Friday, April 26, 2019

Progress needs to be made in the current gun control standstill

JEFF SYBERTZ ’13

STAFF WRITER

 

Since the Sandy Hook School shooting this past December, the gun control debate has divided the media, politicians, and American society as a whole. This past week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearings since the Newtown tragedy and the gun control debate was the top priority on the agenda.

Lobbyists, politicians, experts, and other influential Americans from both sides of the issue debated for multiple days and it appears that this debate will not be settled anytime soon. Gun advocates assert that the Second Amendment prohibits the government from interfering with citizens’ right to bear arms and that strict gun controls prohibit people from protecting themselves from violent intruders and government overreach. Conversely, gun control advocates believe that although the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, certain regulations should be enacted to prevent mass shootings and urban gun violence. Some of these regulations include an assault weapons ban, more extensive background checks, and limiting magazine sizes. Although the Bill of Rights protects Americans’ right to bear arms, stricter gun control is needed because nearly 20 mass shootings and ten thousand gun-related deaths in the United States during 2012 is both horrifying and unacceptable.

These stricter gun control laws will not prevent all mass shootings and there will still be gun-related violence. However, stricter regulations, a stronger mental health apparatus and an attempt to take the “sexy” out of violence may create a society where armed guards are not the solution to school shootings and adolescents in urban areas do not have to face gun violence on a daily basis.

Gun advocates generally put forth three arguments against stricter gun control: they do not lead to a decrease in gun violence, they punish law-abiding gun owners because of the violent actions of a select few, and that the federal and state governments should focus on the enforcement of existing laws instead of enacting new legislation.

For example, many gun supporters oppose bans on assault weapons and large-size magazines. They argue that these weapons are necessary for self-protection in the event of a violent home invasion, especially if a woman must confront multiple armed male intruders.

While the need for a sense of security in one’s home is one of the fundamental pillars of our society, a fully automatic assault rifle does not have to be the only means of protection. Moreover, opponents of these bans use highly improbable hypothetical situations to defend their arguments while ignoring the fact that most mass shootings have involved legally purchased automatic weapons. Gun advocates also assert that stricter regulations make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to responsibly acquire firearms while avoiding the bigger problem of illegal weapons trafficking. Since so many guns are purchased illegally, legally buying a firearm is the only way to protect oneself. This solution only enforces the inherently violent nature of our culture. Granted, illegal weapons trafficking is a serious threat and one of the main ways guns are acquired in many of the most violent inner city neighborhoods. However, using the prevalence of stolen weapons as an argument against stricter gun control is tantamount to saying that laws should not be enforced if they are constantly broken. If one were to follow this logic, then police should not enforce speed limits because so many people speed. Laws will always be broken, but that should not produce a sense of defeatism throughout the law enforcement apparatus.

The final argument that the government should focus on enforcing existing gun laws before enacting further regulations appears to be a valid contention. There are a number of extensive gun laws already in existence that require a huge amount of capital, technology, and labor to enforce. When these existing laws are enforced, the results are generally positive. For example, the Chief of Police of Baltimore County testified that the execution of comprehensive background checks (a law already in place) has led to a significant decline in gun-related violence. However, this argument becomes less persuasive once one realizes that the main reason why the federal government has not adequately enforced many existing laws is because organizations like the N.R.A. lobby politicians for weaker enforcement policies, such as debilitating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), the federal agency in charge of enforcing gun statutes.

In the face of mass shootings and daily gun-related homicides throughout America’s cities, these arguments are simply not persuasive. Gun violence killed nearly ten thousand Americans in 2012. Other developed countries averaged between 30-50 gun-related deaths. Unfortunately, the murder of 20 children was the impetus to starting the national dialogue on gun control. Even after such a tragedy, significant reform will be nearly impossible due to politicians’ vested interests. However, we must still push for stricter gun laws not only to avoid another Sandy Hook, but also so that a child in inner-city Philadelphia can play outside without having to avoid stray bullets.

Many gun control advocates point to Great Britain’s strict weapons regulations and the country’s low numbers of gun related violence. In the 1990s, gun violence was rampant throughout Great Britain’s cities and an eerily similar primary school shooting in rural England took the lives of dozens of young children. In response to these high rates of gun violence, Britain implemented strict gun controls. First they banned assault weapons, then they banned handguns, and now it is incredibly difficult to legally own a hunting rifle or any other sort of firearm.

Last year, England had 41 gun related homicides. However, using this data as a way to push for stricter gun control laws in the U.S. can be slightly misleading. First of all, in the immediate years following these stricter gun laws in the mid 1990s, Britain experienced a slight upturn in gun violence and the steep declines did not occur until the mid 2000s. Also, gun ownership and violence are not as ingrained in the British culture as the American culture. In Britain, people do not see the right to own a firearm as an inalienable human right protected by a sacred document. Although they can watch many of the most popular American TV shows and access other propagations of American culture, the British culture is nowhere near as inherently violent as the American culture. The most popular American TV shows, such as “CSI” and “NCIS,” are excruciatingly violent. The most popular American video games include Call of Duty and Halo. To say these games glorify violence is an understatement.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently just investigating whether stricter gun control laws will lessen the chances of a mass shooting and decrease overall gun violence. Obviously stricter gun controls will decrease overall gun violence and the fact that there is even a debate over this issue is frightening. However, gun controls can only do so much because they do not get at the heart of the issue. We as a country must also reexamine the role of violence and firearms in our culture. Even after the countless mass shootings, violence is still “sexy.” If we are unable to change that, we will always have to live in fear of another Sandy Hook and gun violence will continue to dominate many of America’s inner cities.

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