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Gun Control

On July Sixteenth in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, James E. Holmes opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns, shooting 70 people and killing 12. About a year and a half before, Jared Lee Loughner shot 18 people at a public congregation, including Gabrielle Giffords, a U.S. Representative. And this only scratches the surface of the roughly 20 mass shootings that occur in the U.S. each year. Logic and common sense would say that after a long history of gun violence, the U.S. would take steps to place certain regulations on gun use. But, even after the attempted assassination of a member of Congress, very little has changed mainly due to the efforts of the NRA and other like-minded groups and individuals who do not want any more gun control laws to be put into place.

The main argument that these groups employ is that, in their eyes, any new restrictions the government might place on firearms would be unconstitutional because they would violate the Second Amendment, commonly known as the amendment that gives citizens the right to bear arms. Also expressed is the view that occasional shootings are an acceptable price to pay for being having the ability as a society to defend oneself. They also argue that gun control would do very to prevent future firearm-caused homicides, and thus have no function except to limit our rights. However, I think that these organizations are incorrect in their beliefs, and that new gun regulations should be implemented.

The Second Amendment 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”. The right to bear arms has always been central to American culture and politics, and I agree that allowing citizens to defend themselves is a hallmark of a great Republic. But there is a line that has to be drawn between reasonable and ridiculous. There is simply no need for a hundred-round drum magazine, like the one Holmes used, for sporting or most defensive purposes. Nor is there a need for concealed weapons such as certain handguns, which are usually only used with assault in mind. By placing restrictions on these weapons and weapon accessories, the government is not taking away your ability to hunt or to defend yourself, but is trying to defend you from people who might use weapons for malevolent purposes. One may argue that this would still be limiting our rights. But consider the classic, “Shouting ‘Fire!’ in a movie theatre” example: while we have the right to free speech, we cannot say things that may harm others, illustrating the fact that rights are by no means absolute. Thus, instead of sacrificing lives to have some relatively unnecessary privileges, we should instead compromise a little to trade those things for more safety.

Still, there is the black market, and criminals could still trick the regulation system, so why would additional restrictions help prevent these carefully planned out shootings? And where is the proof that gun laws do in fact protect us? Yes, it’s true that a determined criminal could probably still get his hands on a gun even with bans in place, but the fact remains that if stricter gun control laws were in place, both Holmes and Loughner would’ve had a much harder time purchasing firearms and ammunition. Loughner was arrested previously for drug possession, one of the things that would prevent someone from being able to purchase weapons. But due to the insufficient but perfectly legal background check the gun store clerk performed (Loughner just had to fill out a F.B.I. form without any references or secondary checks), Loughner’s criminal record was not revealed to the clerk and he was able to purchase his handgun. In the month and a half leading up to the Colorado shooting, Holmes purchased a total of 6,000 rounds of ammunition and 4 firearms, which, if there were better records of firearms and ammunition sales, probably would’ve immediately aroused the suspicion of the police or the F.B.I. In both cases, if there was more regulation of firearms, Holmes and Loughner would’ve either failed, been caught, or at least been extremely delayed in their plans for murder, and the regulations would’ve saved a significant amount of lives. Additional regulations will help hinder criminals in these relatively preventable cases, and the lives that could be saved are all that you need as justification to implement those regulations.

And, as common sense would dictate, it turns out that harsher gun regulations do in fact mean lower rates of gun-cause homicides. In the U.K. in 2009, the number of intentional firearm-related homicides per 100,000 people was .0073, compared to the U.S. rate of 3.0 homicides per 100,000 citizens. And, incidentally, the U.K. has far more stringent firearm regulations than the U.S. This is true throughout the world, especially in more developed countries that have a sufficient police force, with countries like the U.K., Japan, Finland, Australia, Canada, etc. Each of these countries has a lower ratio of firearm-caused homicides than the U.S. Thus, rather than do nothing except limit our rights, regulations do help lower the number of gun caused homicides in a country, which seems to be a pretty good reason to put them in place. Another very important point that should be brought up is that we are not the only one affected by our country’s lax gun laws. In recent years the number of shootings that have occurred in Toronto, Canada have spiked up dramatically, and in Mexico, deaths from guns used in drug wars remain high, which has all been connected to firearms trafficking from the U.S. Even if we as a country find it acceptable to allow killing sprees to take place without proper efforts to prevent them, we should at least respect the rights of people living in other countries that did not agree to our policies but are still being affected by them.

Currently proposed regulations, official or not, would not be so radical as to all but remove our right to bear arms. Recently, in 2011, Representative Carolyn McCarthy and Senator Frank Lautenberg pushed for a renewal of the ban on magazines with capacities of over ten rounds. Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for tighter background checks and stricter qualifications for gun possession. If these proposals were to be brought into law, they would all be steps in the right direction.

Effective gun control is possible. In 1996 in Port Arthur, Tasmania in Australia, Martin Bryant went on a killing spree, murdering 35 and injuring 23 others. As a result, the Australian government immediately banned guns deemed assault weapons, announced a mandatory buyback program of 650,000 of these firearms, and placed more restrictions on the licensing and regulation of firearms in their country. 16 years later, Australia has not had another mass shooting, and the amount of firearm-caused suicides and homicides have also decreased. Australia responded. We would do well to follow its example.

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YoungLibertarian said...
Feb. 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm:
I think Australia and the United Kingdom have much different situations than the United States. Perhaps they can manage banning guns, but we can't. The population would be divided far too much.   The UK and Australia have fewer issues with violence - there are fewer issues that involve shootouts, like rivalries between gangs as well as wars between drug cartels. The citizens there can feel more secure without having "assault weapons" for protection. I honestly don't ... (more »)
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