Gun rights in America have been at the center of debate for decades, and this is because the discussion hits close to homes for so many United States residents. According to research at the University of Chicago, approximately 200 to 250 million firearms are in private circulation throughout the country, (Cook, 2009). The same research indicates that one in every four Americans owned a gun in 2009. In this essay, I will outline current gun ownership climate in America, before providing the reasons why many are encouraging stricter gun control laws. An analysis of the reasons supporting guns will then be outlined, followed by a rebuttal. Guns are an important part of the safety of Americans, but the risks outweigh the benefits. While some people benefit by owning a gun, many innocent people are killed by registered firearms. The argument that guns protect people and deter criminals from breaking the law doesn’t outweigh the negative consequences of owning a gun. The American Constitution should not be amended to reflect new laws that don’t allow firearms to the general public.
A Slew of Gun Laws
According to the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, there are about 20,000 gun-control laws in the United States. Scholars, advocates and the media have cited this number with regularity and it is now accepted as fact. The fact that there are so many gun control laws already in existence has been used as a reason to not increase the number of gun control laws in the U.S. The 20,000 figure relating to gun control laws was even used by ex-president Ronald Reagan about 11 weeks after someone attempted to assassinate him. He said at the time, “there are today more than 20,000 gun-control laws in effect – federal, state, and local – in the United States,” (Vernick, 2002). That same number is being used today. But the gun control laws that are in place don’t necessarily deal with keeping the weapons out of the hands of the wrong people. The laws often govern how the guns are manufactured, designed and sold. Possession isn’t necessarily the reason these laws are in place. Furthermore, as Jon Vernick points out in “Twenty Thousand Gun-Control Laws?,” a team of researchers discovered only 300 gun-control laws, including the manufacturing, design and sale. Therefore, adding a few more laws that ensure the safety of Americans wouldn’t be ridiculous, and it is in fact necessary.
There is already an excess of gun laws in deciding what should be included in the laws. “For example, many local laws prohibit carrying or firing guns in public places,” (Vernick, 2002). This increases the estimates about the number of gun-control laws, along with the aforementioned inclusions relating to the manufacturing, design and sale. The illusion that there are 20,000 gun-control laws has likely deterred politicians from creating more laws, because they were under the illusion that guns were already fully regulated. But instead of investigating the number of laws that are in existence, it would be a better idea to look at the impact of the laws that are in place.
High Gun Ownership
While we have already learned that nearly a quarter of all Americans own a gun, let’s gain a deeper understanding of the scale of gun use in American. Understanding this use will shed light on the value Americans put on owning a firearm. While gun owners are a major part of the debate, those who don’t own a gun are also affected by laws that could control their use. “Recent survey data suggests that about forty per cent of males, about ten per cent of females, and about thirty-five per cent of all adults do not own any guns,” (Cook, 2009). However, the same research states that guns are becoming less common in homes. This is no surprise, as the quality of home alarm systems has increased rapidly, leading those who are concerned with their safety to find solace in the protection of companies that offer this type of security.
Those who support laws banning guns often say they lead to unnecessary violence. For example, there is a “Brady Campaign” that is aimed at passing and enforcing federal gun laws, public policies and regulations in a grassroots activism effort. The campaign aims to elect politicians that support gun laws, while increasing the awareness about violence related to gun use. “Through our Million Mom March and Brady Chapters, we work locally to educate people about the dangers of guns, honor victims of gun violence, and pass sensible gun laws, believing that all Americans, especially children, have the right to live free from the threat of gun violence,” (Kosson, 2012). What this campaign group doesn’t consider is the many lives that are saved because of guns, not to mention the number of people who are deterred from becoming criminals because they know that the person in the house that they may rob might shoot them in self defense. Still, those pros don’t outweigh the cons.
Practicality of Gun Ownership
Some argue that not only are there practical reasons to allow someone to own guns, there is also the consideration that the American Constitution says United States residents have the right to bear arms. It is contained in the Second Amendment. The Amendment states that people are allowed to have their gun rights protected against even the threat of government to take control over their arms. As long as the Second Amendment exists, the federal government has no authority to take away the right to bear arms, as long as the person with the guns is not been restricted because of their past. The Constitution places the same amount of protection on the guns as it does on a person’s right to free speech.
Some people might say that the Second Amendment is a remnant of a time when the American culture was much different, and there shouldn’t be any weight given to the right. But change is necessary, because if the right still exists, there hasn’t been a concentrated effort from current politicians to get rid of the right. That means that the Second Amendment is still relevant today. “While most courts continue to interpret the Second Amendment as a collective right, academic scholarship is more divided,” (Cornell, 2004). For the courts to say it is a right, means that it will take a lot of effort to create gun control laws in America. It also tells me that some very intelligent people consider the Second Amendment relevant to today’s United States culture. This complicates the debate, and provides a solid argument on which opposition of gun laws stand.
The United Nations is currently looking to restrict the rights with the Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty is causing major anxiety. The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said that the treaty will be robust and legally binding and it will have an impact on millions of people who are involved in not only armed conflict and repression, but also on the transfer of arms. This is in an attempt to prevent these arms from becoming owned by terrorists. It should be noted that the U.N. is playing a major role in this decision, despite the fact that they have recently been found guilty of providing bombs and guns to the Bashar Assad regime, a terrorist group that is slaughtering thousands of Syrians. It makes absolutely no sense to allow Iran even to be a member of the U.N., let alone to make a decision on gun rules. “It’s tempting to dismiss the treaty – and the outrageous involvement of Iran – as just another U.N. absurdity,” (Cole, 2012). The reason this is such a big deal to America is that civilian arms and ammunition is included in the definition of what the U.N. seeks to get rid of.
The U.S. and Russia eventually caused the treaty to be defeated and human rights advocates said the U.S. was responsible for the defeat. But shortly after, the Colorado slaughter put the topic back onto the agenda at the White House. However, 50 senators sent a letter addressed to Barack Obama, saying they would vote in opposition of the ratification of the treaty if it doesn’t allow law-abiding Americans with the right to own guns. However, the Huffington Post quoted Suzanne Trimel, Amnesty International spokeswoman, who said, “Basically, what they’re saying is that the arms trade treaty will have some impact on domestic, Second Amendment gun rights. And that is just false, completely false,” (Rosalsky, 2012).
Is Gun Control Too Late?
According to the Economist, gun control is too late, anyway. “There are too many guns out there, and an individual right to bear arms is now entrenched in constitutional law,” (Gun Control, 2012). Gun supporters argue that whether or not the Economist actually agrees that guns should be a right in America doesn’t matter, because it is too late to take out of the American culture what defines it. People have this freedom for a reason, just as they have the right to self defense. Without gun rights, people are at risk of being taken advantage of by those who find firearms through illicit means. Taking away gun rights is like equipping an army with butter knives, because the enemy could be coming to the doorstep, and the enemy is equipped with firearms gun supporters argue. They say the Colorado slaughter and similar crimes have nothing to do with gun laws because the guns used in that act wasn’t legal, anyway. There are standards that have to be met in regulating which types of firearms are permissible, but to discredit every firearm based on cases involving guns that aren’t legal is comparing apples and oranges, they go on.
It is more important now than ever to define whether the Second Amendment is as valid today as it was when the Constitution was written. Without denouncing the commitment to protecting the right to bear arms, the United States is making clear to the United Nations and everyone else what the U.S. stance is on gun ownership. Anti-terrorism laws are extremely important, and they are broadening and becoming more refined each year. They need to be carried out while changing what many believe is an important right in the United States today.
Gun control laws are always brought up as a hot topic after a group of people are shot at. Of course, there are concerns when an individual is shot to death, but when there are events such as the Colorado Shooting in 2012, the topic comes up more often in the media. It seems like there is a mass shooting each year in the United States. In 2011, the Arizona shooting killed six people and another 13 were injured. The Arizona Legislature introduced two new bills easing gun laws not long before the shootings took place. But do gun control laws really do anything to help solve violence? “As unsatisfying as it sounds, the answer is that we just don’t know,” (Do gun control, 2011). The Community Guide is a resource at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that investigates information that is based on evidence to improve public health. This investigation looked at over 40 studies about gun control laws that ranged from banning the firearms to restricting the waiting periods to obtain a firearm. These studies proved insufficient to see whether there was any effect of the laws against firearms, (Do gun control, 2011). The research concluded that there aren’t enough credible studies to indicate whether gun control laws are effective. One of the problems faced is that the information attained is limited in order to respect the privacy of the individual who owns the gun.
Are More Gun Laws Important?
But this data is needed to determine whether more gun laws are important. If gun laws are put into place, they prevent criminals from getting their hands on the weapons. When a tragedy occurs, laws preventing the weapons from being fired would save many people’s lives. But the question that hasn’t been answered is whether one should ban guns or find ways to prevent dangerous people from firing them. The public is sided on the opinion of limiting the access to firearms among children, people with mental illnesses and violent criminals. This is what is already happening with the National Rifle Association’s statement that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” (Gostin, 2010). Those who are children don’t have the maturity to use a firearm in the correct way, and many of those who are violent felons are likely to use the gun to harm others. But the issues isn’t as black and white as that might lay it out to be, because there are many people who don’t fall into any of the categories of demographics that are banned who use the weapons against innocent people. In getting back to the U.S. Supreme Court’s idea that the Second Amendment allows an individual the right to bear arms, shows that it is exceedingly difficult to enact laws that apply generally to the public in regards to owning a firearm. However, the courts also are in support of longstanding prohibition on the possession of guns among people who have mental illness. The challenge is in identifying those who have mental illnesses and ensure they don’t get their hands on firearms, (Gostin, 2010).
Even with the many gun control laws that are in place, they are largely ineffective and not very efficient. The assassination attempts on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, President Ronald Reagan and John Lennon were all committed by people with mental illnesses. This gives the impression that all people who have mental illnesses are dangerous, though this isn’t the case. This would exclude an entire demographic from being able to purchase a firearm. For this reason , there are many loopholes and areas where these types of laws aren’t efficient.
Gun Control Act of 1968
The Gun Control act of 1968 is the restriction of people who are prohibited from buying firearms. This includes people who are involuntarily committed to living in a mental institution, those who are addicted to a controlled substance and those who are determined to be dangerous and incompetent. People who receive a verdict of not guilty because of insanity are also not allowed to own a firearm. There is an entire list at the National Instant Criminal Background Check System where a person who not able to own a firearm is entered. But many people who aren’t supposed to own a firearm are never added to the list, (Gostin, 2010).
Many people believe that such a list goes against federalism. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress can’t force states to report a person who is prohibited from owning a firearm or who attempted to purchase a firearm to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. This lack of obligation makes the list incomplete. While some states don’t report at all, others report those who aren’t required to be on the list, such as someone who is leaving the hospital who has been cured from a mental illness. Some other states report too little, including only letting the government know about the patients who were involuntarily committed to the hospital for 90 days or those who weren’t admitted to a mental hospital, but instead to a public hospital. Approximately 27 states, as of 2007, didn’t report any people who suffered from mental illness, (Gostin, 2010). Furthermore, sometimes people who are on the list can avoid background checks. This is particularly prevalent at dealers that are unlicensed, dealing second-hand guns. Some states even sell Brady permits, which falls the licensed seller to waive completing a background check, and this is offered in 19 states. Seven of these states don’t exclude people who have a mental illness from buying a firearm.
But the Gun Control Act has an incentive for states to regulate guns by making it illegal to sell a firearm to a person who is prohibited by state law. But not all states enforce those regulations based on the mental illnesses that a person might have. Some states have laws that only restrict access to a concealed weapon, (Babat, 2009). These states rely most often on the buyer identifying themselves as having a mental illness. This means that in states obeying the federal rules to not sell firearms to people who have mental illness, the person who suffers from the illness is still able to obtain a firearm because they don’t have to identify their condition, (Whan, 1997). The restriction to people with mental illnesses owning firearms hasn’t lowered the homicide or suicide rates. However, restrictions that are universally applied look to be more effective. For example, those states with the toughest laws against firearms have a much lower homicide rate per capita than the states that have soft laws. But the rules at the Supreme Court encourage the regulation of the person, rather than the firearm. This means that there needs to be clear-cut ways to identify those who aren’t likely to use firearms properly, (Gostin, 2011).
The identification of the individuals is critical to having firearms laws that are effective. Firearms need to be kept out of their reach. But doing so is a challenge. The blanket restrictions that are applied to everyone need to consider the rights afforded to people through the Constitution. Identifying those who are dangerous is much too difficult and full of errors in documentation, as we have seen from the states that do not properly participate in the list banning those who want to own firearms, (Gun Control, 2004). Furthermore, those who might be dangerous aren’t necessarily included on the list. Someone with substance abuse who has recently been released from a mental institution could be given permission to buy a gun, for example. Prohibited people often do find a firearms dealer who will sell them a weapon. Only several states have laws requiring a license to purchase a firearm. Even when it is discovered that a person who is restricted from owning a firearm has one in possession, police often don’t have the authority to do anything about the possession. This is tough, because approximately 3 million Americans with mental illness meet the criteria for a person who should not be allowed to own a firearm, (Gostin, 2010). The biggest challenge in keeping people who have mental illness away from firearms is protecting patient dignity and privacy. Loosening the doctor-patient confidentiality, and opening up laws that require the names of mentally ill patients to be registered at a central desk would discourage people from being honest with their doctors. Some people might not even seek treatment for their ailments if there is the change that they won’t be able to own a firearm.
Clearly it is difficult to apply a gun control strategy that is targeted at individuals. People are finding ways to own guns from dealers even if they have mental illness or a criminal record. These dealers should be shut down and the freedom that they are enjoying now should be curbed by a federally enforceable law. Furthermore, instead of approaching gun control from the perspective of eliminating certain groups from gun ownership, there should be a blanket regulation in effect that limits possession to all people. This would require an amendment to the Constitution, but this is what is required in order to bring the document into the 21st Century. While gun ownership is a Constitutional right, it should be noted that when the legislation was written, life was different, and guns were more necessary for protection and hunting. Now, instead of owning guns, people can utilize home security systems to keep their families safe. Guns are no longer a fundamental means of ensuring the safety of the public, and they procure more harm than good.
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