Gun control in the U.S. is a long-standing issue that has become much more of a public interest recently. People have been disagreeing on gun control laws almost since gun control has been around, but under current circumstances, there has been more attention drawn to whether or not gun control ought to be stricter.
Generally, the disagreement in America has been how tight gun control ought to be, and occasionally, whether or not certain firearms should be banned from civilian use altogether. Those in favor of stricter gun control think that guns should be regulated much more than they are now. They believe in creating a ban on assault weapons, including the kinds used in many mass shootings, prohibiting high capacity magazines, raising the minimum gun ownership/possession age, and closing background check loopholes[Weiss]. Those against tight gun control counter these arguments, saying that making guns harder to get legally will not reduce the amount of crime because criminals will still get guns[Cleckner], the 2nd amendment gives the right to keep and bear arms, and that if people aren’t old enough to own a gun at 18, then they shouldn’t be able to vote or drive as well. These disagreements have been intensified with recent events, such as school shootings and other gun crimes.
Overall, those in favor of stricter gun control come with the goal of reducing the amount of violence caused by guns. Banning assault weapons is one of the many things they push to change, arguing that no civilian should own a weapon used or designed for military services, such as the AR-15, the style of which (a semi-automatic rifle) were used in multiple mass shootings[Drabold and Fitzpatrick]. Another goal of people in favor of stronger control of guns is to prohibit high capacity magazines. Their argument is that when a shooter stops to reload, there is a chance of stopping him during that time, such as when Jared Lee Loughner was stopped and wrestled to the ground when he stopped to reload[Epstein]. If the time between needing to reload is shorter, more lives may be saved. They also push for closing the current loophole in federal law [Firearm Sales and Purchases, Guns To Carry] that allows private gun sales to be conducted without a background check, saying that this would prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands.
Those against gun control have their own arguments, in opposition to tighter gun control. One of the more commonly used being that criminals will get access to guns, no matter how many laws are in place, because they are criminals. The only people these laws will affect are those who follow the law[CRPA]. They also argue that increasing gun control infringes on the rights given to the citizens of the United States by the 2nd amendment of the Constitution, which protects citizen’s right to own and bear arms. Another argument used is that in the case of the government becoming corrupt, or the country being taken over by hostile forces, civilians should have weapons with which to defend themselves, so that they are not helpless against the enemy.
Gun Laws in the U.S.
As the current debate is over whether or not there is adequate control, one ought to be informed as to the state of the current laws and legislation in place over the country as a whole, on both a federal and state level. The federal and local laws vary from each other and it is important to understand how these laws work together. Federal laws are laws set by the government of the whole country, that affect the whole country, while local laws, or state laws, cover their state. Local laws are still subject to federal laws.
Both state and federal laws are influence by the 2nd amendment, which protects ‘—the right of the people to keep and bear arms—’. Exactly how this was intended is a matter of debate. Those in favor of stricter gun control argue this was intended to control less powerful weapons, such as muskets and other less deadly guns. Those against tightening gun control argue that the type of gun was not important, it was the people having the same weaponry as the government, so that in the case of a corrupt government or foreign invasion, the people could fight back and defend themselves, instead of being overpowered by military-grade weapons.
There are three categories of Concealed Carry laws, managed on a local law level. These 3 categories are Unrestricted, Shall Issue, and May Issue. Unrestricted means that one does not require a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Unrestricted carry is also called ‘Constitutional Carry’, due to the fact that in the 2nd amendment, all citizens are given the right to bear arms. Shall Issue means that a permit is required to carry a firearm. An applicant has to go through set requirements, such as minimum age, training, background checks, etc. May Issue also means a carry permit is required, however, the laws can be more limiting and difficult to comply with to obtain such a permit. Often applicants are asked to provide a valid reason for a permit to be issued. May Issue states are decreasing in number, however, because of court rulings against such a policy. It is become illegal as people challenge the ability of the state to keep guns from the people, calling into notice the 2nd amendment, and rendering the May Issue unconstitutional.
Open Carry laws, which apply to carrying a weapon visibly in public, widely differ depending on states, going from no open carry laws to requiring permits, to outright bans.
The buying and selling of firearms are managed by a complex array of laws, due to the combination of both local and federal laws in the area. Federal law mandates that any person buying a firearm from a licensed dealer is required to go through a background check. A background check of the nature required to purchase a gun consists of a check searching for past violence, misconduct, and mental health issues. However, this does not cover private sales, opening the loophole allowing persons to buy firearms without being required to go through a background check. In addition to federal laws, some states also require permits. This differs by state. In some states, permits are necessary to buy firearms, and the permits can cover only handguns, or extend to long guns and ammunition as well.
In addition to these, there are several federal laws on gun control as well. One of these is the NFA or the National Firearms Act. This requires the registration of fully automatic firearms, rifles and shotguns under 26 inches long, and other similar weapons[NRAILA]. There is also the Undetectable Firearms Act, which criminalizes firearms with less than 3.7oz of metal, or in other words, less than enough to be detected by metal detectors.
Gun Laws in Other Countries
The gun laws in the U.S differ from other countries, which opens up a large space for comparing, which both sides use to their advantage.
Switzerland has a very high rate of gun ownership, but a firearm violence rate of almost zero. There are laws around guns that have proved effective at both preventing shootings and allowing citizens guns. One such law is that all men 18-34 (who are deemed fit for service) are taught how to use a pistol and a rifle as part of their mandatory military service. Once their service is finished, they can buy their weapons, but they are required to get a permit for them first. The licensing procedures in Switzerland are also very strict. The local authorities decide on whether or not to give permits, as well as keeping a log of everyone who owns a gun in the region. They often consult a psychiatrist or other authorities from other areas in which a person applying for a permit has lived to decide whether or not to issue the permit. The laws are designed to prevent those who are violent or unable to operate a gun from obtaining them. Anyone convicted of a crime or who has had a history of addiction is not allowed to buy a gun. This also applies to those who express a violent or dangerous attitude[Brueck]. Switzerland is used by both sides of the gun control argument as an example. Those in favor of gun control point out how hard it is to obtain a gun, and how little one is allowed to use it, while those against gun control draw attention to the high rate of gun ownership.
Another example of gun laws in other countries being radically different than in America is Australia, which, after a mass shooting in 1996 at Port Arthur, put into place strict gun laws. After a mass shooting known as the Port Arthur massacre, Australia put into place gun laws banning semi-automatic weapons, the type of guns that can kill a lot of people in a short about of time. There are also a lot of legal barriers put between people who wish to own guns and guns. There are 28-day waiting periods, thorough background checks, and a requirement for a good reason to own a gun before a prospective owner can get their hands on a gun. Unlike the United States self-defense is not considered a valid reason to own a gun[Beck]. The amount of guns per 100 people has decreased as well as the general gun violence. Gun ownership went from 17.5 guns per 100 people in 1996 to about 13.7 guns per 100 people in 2016. To compare, the US has gone from 91 guns per 100 people in 1996 to 101 guns per 100 people in 2009, actually increasing[Beck]. While gun violence has not entirely vanished in Australia, it has decreased. Australia is an example commonly used by those in favor of stricter gun control, due to the fact that stricter rules resulted in less gun violence and far less mass shootings.
Canada is an example of a country in which tightening the laws on gun control did very little to decrease gun violence and crimes committed by firearms. It is legally very hard to get a gun in Canada. They have high-intensity background checks and other rules in place. However, these rules are not enforced as much by local officials. Despite the strictness of the laws, they have not had a significant effect on gun violence, as there are still plenty of illegal guns available. Overall, the crime rate has been steadily increasing, and generally, it has been seen that the gun control laws have proven un-effective in decreasing crime rates, which is why those against stricter gun control laws use Canada as an example of tightening gun control being ineffective against crime rates[Canadian Shooting Sports].
Pro-Gun Control Arguments
There are quite a few arguments for stronger gun control.
One such argument is that semi-automatic weapons, or weapons made with military service in mind, ought to be banned from use (or at least heavily regulated) from the general public. A gun often brought up by those arguing for this restriction is the AR-15, a semi-automatic weapon that was used in multiple mass shootings in the U.S, such as the Parkland school shooting and the Sandy Hook shooting[Woytus]. The family of the inventor of the weapon told NBC news “Our father…designed the AR-15, and subsequent M-16 as a military weapon to give our soldiers an advantage over the AK-47”[Dokoupil]. This weapon is one of the reasons gun control activists wish to ban or heavily regulate civilian ownership of assault weapons.
A reason used by activists for bans of assault weapons is the fact that between 1983 and 2012, there were approximately 62 mass shootings. Out of those 62 shootings, 42 were committed with legal weapons[M. Morris]. Almost half of all of the mass shooters used assault weapons, which enabled the shooter to harm more people than they would have been able to than if they had a less powerful or lower capacity weapon like a handgun or shotgun. Because of this, the assault weapon ban is one of the most stressed and campaigned for gun laws.
Those in favor of gun control often explain that restricting the type of guns a person can buy is not going against the 2nd Amendment. The 2nd Amendment 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.’ Those in favor of gun control argue that a well-regulated militia does not mean giving citizens access to assault weapons such as the AR-15. They say that AR-15s and guns like it are over-kill in almost any self-defense situation and that there is no justifiable reason for a regular citizen to own an assault weapon, be it for sport or self-defense.
Another point used by gun control activists use in their movement for stricter gun control is that military grade weapons shouldn’t be in the hands of citizens. As aforementioned, the AR-15 was designed as a military weapon, not as a weapon for civilian use. Other examples of military-style weapons that are available for purchase (given the various laws of state and country, such as background checks, etc.) are the AUG A3 M1, which a semi-automatic version of the Steyr AUG carbine, the SP5K, a civilian version of a MP5, and the SCAR 165/SCAR 175, which are civilian variants of the FN SCAR [Pew Pew Tactical]. All of these weapons are near identical to their military use counterparts, except for the fact that they do not shoot automatically. Those in favor of strict gun control believe that guns this similar to those used in combat ought to be banned from civilian use, or made significantly more difficult to obtain.
Another goal gun control activists are attempting to achieve is the prohibition of high capacity magazines. They argue that higher capacity magazines give the shooter more time in between reloads, which means more people the shooter can harm before being stopped. Such as in the case of Jared Loughner, who was stopped when he attempted to reload due to a woman grabbing the magazine from him. The shorter the time between reloads, the higher the likelihood that the shooter can be stopped or more could-have-been victims can have time to escape. They also argue that there is no good reason for anyone who is not a mass shooter to own a high capacity magazine. When they asked the NRA, the organization also could not provide an example of reasons to own a high capacity magazine. Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action said ‘People own magazines of different capacities for different reasons,”. However, he was unable to name a reason[Saletan]. The point has also been made that higher capacity magazines actually decrease accuracy, and thus are generally less useful for things such as hunting and self-defense.
A related goal of gun control activists is to ban bump stocks, which increase the rate of fire of a gun, causing them to simulate automatic fire[Buchanan, etc]. While technically bump stocks do not perfectly imitate automatic fire, they alters the gun so that it utilizes the recoil energy of the gun to fire again. Bump stocks were used in several recent mass shootings due to the fact that they enable more death and injury. Because it utilizes the recoil energy, the bump stock greatly de-stabilizes the aiming precision capabilities of the shooter. Gun control activists argue the bump stock is designed for chaos and only really useful when aiming at a huge group of targets, like a crowd at a concert or school, and is nearly useless for precision shooting or self-defense. One example of such a shooting is the Las Vegas shooting on October 1st 2017, which occurred at the Route 91 country music festival when Stephen Paddock killed 59 people and injured 851. He used an arsenal of weapons he had stockpiled between September 25th and October 1st, which included 14 AR-15 rifles, twelve of which had been outfitted with bump stocks and 100 round magazines, 8 AR-10 rifles, a bolt-action rifle, and a revolver. Even though the bump stock allows a weapon to fire at near the rate of a fully automatic firearm, the style of which is banned from civilian use, it is still legal to purchase bump stocks under federal law, which those advocating for stricter gun control are attempting to change.
Gun control activists also push for the closing of the loophole in the law regarding background checks. Currently, federal law required anyone buying a firearm from a licensed dealer to go through a background check. This leaves open the loophole of private sales, which means people wishing to purchase a firearm without a background check can do so by purchasing one from a private seller. Those pushing for stricter gun control argue that this opens up an opportunity for people wishing to use the weapons for illegal purposes to buy them more easily. Even some of those opposed to stricter gun control agree that it would be wise to close this loophole. It is also suggested that background checks be made more through, and include psychiatric examination to determine whether or not the person attempting to purchase a firearm is mentally fit to own such a weapon. This should include scanning of their internet presence as clues may be found online that may point towards one being unfit to own a weapon, such as in the case of the Parkland shooter, who’s online presence was extremely telling of the reasons he ought not to have been allowed a firearm. Online, some people express more prejudices or violent tendencies than they might in real life, due to the fact that it is more anonymous, and they are more shielded from the consequences of their actions. Thus, it is highly likely that background checks would be more effective if online screening was included in the procedure, along with a mental health assessment, to determine eligibility for owning a firearm.
Another goal of those in favor of tighter gun control laws is raising of the minimum age, so as to decrease the number of school shootings committed by students. An example often used is the Parkland shooting, which was committed by Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old who legally purchased an AR-15 style weapon, which he used to commit the shooting. Had the minimum age been 21, Cruz would not have been able to purchase the weapon. Thus, pro-gun control people have been pushing to raise the minimum age to at least 21, so as to prevent further shootings by students and general prevention of guns in less mature hands.
A suggestion of David Hogg, one of the leaders of the ‘March For Our Lives’ movement, is to increase funding of mental health care programs, due to the fact that many of the perpetrators of mass shootings have been mentally ill. Increasing funding for mental health programs would likely help prevent further shootings by addressing the mental part of the equation, and at the least, help to identify and prevent possible shooters. Related to this, Hogg also suggests that it be further outline what types of mentally ill people ought to be prevented from purchasing firearms. This could help sellers of firearms know whether someone is fit to own a firearm, and possibly prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands.
A huge part of the pro-gun control movement is the ‘March For Our Lives’ movement. It was founded by Emma González and David Hogg, survivors of the Parkland shooting, to support tighter gun control. The march went around the United States, with over 800 events of protesters meeting up to demand things such as universal background checks on all gun sales, raising of the minimum age, closing of the private sales/gun show loophole, banning of assault weapons and gun stocks, and more. Between 1.2 and 2 million people attended the marches, which made it one of the largest protests in U.S history. ‘March For Our Lives continues to be the title of the movement in general, as people across the country advocate for tighter gun control. The movement is student-led, and mainly driven by the school shootings occurring around the country, which inspired the slogan ‘Enough is enough’, calling for a halt of the school shootings altogether, that there has been ‘enough’ violence and terror already, and that the government is not doing enough to halt it. Another slogan is ‘Never Again’, also calling for a halt of the shootings, and more action being taken towards such a goal. Overall, there has been a lot of support, but there have been people who have opposed or mocked the movement. Some people on Twitter have made comments on articles detailing a failure to pass gun laws saying things such as ‘The worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs’[D’Souza]. The NRA TV host claimed that the ‘March for Our Lives is backed by radicals with a history of violent threats, language, and actions’[Greenberg]
Those in favor of strict gun control have been advocating for it for a long time, but it has been intensified, and in some ways, spotlighted, due to recent events such as school shooting and other mass killings.
Argument Against Stricter Gun Control
Those against some of the reforms in gun control argue many things against it, such as the 2nd amendment, saying that criminals are criminals, and thus will not follow gun laws. They also say that in the case of the government becoming corrupt, or in the case of a hostile force taking over, citizens ought to be able to defend themselves and help defeat such forces.
The 2nd amendment is one of the most common arguments brought up against bans of assault weapons and other more strict forms of gun control suggested. The 2nd 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.’ Those against the ban of certain firearms use this statement to argue that a ban of assault weapons would be an infringement upon the rights given to them by this amendment. In their words, banning assault weapons would be taking away the right to bear certain firearms, whereas the 2nd amendment gives them the right to bear arms, not only a few specific firearms.
An extension of this argument is the well-regulated militia part of the amendment. Those against strict gun control, such as bans on assault weapons, bump stocks, and other similar weaponry, argue that civilians ought to be able to fight back against corrupt governments or a takeover by hostile powers with equal force as the military they are going against. Some even go as far as to say military grade weapons ought to be available for civilian use and purchase, so as to not be overwhelmed or overpowered in cases such as the aforementioned. They argue that the exact intent of the 2nd amendment was to ensure that civilians and the military had equal access to weaponry, so that if the government because too corrupt, the people could fight back with equal power against the military attacking them. It is also argued that the amendment merely protects and affirms the right to bear arms, to prevent it from being infringed upon, rather than giving the right, as well as that the ‘well-regulated militia’ was the goal of the amendment, not a requirement. This is often used against the pro-gun control argument that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply to the more powerful and lethal weapons of today.
Those against strict gun control laws also argue that the gun laws will only affect those who follow laws, who would not be a danger to the public in the first place. They say that because criminals are criminals, they will get their hands on guns somehow no matter what, and it would be pointless to attempt to make laws to stop criminals when criminals don’t follow laws to begin with. This is often used as a general point against those advocating for stricter gun control, as it is a broad enough statement to cover many of the reforms suggested by pro-gun control people.
An argument against the ban of certain weapons, such as AR-15 style weapons, bump stocks, and high capacity magazines, is that they are merely tools without murderous intent. A person has to choose to cause harm to make a gun murderous, and thus, it is the fault of the person doing the killing, not the gun. Therefore, guns should not be blamed for the crimes of the person who used them. They argue that it is similar to a hammer. If a hammer was used in a murder, it would be the fault of the person who used the hammer, not the fault of the hammer, and no-one would attempt to ban hammers because it was utilized in the killing.
The argument used against the raising of the minimum age is that 18-year-olds should either be fully considered adults or they shouldn’t be considered adults at all. Those in opposition to stricter gun control laws being put into motion argue that if 18 is not old enough to buy a gun than it should also not be old enough to drive a car, join the military, or vote. In other words, if they aren’t considered old enough, or responsible enough, to own a rifle or shotgun then they should not be considered old or responsible enough to do any other things an adult is legally allowed to do.
There is a large amount of debate over the subject of gun control and it is always best to be informed before choosing a side or forming opinions. Gun laws currently cover background checks (with the exception of private sales and gun shows), minimum age(21 for handguns, 18 for rifles and shotguns), and that it’s illegal for citizens to own military grade weapons.
Those in favor of increasing gun control measures fight for a few main changes. One of these is the ban on semi-automatic weapons, including AR-15s and guns similar to it. They also call for the ban of bump stocks, which modify the gun to fire upon recoil allowing the gun to fire at a rate imitating automatic fire. They also push for banning high-capacity magazines, raising of the minimum age of legal gun ownership to 21, a psychiatric examination before gun purchases, a scan of online presence before allowing the purchase of a firearm, and the closing of the private sales loophole.
Those against strict gun control argue that the 2nd amendment gives the right to bear arms to the citizens of the United States and that banning assault weapons, bump stocks, and high capacity magazines would infringe upon that right. They also argue that in the case of the government becoming corrupt or a hostile power taking over the States, the people ought to be able to fight back with the same grade weapons that the enemy would have, so as not to be overpowered. A few other points made by those against strict gun control are that criminals will always find a way to get guns and will not be stopped by laws, and that if 18 is not old enough to own a rifle or shotgun, then it also ought to be considered too young to do anything else a legal adult can do.
The future of gun control is difficult to determine, due to the controversy and split of the gun control debate. It will likely be determined in upcoming elections, when the people of the United States decide what stance of gun control they want their officials to have. These decisions will greatly affect the future of gun control laws in the US. If those in favor of stricter gun control end up being the majority, and voting for representatives that will work towards changing gun laws, then many of the gun laws suggested may end up being enacted. However, if those against tightening gun control prove to be the majority, and elect representatives with similar views, then gun laws would likely stay as they are now.
The effects of gun laws getting stricter, in the manner suggested by those in favor of stricter gun control laws, would mean a lot of things, like the removal of certain weapons from the hands of citizens, and the prevention of more people obtaining some weapons, such as bump stocks and assault weapons being banned, and many people previously considered fit to own guns would be reconsidered and labeled unfit to own firearms.
An upcoming event that may affect gun control is the 2018 mid-term elections. In this election, all the seats on the United States House of Representatives, and thirty-five of the hundred seats in the United States Senate could be changed. This would obviously have a massive effect on whether or not gun control laws got passed, because the representatives in the United States House of Representatives and the people on the United States Senate, chosen by the people, affect the laws passed. In the case of there being a majority of pro-gun control representatives, or if the seats replaced in the Senate are mostly pro-gun control, then the laws would go in that direction. Overall, the people choose, and whatever the people choose, is how gun control will lead. Works Cited
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