, the New York gun control laws may eventually prove to be counterproductive.
It should be noted that the recent changes to the New York gun control laws were made with the aim of preventing shootouts such as the one in Newton, Connecticut . According to the new law, the maximum magazine capacity of civilian arms has been reduced to a mere 7 rounds, down from 10. New York will also be following the 23 Executive Orders passed by President Obama. In a similar response to the horrific shootout at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 20 children and 6 adults were brutally murdered by a gunman, President Obama has issued 23 executive orders aimed at bringing down violent crimes through gun control . However, gun control will not result in lower crime rates, nor will it serve to protect innocent civilians who are mostly unarmed. Most of the 23 executive orders will not serve any purpose except to increase tax spending and wasting resources and manpower on an ill-directed initiative.
The president also requires a revision of gun locks and safety standards under the Consumer Product Safety Commission. However, most guns already have locks that work. This order cannot force people to lock their weapons. Further, a mentally ill gunman can easily find information through the worldwide web on not only how to unlock any gun but also how to operate it! If a person is intent on killing someone, locks will not stop them. The president also issued order that ban the sale of military style weapons. This would include the AR-15, which is similar to an AK-47. However, it should be noted that Lanza did not use the AR-15 to kill children, he used 4 perfectly legal handguns. He also tried to buy the gun but was denied. Hence, having assault class weapons removed from gun stores does not really serve the purpose of bringing down crime.
Another order asks for magazine capacity to be brought down to 10 rounds instead of 30. Anyone who knows anything about guns will know that changing magazines requires just a few seconds, barely enough for potential victims to tackle the gunman or run for cover. If, like Lanza, the perpetrator has multiple handguns, they would have several rounds at their disposal regardless of the legal limit. If a person has planned a massacre, he will quite obviously be prepared to shoot over a dozen or more people. If the intent is to murder one person, then 10 rounds are more than sufficient. Hence, limiting the number of rounds in a magazine is pointless.
The president also aims to provide ‘incentives’ to schools that hire school resource officers. While this law may safeguard schools that are willing to make the investment, it will not protect all schools. Instead, if the president had revoked the Gun Free Zones Ban, allowing teachers and administrative staff to carry concealed weapons, they would be much better equipped to defend themselves as well as students. A great example can be seen in Joel Myrick, assistant principal at Pearl High School, Mississippi, who used his .45 semi-automatic to subdue and restrain a gunman who killed two students and injured 7 in 1997. Calls for banning guns were raised back then but did not prevent the December 2012 shooting in Connecticut. If school staff was allowed to carry weapons, schools will not have to make any investments and the government will not have to spend tax payer money on ‘incentives’.
The main reason why gun control initiatives to lower crime will not work is scope of such laws. Criminals are unlikely to opt to purchase a registered weapon; it is law abiding citizens who do so. Hence, stricter gun control laws would result in fewer citizens bearing arms to defend themselves, while criminals who target them will still have access to arms through the black market. Instead of protecting citizens, gun control would leave them all the more vulnerable to attacks, as an unarmed civilian is more likely to fall victim of a premeditated attack than one who owns weapon. Gun control would, hence, not have a substantial impact on lowering violent crimes.
The reduction in the New York law of the number of rounds that can be loaded at any given time into a weapon owned by a civilian cannot be considered to be remotely effective. A person carrying such a weapon into public places is as likely to kill someone when compared to someone having three more rounds at their disposal. Further, in a preplanned assault, the perpetrator could easily carry more than one weapon which would allow him or her immediate access to several rounds. Finally, as mentioned earlier, it really does not take much time to reload magazines. The ban impacts the number of rounds that can be loaded at a time. However, the magazine capacity remains a minimum of 10 rounds. Someone who is intending to kill people will not really be bothered about following the law and leaving three spaces in the magazine empty. The changes in the magazine round limit has been challenged and protested against by gun owners and associations alike with gun owners going to the extent of refusing to have their weapons registered as per the new laws .
On the contrary to the notion that gun control will reduce gun related crimes, studies have found that the higher the number of civilians bearing arms, the lesser the rate of gun related crime would be . A great case in point is that of Switzerland. Although the country does not have an official army, it has a ‘people’s militia’. Most of its male population aged between 20 to 30 years are enrolled as part of the militia, given defense and weapons training, and are obliged to retain their personal weapons at home. As result, Switzerland has one of the highest gun ownership levels in the world . Although there has been limited call among opposition parties for stricter gun control in the country, it rejected by a February 2011 referendum . Nearly 4.5 million firearms, personal as well as military, are used by the 8 million people in Switzerland.
Yet, despite the widespread bearing of arms by civilians, the country has an astoundingly low gun related crime rate. For every 100,000 residents, a mere 0.5 gun homicides take place as of 2010. Comparatively, 2011 figures show that the rate of gun homicide per 100,000 is 5 . Random shootouts are also very rare in Switzerland, with the last case taking place in 2001 when an armed man opened within a regional parliament. 14 people were killed while 14 were injured. Although anti-gun lobbyists called for stricter regulations, the government dismissed them stating that the existing laws were sufficient and laid greater emphasis on citizen responsibility. In 2008, the government passed a law that required soldiers to store excess ammunition in military arsenals instead of at home. However, this law did not apply to private weapons.
The last time that the Swiss were involved in a violent conflict was in 1847 during a dispute between Protestants and Catholics. The reason behind Switzerland’s amazing success with gun ownership lies in the fact that its culture actually promotes it. Civilians casually carry guns and it is very common to see people carrying firearms in public places. Guns are a part of the nation’s identity and the Swiss take pride in it. The country has a formal gun lobby named Pro-Tell. According to Swiss laws, not only citizens, but anyone who is a legal resident, is above 18 years of age, does not have any known mental illnesses, and does not have a criminal record can acquire a license from the government. Further, such a person is allowed to purchase up to three firearms from legal and authorized sources. Although the sale of automatic rifles and limited other weapons is banned, semi-automatic weapons are legal, unlike in America .
The Swiss culture also promotes citizen responsibility from generation to generation. Children as young as 12 years practice shooting at ranges and always have easy access to guns. However, as they are trained in not just target practice, but also about the accompanying responsibility, gun ownership becomes engrained in their cultural identity. Social support and familial stability also play a major role in deterring gun related crimes . In America, gun ownership is attributed more to individualism, while in Switzerland, it is a sign of patriotism towards the country and support for fellowmen.
The recent changes made to the gun control law in New York hold little bearing as far are preventing gun related violent crimes are concerned. On the contrary, they may eventually deny innocent civilians the basic right to defend themselves against attackers. At the end of the day, criminals do not commit crimes by within the legal framework, which is an insensible proposition. Hence, laws aimed at curbing legal sales of guns, lowering magazine capacity or making background checks more stringent will not deter repeats of Pearl High School or Sandy Hook Elementary. Efforts to curtail gun related crimes would be better directed towards hitting the black market hard, forming an effective social support system for the mentally ill, and eliminating environments that drive people to commit such insanity. Further, there is a lot that can be learned from the Swiss government’s approach towards gun ownership and control. Focusing efforts towards imbibing a higher sense of responsibility among citizens from a young age will prove to be a more effective means of reducing gun related crime.
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