Gun Safety Reform

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Gun Safety Reform
“The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings.” President Obama made this statement during his most recent address about the Oregon shooting. This profound statement brings to light an issue that has been pushed front and center in the United States of America. In a Small Arms Survey, although the U.S. has less than 5% of the world population, it has the highest gun per capita in the world.  The same survey also noted that out of every 100 Americans, roughly 88.8 of them own a firearm of some kind. Seemingly correlated, is the statistic that America has the highest gun related homicide rate among other developed nations, a sobering 3.21% out of every 100,000 people.  However, high gun ownership is not a direct cause of high gun violence.  Norway, which ranked number two in the same survey of gun ownership, only has a .5% homicide rate out of every 100,000 people (Masters).  So what gives?  It is blindingly clear that there are major differences in the culture and laws of America that gives the opportunity for guns to be used for harmful intent instead of proper uses.   Firearms, when used for home defense and recreation is a legal right and cultural tradition in America, but as more acts of violence are committed by guns, opinion is shifting against these weapons; however, with better education, stricter gun laws and a focus on mental health it is possible to return firearms to the positive light they should be viewed in.
The most important issue to address when discussing firearms is the simple fact that firearms are tools.  They are not inherently good or evil.  It is how they are used that determines how others view them.  There have been at least 152 school shootings since 2013 (“153 school shootings…”).  This reflects badly on guns, but their inappropriate use does not make them inherently bad.  In 2010, there were 230 justifiable gun homicides; meaning guns were used in self-defense to kill someone threatening them or their property (“Firearms Justifiable Homicides…”).  Though that number pales in comparison to the amount of homicides committed with guns, this number only represents when guns were used to kill in self-defense.  There are many anecdotal tales of guns being used to wound a perpetrator threatening harm or that the presence of a weapon was simply enough to dissuade the threat.  With proper use, guns can be used effectively to protect oneself and their property.  The saying “Blame the Indian, not the arrow” can be applied to the situation America has found itself in.  Guns are not the issue, it is the people who own and use them.
Mental health is a minefield in this day and age.  Unfortunately, for many, mental health issues have a negative stigma attached to them.  The reason this is so unfortunate is that mental health issues have become almost a modern day medical boogeyman. Only 44% of adults and 20% of children and adolescents receive the mental health treatment they need. While inherently very few mentally ill people pose any threat to society, there are some who pose a threat to both themselves and/or others.  Others are driven to extremes because their illness puts them in a place where they become victims (“Mental Health Myths…”). Although reform is needed in this area of medicine, there needs to be a conscious effort made to protect both the mentally ill and those around them from gun violence. In North Carolina for example, a person may purchase a firearm without a gun license as long as they pass a background check.  This check includes any record of someone being institutionalized or receiving outpatient medical care for mental health issues.  In these cases an involuntary judicial hearing is held to determine if the person's mental state qualifies them to purchase a weapon (N.C. Firearm Laws). However, if someone has not received treatment and help for a mental health problem then there is no record and thus no way to determine the mental health of a potential gun buyer.  This leaves a large number of mentally ill people who may cause harm with guns to have access to them.  Perhaps America could take a page out of Japan’s gun laws.  In Japan you must prove your mental health before owning a firearm (Max). Working to ensure the safety of those suffering from mental illness and those around them is only a small step in the right direction to ensuring gun safety for all.  The larger population of Americans without any mental health issues is without a doubt the cause of more gun violence.
While keeping guns out of the hands of those who could cause harm is important to the overall effort of gun control, perhaps more important is education about gun safety. In 2014, there were 1,600 reported accidental shootings (“Gun Violence Archive…”).  The most startling of these accidental shootings are not freak misfires or weapon malfunction, instead they are the ones involving family and children.  It is not within the capacity of a young child to understand gun safety, or that by pulling the trigger he or she might killing their sibling or parent.  Instead, it is the responsibility of an adult to know and utilize the best practices to keep themselves and their family safe around their firearms.  Many people do not take this responsibility seriously, bringing horrific scenes read about in the paper, to their own home.  The NRA has a few important tips on how to remain safe when using and storing a firearm in your home.  These common sense precautions seem simple, such as treating every gun as it is loaded, only point a weapon at your target, store guns and ammunition separately, and keep guns out of the reach of children (“NRA Gun Safety Rules”).  If all followed these tips, accidental shootings would plummet.  When buying a firearm there is no test to assess your knowledge on how to safely handle, use, or store a firearm.  Would it not make sense to have a required test, both written and with a range instructor to prove you're knowledgeable enough to be safe with your shiny new gun? 
There is one unavoidable fact about firearms; they can be used for wrong.  In the U.S. in 2011, there were 8,583 criminal offenses committed with firearms (“Expanded Homicide Data…”).  In 2013, firearms were used in 69% of murders in America (“Stories”). There is insurmountable evidence to support this fact.  If the evidence is so overwhelming, why don't we simply ban them?  In a 1999, report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm and Explosives it was found that 93% of guns used in crimes were obtained illegally (“Review of Firearm…”). Will keeping weapons out of the hands of those who intend to use them legally to protect their home, family, and themselves change the fact that criminals will still be able to illegally obtain these weapons?  The ways in which weapons end up in the hands of criminals are varied. Some weapons are smuggled into the U.S. illegally; many more are stolen, obtained from family, and purchased from someone illegally or at a gun show where background checks for buyers are not required (“Gun Show…”). Banning guns is not the answer; it is rather controlling and educating those who own them that can help curb gun use in crimes.
However, there is little consensus on how to best regulate firearms and educate the owners.  With so many opinions holding sway in the government, no choice will make everyone happy.  Therefore, it is best to tread carefully when it comes to suggesting changes to the current gun laws.  There are several loopholes that could be easily covered, as well as a few common sense practices that if put into law would eliminate some of the damages done by guns.  As mentioned briefly before, federal law does not require vendors at gun shows to conduct a background check.  These vendors are legally defined as “private sellers”, thus not a part of a federal law requiring “licensed sellers” to conduct background checks.  On a state level, some states require background check at these events.  In addition, some organizers of gun shows require having third party background checks done on buyer's (“Gun Show…”).  This is a major exploitable loophole, which needs to be addressed on the federal level. 
In addition to this glaring issue, some common sense practices, successfully used elsewhere should be in place in America.  Again, using Japan as an example, in that country potential gun buyers must take an all day course and pass a written test.  Also, they are required to take and pass a range test (Max).  If a similar system was implemented into law in the U.S. there in all likelihood would be a decrease in accidents involving firearms.  It would even be possible to make these classes free, or at a low cost to ensure the general public would have equal access.  Thereby, ensuring proper training to everyone who wishes to buy a gun.  By simply requiring the participants to buy a license at the end of the course, adopting a policy similar to the one seen with boating licenses in North Carolina, or raising taxes on gun purchases it would be possible to offset the cost of the course.  In addition, these measures would serve as another barrier to keep guns out of the hands of those who seek to do harm.  To require time and effort to actually obtain a firearm would ensure that only those who exhibit proper motivation can get a firearm and would eliminate purchases on a whim. 
Banning firearms in general would cause an uproar and prove to be disastrous, as it violates the Second Amendment (U.S. Constitution, amend. II).  It could however, be advantageous to ban certain attachments and weapon kits for firearms.  The AR-15, a popular rifle based off of the M16 weapons platform, is semi-automatic modern day sporting rifle.  It comes chambered in many different rounds and is the most modular and popular rifle on the market (“Modern Sporting…”).  However, it is in the sights of anti-gun groups because, the military style of this weapon often leads it to be compared to assault weapons used by the military.  Despite the design having military roots, it is no more than a modern day sporting rifle.  Though these same anti-gun groups do posses some valid points.  Ever heard of slide fire stocks?  This popular kit for AR-15s and other rifles is a stock that is “loosely” attached to the main body of the gun.  When firing, your non-trigger finger hand pushes the weapon forward while your other hand maintains pressure on the trigger.  This type of stock allows you to created simulated automatic fire by moving back and forth rapidly, as the counteracting forces of the recoil and your hand pushing forward cause the trigger to be pulled rapidly (Peters).  This attachment has no place on a civilian weapon.  Nor do large extended capacity magazines, carrying large amounts of ammunition, ranging from 30 to upwards of a 100 rounds.  This is unnecessary for recreation or home defense and encourages improper use of these weapons.  The institution of a federal law banning similar attachments or requiring one to own a manufacturer’s license to buy and install these attachments would appeal to many anti-gun groups while protecting one's right to a firearm.  Gun laws in the United States need reform.  In this country, there are strong feelings on this topic, so, such reform must be approached carefully and with the purpose of ensuring guns are more likely to be put to good use rather than being taken away.
Whether you are pro-gun or anti-gun, death hurts us all.  It is imperative that everything is done to prevent unnecessary violence by those owning guns, but banning weapons is not the answer.  They are simply tools that can be used, whether for good or for harm is up to the user.  That is why there is a need to identify those at risk of misusing weapons; as well as to reform laws to better reflect the reality we are living in.  Precautions can be taken, laws enacted, and opinions changed, but whatever happens it is important that forward action occurs.  While banning guns may seem like a simple solution that will wipe away the evil caused by these weapons, it is a temporary solution and is against constitutional rights, which would have major backlash.  In some cultures the idea of banning weapons may be a possibility, but in America, guns are as deeply ingrained as our constitution.  In fact, owning a firearm is counted as one of the inalienable rights of an American citizen. (U.S. Constitution, Amend. II)  Guns were the weapons of our freedom and it is impossible to look at history without finding guns playing an influential role in America.  The six-shooter is synonymous with the western expansion of America; the M16 with the Vietnam War era; the M1 Garand from WWII; and the simple muskets and hunting rifles, which were used by colonists to fight back against the British Empire.  Guns are as American as apple pie, but similarly, proper regulation is needed to ensure that neither do harm to you.






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