Gun Control 17 Essay, Research Paper
In general, the United States represents a very sharp end of the spectrum as far as gun control policies are concerned. The United States has the loosest control of private handgun ownership compared to Britain who has one of the strictest. Comparing the position of pro-gun factions in the US, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), with the position of anti-gun movement, is enlightening because the pro-gun control proponents in the US only fight for individuals to acknowledge that the Second Amendment is not unconditional, and should be open to reasonable restrictions.
The pro-gun control groups in the US recognize the outcomes that are the consequences of guns in the hands of criminals or the mentally incompetent. The current law that require background checks on all sales and transfers of guns; was a reaction (but not limited to) to a mentally deranged man opening fire on school children. When similar disasters happen, one group will support stricter gun control while another group will go out and purchase guns, in an effort to feel more secure. The question that arises is should the US react by strengthening their gun control laws, or should they terminate gun control all together?
THE “PRO” OR NRA POSITION
The NRA has several slogans that sum up their philosophy quite concisely. One such slogan is “Guns don’t kill. People do.” The argument behind this slogan is that it is the people who make the weapon dangerous. The ordinary citizen who buys a gun legally and registers it is the person most likely to use the weapon responsibly. On the other hand, it is generally believed that the criminal element will always be able to obtain guns. To limit the access of the ordinary citizens is, therefore, seen as giving the criminal the advantage.
Actor and president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), Charlton Heston, is a familiar face to all Americans (Williams 10). Heston makes a good spokesman for the NRA position. He said, “Look at Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mae Zedong, Poi Pot, Idi Amin everyone of these monsters, on seizing power, their first act was to confiscate all firearms in private hands” (Williams 10). This statement also represents a powerful argument for the pro-gun factions.
This point of view believes that an armed public is fundamentally helpful in maintaining the rights of the people. As Heston indicated, authoritarian governments quickly make sure that the public is helpless to resist drastic measures. One can see this point. Consider for a moment what the reaction of the any black community in the US would be if government forces tried to force them into railroad cars in the same manner that the Nazi corralled Jews for deportation to concentration camps in the 1930s and 40s. African-Americans would not go quietly. They would open fire, just as Jewish resistance did develop when guns could be obtained.
In writing about the difficulties of obtaining a legal gun permit, Lawrence Minard quoted his father. This opinion does a good job of summing up the attitudes of many Americans relative to gun control as well as the general philosophy of the NRA. Minard’s father said, “Any form of licensing is just an underhanded attempt to ban guns” (39). At the time that Minard heard this while growing up, he indicated that his initial reaction was disbelief. However, last year, Minard’s father wanted to give him a shotgun, a premium-grade, 12-bore, side-by-side, handmade German weapon from the 1920s, beautifully engraved (39). Before Minard could receive the gift, he had to obtain a New York State gun permit. Minard reports that New York City has one office where a permit for a long-barreled weapon can be obtained. It is located in the heart of the Criminal Court Building in Queens in the basement. The paper work required giving information as to criminal record, history of mental instability, etc. Three different sets of fingerprints were required as well as proof of residency (recent utility bill plus passport) and four photos (Minard 39). It cost $74 to have the New York State Division of Criminal Services check out the fingerprints and $55 for the New York City Police Department for their time. Only money orders were accepted as payment. Minard filled out the paperwork on Nov. 15. As of March 18 of the next year, he still had not received his permit (Minard 39). He wrote that he commented on the paperwork to the helpful clerk who was running the permit office. She replied cheerily, “You should try getting a handgun permit. No, don’t bother. You’ll never get it. Frankly, we don’t really want people to have guns” (Minard 39). The author comments that she at least was honest.
THE CON OR ANTI-GUN POSITION
Many American people feel as though they have the right to keep and bear arms. This right is protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution, just as the right to publish editorial comment in any magazine is protected by the First Amendment. Americans remain committed to the constitutional right to free speech even when their most powerful oracles have, at times abused the First Amendment s inherent powers. Obviously the American people believe no democracy can survive without a free voice.
In the same light, the authors of the Bill of Rights knew that a democratic republic has a right indeed, a need to keep and bear arms. Millions of American citizens just as adamantly believe the Second Amendment is crucial to the maintenance of the democratic process. Many express this belief through membership in the National Rifle Association of America.
Scholars who have devoted careers to the study of the Second Amendment agree in principle that the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental to our concept of democracy. No high-court decision has yet found grounds to challenge this basic freedom. Yet some that oppose this freedom want to waive the constitutionality of the gun control question for the sake of their particular and sometimes peculiar band of social reform.
In doing to they seem ready, even eager, to disregard a constitutional right exercised by at least 70 million Americans who own firearms. Contrary to current antigun evangelism, these gun owners are not bad people. They are hard working, law abiding, and tax paying citizens. History repeatedly warns us that human character cannot be scrubbed free of its defects through vain attempts to regulate inanimate objects such as guns.
Violent crime continues to rise in cities like New York and Washington even after severe firearm-control statutes were rushed into place. Criminals, understandably, have illegal ways of obtaining guns. Antigun laws the waiting periods, background checks, handgun bans, etc only harass those who obey them. Why should an honest citizen be deprived of a firearm for sport or self-defense when, for a gangster, obtaining a gun is just a matter of showing up on the right street corner with enough money?
The United States tend to respond to horrific violence with new legislation. The shootings of President Ronald Reagan and President Secretary James Brady eventually resulted in the Brady Law, which requires a waiting period for handgun purchases (Witkin 44). What about those guns that are already in the hands of the public? The number of guns in the hands of the U.S. public makes the issue a “nonstarter” in America (Witkin 44). There are around 230 million guns in civilian hands in this country, and approximately 50% of all homes have one. Polls in the US indicate that many American gun owners would ignore a ban if one were issued (Witkin 44). Americans generally oppose a ban with statistics that usually range from around 60% opposed to 40% in favor (Anonymous 20).
Several states have liberalized their laws concerning who can own handguns. Florida liberalized its laws concerning concealed-weapons in 1987. Proponents of the measure predicted that there would be a decline in crime while critics warned of a bloodbath (Fest 6). Both were wrong, Homicides went down as incidences of violent crime went up (Fest 6).
In 1993, Virginia passed law that limited the number of handguns that could be purchase by a single individual to one per month. This measure was taken in response to the growing reputation that Virginia was acquiring as a principal gun supplier of the illegal market (Weil; Knox 1759). Research has shown that this law was effective in controlling the supply of illegal weapons coming out of Virginia (Weil; Knox 1759).
US opinion is so divided on this subject that it is difficult to know whom to believe for the American, and who is undecided on this issue. It is literally possible to read well-supported statistics for both sides. One group’s statistics indicate that gun-control legislation is, at best, ineffective. Another group’s statistics indicate that laws are indeed effective, such as the study on Virginia’s law, which is quoted above. On the other hand, the study was published in the journal of the American Medical Association, which would be expected to take a pro-gun control stand, so one has to suspect bias.
Others, such a Schumer, propose a middle ground, national gun policy that takes into accord the traditions of the American public, but keeps guns out of the hands of children, criminals and the dangerously mentally incompetent (2). Basically such as policy would not interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens to have firearms for legitimate purposes such as sports shooting and self-defense (Schumer 2).
This viewpoint differs with the NRA position that the right to bare arms is guaranteed by the Constitution. Schumer states, “The NRA has convinced a lot of people that the right to bear arms is an absolute right. It is not, any more than the right to have an automobile is an absolute right” (2).
One can see Schumer’s point. Society routinely restricts the privilege of driving an automobile. Those who abuse the privilege lose the right. It is also difficult to understand how the NRA reasoning extends to such things as automatic weapons, and bullets that are capable of piercing the protective vests worn by police officers, yet the NRA routinely opposes measures intend to restrict use of these items.
It can be argued that NRA and the anti-gun control groups, in general, have become so entrenched in their positions that there is a knee-jerk reaction to any legislation. Even when the legislation is practical, reasonable, and does not unduly restrict the rights of the private citizen. Like Minard’s father, they suspect any restrictions as just the first step in instituting an all-out ban.
For much America’s history, the United States was inadequately populated. There was plenty of room between rural farms and every farmer had his shotgun for chasing off coyotes, foxes and what-have-you. Also there was the American frontier where justice was an individual matter and Indian attack was a constant possibility. Those times are gone, and have been gone for nearly a century. It’s time, probably past time, for Americans to give up these images and to realize that the country has become far too populated to continue to operate by the old rules. Americans will undoubtedly continue to own guns.
Nevertheless, rational gun control that meets on a middle ground will save lives and reduce crime. Whatever the NRA argues about “guns don’t kill,” the laws of probability indicate that a tremendous amount of weaponry exponentially increases the possibility of violence. It’s time for America to face this fact. Every year thousands of people die needlessly due to the proliferation of weaponry that is available in this country. The saddest occurrences are when those who die are children. Although Minard found the red tape necessary for owning a gun in New York State to already be extraordinary, perhaps it didn’t go far enough. Perhaps Minard should have been required to take a course in gun safety or at least, to indicate how the weapon would be stored if his home contains small children. The NRA would certainly protest if such legislation was introduced, but consider that it is the job of the government to intervene when minors are at risk, so there is a certain precedent for such an action.
Assume that for the sake of argument that to a reasonable degree of criminological certainty, guns are every bit the public health hazard they are said to be. It follows, and many journalists and few public officials have already said, that we ought to treat guns the same way we do smallpox viruses. Guns should be isolated from potential hosts and destroyed as speedily as possible.
The restrictions that are placed on gun-control proponents are many, but are easily defeated. Gun control proponents have latched onto national controls as a way of finally making gun control something more than a gesture. The same forces that have defeated local regulation will defeat further national regulation. Imposing higher cost on weapons ownership will, of course, slow down the weapons trade to some extent. But planning to slow it down in such a way as to drive down crime and violence, or to prevent motivated purchasers from finding ample supplies of guns and ammunition is an escape from reality.
There is no substitute for addressing the root causes of crime bad education and lack of job opportunities and the disintegration of families, are a few factors that I believe to complement crime. Conventional crime-control measures, which by stiffening punishments or raising the probability of arrest aim to make crime pay less, cannot consistently affect the behavior of people who believe that their alternatives to crime will pay virtually nothing. Young men who did not learn basic literacy and numerate skills before dropping out of public schools may not have been worth hiring at the minimum wage set by George Bush.
Firearms are nowhere near the roots of the problem of violence. As long as people come in unlike sizes, shapes, ages, and temperaments, as long as they diverge in their taste for risk and their willingness and capacity to prey on other people or defend themselves from predators, and above all as long as some people have little or nothing to lose by spending their lives in crime, disposition to violence will persist.
This is what makes the case for the right to bear arms, not the Second Amendment. It is foolish to let anything ride on the hopes for effective gun control. As long as crime pays as well as it does, we will have plenty of it, and honest folk must choose between being victims and defending themselves.
Anonymous. “A tale of two lobbies: why do two similar countries disagree so Profoundly about guns?” The Economist, v341 n7988 (1996): October, p. 20.
Fest, Ted. “The great gun debate: get the picture?” U.S. News & World Report, v119 N3 (1995): July, pp. 6-7.
McGuire, Stryker “The Dunblane effect: horror from the massacre prompts a ban on Handguns,” Newsweek, v128 n18 (1996): October, p. 46.
Minard, Lawrence. “Don’t outlaw it red tape it,” Forbes, v159 n7 (1997): April, p. 39.
Schumer, Charles E. “Toward a rational gun policy,” Criminal Justice Ethics, v14 n2 (1995): Summer-Fall, pp. 2-3.
Sewell, Dennis. “Gun ‘n’ red roses,” New Statesmen & Society, v9 n404 (1996): May, p. 11.
Weil, Douglas S.; Knox, Rebecca C. “Effects of limiting handgun purchases on interstate transfer of Firearms,” JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, v275 n22 (1996): June, pp. 1759-1761.
Williams, Patricia J. “The NRA’s, ABC’s,” The Nation, v267 n5 (1998): August, p.10.
Witkin, Gordon. “A very different gun culture: Britain plans a near total ban On handguns,” U.S. News & World Report, v121 n17 (1996): October, p. 44.