Pro / Con: Should we have gun control?

What follows is a dialogue between two parties representing typical arguments for and against gun control. The regular black font represents someone advocating for gun control, while the blue text will represent one arguing against. Limitations on arms is a violation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which reads, “A well regulated militia,…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/auds2020/" target="_self">Audrey Chen</a>

Audrey Chen

March 21, 2020

What follows is a dialogue between two parties representing typical arguments for and against gun control. The regular black font represents someone advocating for gun control, while the blue text will represent one arguing against.

Limitations on arms is a violation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which reads, “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 founding fathers had no way of knowing the advancements in weaponry which would take place over the next two hundred years. The Second Amendment is frankly outdated. During the time it was written, it was guaranteeing the right to bear arms to militias in case the government became tyrannical. But now the government’s weaponry far outclasses those of citizens. If this article still applied, then it would mean each citizen should be able to own unmanned drones just like the government. 

Furthermore, the courts have also upheld the limitations to the Second Amendment. Justice Scalia statedLike most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited… nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and people with mental illnesses, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

This demonstrates a legal grounds upon which gun control might be implemented without violating this constitutional right. In fact, these limitations appear to be the court consensus. In fact, according to a 2018 Vox study, 91% of the 1,153 court cases with claims stating a government action or law violates the Second Amendment between the 2008 DC v. Heller decision and Feb. 1, 2016 failed.

Why are these limitations allowed? Because if we must sacrifice the right to arms for many to preserve the right to life for a few, the choice is clear. 

In the end, it is gun ownership, not gun control, that will stop gun violence. In fact, a 1995 study by criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz concluded there are between 2.2 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually, according to NPR.

Furthermore, in case someone needs to protect themselves, having a semi-automatic could save precious moments because you won’t have to take the time to manually reload the gun. Moreover, the sheer presence of a gun serves as a deterrent to crime, as no shots are fired in 95% of defensive gun uses, according to Fox News

Gun control is the direct opposite to what we need, limiting access to guns which could be used for protection and worsening the chances that victims are left defenseless. 

That widely cited 1995 research on defensive gun uses is now contested. 

“The researchers who look at [Kleck’s study] say this is just bad science,” Harvard researcher David Hemenway said. “It’s a well-known problem in epidemiology that if something’s a rare event, and you just try to ask how many people have done this, you will get incredible overestimates.”

The latest data show that people very rarely use guns for self-defense. According to a Harvard University analysis of figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey, people defended themselves with a gun in only 0.9 percent of crimes from 2007 to 2011.

And even if you were to have a gun, that doesn’t mean you’d be able to shoot it with the necessary accuracy in the allotted time. Moreover, most people are not trained like law enforcement in de-escalation, risk evaluation, and defensive training which enable police to shoot accurately and only when absolutely necessary. When it comes to protecting the public, we should leave it to the professionals in order to avoid accidental shootings or unnecessary violence.

Despite gun ownership bringing many a sense of security, in reality, loosening limitations on guns has only shown to increase gun violence. For example, when Missouri repealed its permit-to-purchase law and passed a “Stand Your Ground” law (which allows people to use firearms in cases of self-defense without being charged for injury or homicide) in 2007, research indicated a 55% to 63% increase in the firearm homicide rate per year during the four years following the repeal, according to the National Center for Health Research.

This would seem to indicate that gun ownership as a means of self-defense is less effective than gun control. Furthermore, one recent study found that such right-to-carry laws increased the rate of firearm homicides by 9% when homicide rates were compared state by state, according to Business Insider. This is likely because there are more guns around in circulation which can be stolen and because guns can escalate conflicts which might otherwise not be deadly.

Instead of increasing the number of guns in circulation, we should limit who has access to guns, namely through background checks. The existing Brady Act of 1994 mandates background checks on firearm purchases from a licensed dealer, stopping an average of 343 purchases per day between 1994 and 2014 and preventing 1 million felons, 291,000 domestic abusers, and 118,000 fugitives from purchasing a firearm, according to the National Center for Health Research

However, there is still work to be done to remove loopholes to background checks, as a whole 40% of gun sales do not go through a background check since they take place online, at gun shows, or through classified ads, according to the National Center for Health Research.

Moreover, the “Charleston loophole,” allows around 276,000 requests, or around 3% of them, to purchase a gun before the FBI could complete a background check because they could not do it within the three business days they are given, according to Vox

Despite preventing many from obtaining guns, background checks have not been shown to be effective. In fact, a 2000 study found that the 1994 Brady Act did not reduce either homicide or suicide rates, according to NPR.

A CDC task force also found in a 2003 review “inconsistent findings” as to whether restricting gun access through background checks works and insufficient evidence as to whether an array of other gun laws are effective.

Furthermore, according to The New York Times, “a vast majority of guns used in 19 recent mass shootings were bought legally and with a federal background check.” 

The CDC also noted that its findings didn’t mean that gun laws don’t work, but that further research was needed. Unfortunately, this research has not been done as in 1996, federal restrictions were created preventing the Centers for Disease Control from using its funding to “advocate or promote gun control, according to NPR.

Moreover, measuring the effectiveness of gun control using previous shooters is misleading as there is no control group. Doing so only counts the times gun control is unsuccessful, not when it is successful. It is quite possible there would be more shooters had they had access to guns. 

Furthermore, if anything this argument makes a compelling case for strengthening background check procedure and closing the aforementioned loopholes. For example, FBI Director James Comey said in July 2015 that the shooter who killed nine at a South Carolina church last year, should not have passed a background check, according to NPR.

But because information about his admission to a narcotics charge never reached an FBI examiner handling his check, he was able to buy a gun.

In addition, some states fail to submit mental health records to NICS, allowing some mentally ill people to obtain guns, including the Virginia Tech shooter, who had a history of mental illness before he killed 32 people in 2007, according to NPR. In reality, you haven’t presented a case against background checks altogether, just the insufficient or poorly managed ones.

Background checks require a person’s name, address, place of birth, race, and citizenship, as well as information about a person’s criminal history, according to Fox News. A social security number is optional, though it’s recommended. This poses privacy risks to those wishing to purchase a gun. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union has raised concerns about both records and background checks. 

“You just worry that you’re going to see searches of the databases and an expansion for purposes that were not intended when the information was collected,” Chris Calabrese, an ACLU privacy lobbyist told the Daily Caller in 2013. 

Unfortunately, oftentimes we have to sacrifice our privacy to protect public safety. If you do not want to potentially compromise your security, don’t buy a gun then. Just as those who want to fly cannot without going through TSA, your right to a gun is not unlimited without safeguards to others.

A national registration could also prove helpful in order to trace guns found on crime scenes back to their owners and discourage illegal possession or transfers of firearms. Firearm registration laws require individuals to record their ownership of a firearm with a designated law enforcement agency, enabling law enforcement to identify, disarm, and prosecute violent criminals and people illegally in possession of firearms.

Comprehensive registration laws would include additional background checks to ensure that they have not fallen into a class prohibited from possessing firearms. This would therefore create an opportunity for law enforcement to remove illegally possessed firearms. Creating a national registration of guns and tightening registration laws would improve results. 

That’s overly idealistic. Criminals almost never leave behind guns that are registered to them, and if they do it is usually because they have been killed or injured, in which case, they would already be apprehended and the registration system would need not be used. Moreover, criminals who wish to obtain guns without registering will just buy them illegally, bypassing the system. It is for this reason that gun registries have been shown to be ineffective in the past.

For example, in 2000, the Honolulu chief of police stated that he couldn’t find any crimes that had been solved due to registration and licensing, according to Fox News. This in of itself would not be concerning, except there is a cost to creating and maintaining these systems.

That same chief also said to Fox News that his officers spent about 50,000 hours each year on registering and licensing guns — 50,000 hours which could have been better used in other law-enforcement activities. 

Many have also proposed increasing the age to purchase a gun to 21 in order to limit the number of 18-year olds (high school seniors) who have guns at their disposal, posing a threat to themselves or others. Currently, 18-year-olds can legally purchase a gun despite being too young to drink alcohol or rent a car. Moreover, unlicensed persons are legally allowed to sell, deliver, or otherwise transfer a rifle or shotgun to a person of any age, according to Sanders Institute.

This irony is baffling to many, as a CNN poll found that 71% Americans favor preventing people under the age of 21 from buying any type of gun.

According to Thomas Marvell in the Journal of Law and Economics, the implementation of an 18-year-old federal age requirement for rifles in 1994 was associated with a 6% increase in firearm homicides.

“Where the 1994 laws seem to have an impact, the suggestion is almost always that crime increases; thus, there is no evidence that these bans had their intended effect,” Marvell concluded in the study.

This would appear to suggest that age limits are relatively ineffective at stopping gun violence.

Even if you raise the age to buy a gun, those under 21 who wish to obtain a gun but are banned from doing so legally will simply acquire weapons by other means. For example, the Sandy Hook Shooter used weapons legally owned by his mother, according to CNN.

The solution to school shootings is not gun control but rather increased security within schools. The government should allocate funds to increase the number of law enforcement officers and security guards on campus, all without cutting into educational programs.

Furthermore, allowing staff to carry concealed handguns of their own if they wish would lower costs even further. This would serve as a deterrent against dangerous individuals, or at worst a last line of defense to protect our students.

There are currently 18 states that have at least some schools where staff and teachers carry. There have been no problems or increases in insurance premiums at the schools with armed staff members. 

“From what I’ve seen in Utah, (school insurance) rates have not gone up because of guns being allowed,” says Curt Oda, former president of the Utah Association of Independent Insurance Agents

Arming teachers would likely be ineffective since they lack law enforcement training. During active shooter training situations, professional police officers hit their intended targets less than 20 percent of the time. Teachers will certainly not even have this degree of accuracy, yet their bullets might inadvertently find other targets in students. Having guns in the classroom at all times, also opens up the opportunity for misfires, as occurred earlier last year when a teacher accidentally fired a gun in a classroom and injured a student. Furthermore, if law enforcement is confronted with an unknown person with a gun during what they know to be an active shooter situation, they might accidentally take the teacher for the actual shooter. Then there’s the sheer cost involved. Diverting costs from education to protection would be a hard sell, especially considering “a high-quality, name-brand, semi-automatic pistol or other type of handgun could run anywhere from $500 to $1,200.”  

Teachers are not all equipped to handle weapons, nor should they be required to. To expect that of them goes beyond their duties as educators. 

“We’re not trained sharpshooters, we’re not trained first responders. We are caregivers. … I’m sure every educator out there would say that we want school safety, but arming teachers is not the answer,” said Abbey Clements, a second-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School

It is for these reasons that “virtually every…organization representing school and safety” as well as 58% of Americans oppose allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns on school grounds.

Although mass shootings are undoubtedly tragic, the person who someone is most likely to kill using a gun is themselves. In fact, two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Gun control would not meaningfully prevent the majority of gun deaths, because people will find other ways to kill themselves.

According to Business Insider, research has actually found that people are most likely to try to take their own lives shortly after they decide to do so, and as a result, people who attempt suicide with a gun as opposed to another method are much more likely to die by suicide.

Limiting access to guns would, therefore, decrease the number of suicides. For example, according to one study, after the Israel Defense Forces stopped letting troops bring weapons home on the weekends, suicide rates dropped by 40%.

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The guns are no more responsible for the actions of their owners than a car is responsible for a drunk driver’s actions. The solution is to eliminate the need for crime through systematic reform so people do not feel the need to hurt others, not make access to guns more difficult. Instead of restricting guns, the U.S. needs to prioritize American’s mental health so that people do not feel the need to commit mass shootings in the first place.

Furthermore, we need to curb the influence of gangs on young people who make up one in five gun deaths, according to the Washington Post. Lastly, we need to provide support for domestic abuse victims before they join the 1,700 women murdered per year, according to the Post. These means would be much more effective than creating broad-stroke gun control in protecting potential victims and reforming potential killers.

Of course, it is important that we focus on mental health. Nonetheless, this alone cannot solve gun violence, as “people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator.” This is because although about 20% of Americans have some form of mental illness, they account for only about 3% of violent crime, according to Business Insider.

Surely those who commit crimes should be held accountable, but we should not make it easier for them to do so by allowing them easier access to arms. Furthermore, systematic reform and gun reform can both be performed simultaneously — the two are not mutually exclusive. 

These support systems will undoubtedly be important, but when all else fails, we need to be able to make a last-ditch effort to prevent unstable people from hurting themselves or others. These Extreme Risk Laws, also known as Red Flag Laws are already in place in 15 states, in addition to Washington, D.C., while another 21 have taken at least some steps toward adopting a so-called red flag law.

These laws allow a judge to temporarily prohibit people from possessing or obtaining guns at the request of law enforcement officers or, in some states, a relative if they believe the individual poses a significant danger to others or themselves.

According to USA Today, “The court can order the weapons to be seized immediately pending a second hearing. In most cases, if the judge finds convincing evidence to support the initial concerns, the order can stay in effect up to a year.”

And these laws are already saving lives. Although it is still uncertain whether they prevent murders, Indiana saw a 7.5% decrease in firearms suicides in the 10 years that followed the 2005 enactment of Red Flag Laws without any notable increase or decrease in non-firearms suicide, according to NPR. The success of these common-sense laws has caused them to gain popularity, as in a recent survey of 1,200 likely voters, 89% of respondents favored Congress passing an Extreme Risk law, according to Every Town Research.

Extreme Risk Laws unnecessarily hamper the right to due process. 

“A person is going to lose their rights based on a third-party allegation. They’ve never been convicted of a crime. They’ve never been adjudicated mentally ill. That’s not how our system of justice should work,” Dan Reid, western director of the National Rifle Association told USA Today

Laws are already in place to ensure people convicted of abuse do not have access to firearms, rendering these laws unnecessary. In the end, these Red Flag Laws pose too much risk to due process than it is worth.

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