Gun Control

As the most significant cause of death among children and adolescents, you might think that more should be done to control guns in the United States. Calls for Gun Control are not new, but it is a debate that polarises America. Why? Read on to find out more about the statistics and the pros and cons!

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Contents
Table of contents

    Gun Control Content warning StudySmarter

    Gun Control: Laws

    Legislation on guns is part of the very bedrock of the United States Consitution.

    Constitution

    The fundamental laws and principles that govern a nation.

    Militia

    A military organisation or an army.

    Ratified in 1791, the Second 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.1

    The Amendment has been the subject of much controversy because there are two possible interpretations. On the one hand, it could suggest that the government had jurisdiction over the US army, while others believe it states that all citizens should have the right to carry weapons.

    Gun Control Charlton Heston StudySmarterFig. 1 - Actor Charlton Heston was an outspoken supporter of Gun Rights

    Until today the Second Amendment has retained much influence within the Gun Control Debate, overshadowing much of the legislation that followed it.

    Other Gun Control Laws

    Legislation typically arrives during times of crisis, as the following laws demonstrate.

    • The National Firearms Act (1934) responded to gangsters and increasing violence by controlling machine guns, silencers and sawed-off shotguns. These weapons were regulated and taxed for the first time, and ignoring regulations was criminalised.

    • Prompted by the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the Gun Control Act (1968) forced manufacturers and owners of guns to have licenses to limit state-to-state distribution.

    • In response to mass shootings, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994) under President Clinton banned assault rifles and military-grade weapons. However, this law lasted only ten years, after which mass shootings rose again.

    However, perhaps the most interesting enactment of Gun Control comes from a 2008 court case.

    In the District of Columbia VS Dick Heller (2008), Heller, a policeman, challenged the court because of his inability to have a firearm in his own home. This was a result of the strict Washington gun laws. In the first direct challenge to the Second Amendment in US history, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favour of Heller, suggesting that individual rights based on self-defence were what the Second Amendment meant. Drawing upon the British Bill of Rights (1689), Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia vindicated personal possession of firearms unconnected to militias.

    Despite this significant victory, the ruling had little impact because Gun Control laws vary significantly from state to state.

    Inconsistent Gun Laws


    As states have significant powers of self-government, Gun Control Laws vary drastically depending on the location within the US. In Democratic Massachusetts, for example, someone seeking to acquire a firearm must undergo rigorous background checks and obtain police permits. However, the southern Republican stronghold of Texas allows citizens to carry concealed handguns without a license.

    Overwhelmingly, 73% of Democrats believe there should be more Gun Control Laws, whereas only 18% of Republicans do2. This makes Gun Control one of the most divisive partisan political issues.

    Gun Control: Arguments

    Now that we've looked at the legal basis for private gun ownership let's look at some of the arguments for and against it.

    Gun Control

    Those seeking greater gun control accept that given that there are more registered guns than people in the United States, it would be impossible to outlaw them. Thus the proponents of gun control seek to restrict gun ownership to minimise the damage of dangerous weapons.

    Democrats believe that we can reduce gun violence while respecting the rights of responsible gun owners... And we believe we should treat gun violence as the deadly public health crisis that it is.3

    - Democrats on Preventing Gun Violence

    Gun Control supporters pursue a policy of damage limitation. In contrast, those fighting for Gun Rights use deflection tactics, often refusing to recognise the seriousness of the issue.

    Did you know that ghost gun kits, which can be bought and self-assembled, mean that dangerous people can access firearms without any checks? This often happens even in states with greater gun control.

    Gun Rights

    The National Rifle Association (NLA) is a prominent organisation when it comes to advocating against gun control. The organisation's CEO, Wayne LaPierre, parroted this classic gun ownership narrative when claiming that armed guards should be placed in schools to stop shootings.

    The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.4

    - Wayne LaPierre (2012)

    Greater control of guns is something that Gun Rights advocates concede is a necessity in some cases, particularly in the case of mentally ill gun owners. However, they believe that because of dangerous individuals, guns are even more of a necessity.

    Gun Control: Pros and Cons

    As a debate that has been raging for decades, Gun Control has its benefits and drawbacks. We will now dissect a few of them here.

    Gun Control Assault rifle StudySmarterFig. 3 - An assault rifle, the subject of many a gun control debate

    There seems to be an effective rebuttal for almost every argument!

    Pros Cons
    The human cost of American lives thanks to gun violence is huge compared to other Western nations such as the UK. It has the 28th death rate due to gun violence around the world.Gun Rights supporters would argue that these high figures are due to inner-city crime issues. This argument holds up if you compare the 55 deaths per 100,000 in Baltimore to the 2 per 100,000 in Vermont.
    In addition to human lives, the American health service, saddled by the injuries caused by gun violence, is left with a financial burden worth trillions of dollars.However, if "good guys" have guns, particularly in these rural areas, it is argued that it provides an effective deterrent. Less crime would occur with the shared knowledge of mutual gun ownership.
    With every mass shooting, there is an outcry that more needs to be done, this cycle will only continue without drastic action - at least in further restricting assault rifles.While the primary reason for gun ownership is for protection and constitutional freedom, they also point to the fact that a concealed handgun is not usually the weapon in mass shootings.

    A bit confused? Here are some statistics to contextualise these opinions.

    Gun Control: Statistics

    The underlying statistics behind gun violence in the United States are why many call for ACTION! Pew Research Institute gives some fascinating insights behind the debate.4

    This acronym may help you remember these key figures:

    Around 33,000 Americans die from gun violence every year.

    Citizens have registered 400 million guns. There are almost 332 million people in the United States, meaning there are more registered guns than people.

    There is a huge divide between different demographics and their views on gun violence. Proving it is not only a political debate.

    In cities, 65% of people believe gun violence is "a very big problem", but only 35% do in rural areas.

    Overall, 48% of people think gun violence is "a very big problem".

    Nearly all African Americans (82%) believe gun violence is "a very big problem", whereas only 39% of White Americans consider it so.

    Gun Control: Debate

    So where next for the Gun Control Debate? We must remember that Gun Rights lobbyists are intent on maintaining gun freedoms. In 2016 the National Rifle Association spent at least $55 million on lobbying during the General Election year, with only $5 million donated towards gun control!

    Gun Control Joe Biden StudySmarterFig. 4 - Current United States President Joe Biden

    Decisive action heavily depends on the identity of the President in the White House. The current Democratic Biden Administration seems to be intent on tackling mass shootings and increasing control of assault rifles. In June 2022, legislation was passed for stricter background checks on the youngest buyers and 'red flags' to deal with the youngest buyers. Biden is willing to do more, but such is the nature of the polarisation that the issue causes and the American political system, it is sure to rumble on.

    Gun Control Debate - Key takeaways

    • There are more registered guns in the United States than people, and gun violence is a significant cause of death.
    • Gun Control legislation in the United States originates with the Second Amendment, which can be interpreted in two different ways.
    • In the twentieth century, more legislation has attempted to tackle the issue.
    • Gun Control is difficult because it is a political, social, and racial problem. There are highly differing opinions. Democrats are generally in favour of gun control, and Republicans are against it.
    • The District of Columbia VS Heller case suggested that individuals should have the right to firearms.
    • Despite this, the debate continues to rage without a solution.

    References

    1. Congress.Gov, 'The Second Amendment', US Constitution, (Accessed 29th Nov 2022).
    2. Katherine Schaeffer, 'Key Facts About Americans and Guns', Pew Research, (13 Sep 2021).
    3. Democrats, 'Preventing Gun Violence', Democrats.org, (Accessed 29th Nov 2022).
    4. Wayne LaPierre quoted by Blocher, Miller, The Positive Second Amendment (2018), pp. 156.
    5. Katherine Schaeffer, 'Key Facts About Americans and Guns', Pew Research, (13 Sep 2021).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Gun Control

    What is gun control?

    Gun control is the use of legislation to restrict gun violence in the United States.

    Why is gun control an issue?

    Gun control is an issue because there is a large divide in opinion between people who want more controls and people who want gun ownership rights. This is a political divide between Democrats and Republicans.

    What is being done about gun control in the United States?

    In June 2022, Biden introduced a law to toughen background checks amongst the youngest gun buyers and a "red flag" system to highlight dangerous individuals purchasing weapons.

    How long has gun control been debated?

    Gun control has been debated since the Second Amendment (1791) because it has two possible interpretations.

    What are the two sides of the gun control debate?

    On one hand, advocates for gun control believe tougher restrictions will reduce gun violence, while gun ownership rights campaigners believe that guns are a necessary deterrent for personal protection.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    The 1934 Firearms Act responded to violence from gangsters. True or false?

    The assassination of                     led to the 1968 Gun Control Act.

    The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994) is still in effect today.

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