Under the Gun
October 9th, 2017
Last week at a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada, Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured 489; the concert became the largest and deadliest mass shooting by an individual perpetrator in U.S. history. And in the following days, the media has been rife with debate about gun control and what we can do to prevent another terrorist shooting from occurring.
But even before the tragedy of the Las Vegas shooting last week, the gun control debate has been a heated topic of controversy in the United States. Some protest that stricter gun regulations would improve the safety of all Americans. Others say that government management of civilians’ firearms would be a violation of Second Amendment rights. These are only two of the many arguments for and against gun control, and there’s no clear compromise. Our current situation has too many or too few restrictions depending on who you ask, and with recent events (such as the Orlando, Chicago, and Las Vegas shootings) leaving people terrorized across the country, we evidently need a better way to control gun violence.
The main argument as to why people should be allowed to carry guns is that more laws regarding gun control would breach the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which states: “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 Second Amendment does not, however, give citizens the unlimited right to bear arms. While the want to defend yourself and your family is perfectly reasonable, the average citizen does not need to have semi-automatic assault rifles — such as the ones used in the Las Vegas shooting — in their homes for self defense. When states regulate firearms, they do not violate the Second Amendment; they make our country safer.
Although Americans may feel safer with at least some type of gun in their homes, a two-and-a-half year study at the University of Pennsylvania found that people in possession of any firearms are 4.5 times more likely to be shot than non-gun-owners. And when a state allows its residents to possess guns, children often find them and inadvertently hurt people. In March of 2016, a gun rights activist in Florida was shot in the back by her four-year-old son when she left a loaded handgun in the backseat of her car. In March of 2017, 3-year-old Yasha Ross from Pittsburgh found a loaded gun while at the house of a family friend, shot herself in the chest, and died. This past September, 2-year-old Kyree Myers came across a handgun at his home in South Carolina and fatally shot himself in the head. In the same month in Florida, 4-year-old Yanelly Zoller reached into her grandmother’s purse for candy but pulled out a gun instead, and shot and killed herself. Someone is shot by an American toddler more than once a week on average — meaning that every year, toddlers kill over twice as many people as terrorists do — just because there are guns lying around and accessible to children in family homes.
With recent debate over the US’s gun control policies, stories of successful systems of gun control in other countries have been circulating the media. Japan has made a particularly famous example, with some of the most rigid laws known: a zero-tolerance policy on handguns, tedious processes to buy a gun, and strict regulations for keeping one. The process of buying a gun consists of background checks, mental health and drug tests, a written exam, and a marksmanship test with a minimum passing grade of 95%. Those who possess shotguns and air rifles (the only legal firearms) are regulated by yearly police inspections, the government’s overriding ability to search and seize weapons, caps on the number of gun shops in existence, limits on ammunition amount per gun owner and separate storage of firearms and ammunition, with both under lock and key. Although some arguments against gun control in the US maintain that restricting gun ownership won't actually reduce the number of people who own guns or deaths related to them, Japan’s system is effective; in 2016, they held a phenomenally low rate of gun deaths in 2016, at 0.06 per 100,000 people.
South of Japan, Australia has amped up its gun control dramatically in the past couple of decades. From 1984 to 1995, there were 10 mass shootings in Australia, and during this time, gun regulation laws in place remained ill-enforced and lenient — until a gunman killed 35 people at a seaside resort in Port Arthur, Tasmania. It was the worst massacre in Australian history. Following the incident, the Australian government initiated sweeping gun control measures across state and local governments, which involved a huge-scale buyback of over 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, prohibition of all private sales, demand of a license to own a gun, and requiring a “genuine reason” (self-defense not included) to buy one. After the new regulations, Australia faced significant drops by over 50% in homicide and suicide rates, as well as in armed robberies. There was no corresponsive rise in other types of homicides, and there was no increase in home invasions, contrary to beliefs that gun ownership is needed to hinder such crimes. Many studies have been done on Australia’s success in responding to a mass shooting with mass gun control, leading people to wonder especially now why America isn’t following suit.
The US’s current gun laws generally regulate the possession of firearms and ammunition, but rules vary by state. Neither Louisiana nor Alaska requires background checks, licenses, or registration in the acquiring of a firearm, and they hold respective rates of 19.3 and 19.8 deaths by firearm per 100,000 people in the state. In comparison, Connecticut has fairly lengthy gun restrictions, mandating background checks for transactions, registration and state permits to purchase and carry any firearm, and a license to own assault weapons; in turn, Connecticut holds one of the lowest rates of gun death in the country, at 5.2 per 100,000 people. Similarly, Hawaii has a rate of 2.8 gun deaths, and requires firearm registration, background checks for private transactions, handgun carry permits, and is in practice “Non-Permissive” for open carry.
In June of 2016, President Trump tweeted, “I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.” Unsurprisingly, Trump faced retaliation for this comment, as the subtext essentially stated that it’s okay to ban guns only for Muslims and other foreigners. Gun control on the basis of race is obviously wrong, and with anti-gun laws already criticized for targeting less affluent areas and people of color, it’s especially important to avoid race-based gun control for a safer, more progressive nation.
Fortunately, following the recent Las Vegas shooting, Trump announced his support for banning assault rifles and enacting a longer waiting period to perform background checks on those wishing to buy guns.
These national and international statistics seem so clearly indicative of the relationship between the degree of gun control and the number of gun-related deaths that it’s hard to see why there’s any debate surrounding gun control at all. So many complain that we need our Second Amendment rights, that firearms are necessary for protection, that background checks are invasions of personal privacy, that government control of our weapons would be against the nature of our country — but it’s becoming more apparent every week that the US’s current system is ineffective; maybe it’s time that we actually learned from the countries around us. Horrific massacres won’t stop if anyone who wants a gun can buy one without a second thought, and we won't be better off if we’re judging who can have weapons or not based on their race. If the government tried to take away all of the guns in the public’s possession, it probably wouldn’t work, and no one can know for sure if more restrictions and regulations would really help. But while we’re constantly hearing about the two sides of the debate, we start to forget that everyone’s really on the same side: we all want to be safe. If we want our families, our friends, our neighbors, and ourselves to live without the fear of waking up to find that the next massacre has happened a little closer to home, then something needs to change