The debate about gun control has been unfolding for decades in the US. Many want stricter gun control as rates of mass shootings, school shootings, and other violent incidents continue to rise, and it’s not uncommon for more and more of these incidents to make headlines in the news. Despite these facts, many Americans are still against gun control, largely because they believe they have the right to arm and protect themselves.
The Second Amendment
The Second Amendment in the US Constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms. The 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.” Many US citizens not only use this right, but also actively work to protect it. Supporters of the Second Amendment often overlook the intent with which it was written as well as the historical context; the Americans were attempting to get out from under British control and thus needed an armed population to go up against the British standing army.
The Politicization of Guns
Different political parties in the US use the Second Amendment and the issue of gun control as a way to sway voters, often creating political tension in the country. Republican and other conservative candidates often run on political platforms that advocate for little to no gun control. On the other hand, Democrats and other socially-progressive candidates usually opt to endorse stricter gun control. Current president Joe Biden has opted for stricter gun control and has proposed restrictions on firearms to curb rising rates of gun violence.
A report from 2021 found that 53% of Americans believe that gun laws should be stricter than they currently are. When controlled for party affiliation, 81% of Democratic-leaning voters believe this while only 20% of Republican-leaning voters do. As well, 73% of Democrats believe that gun control would curb rates of gun violence while only 18% of Republicans believe the same.
There is also significant lobbying in support of guns by groups that hold power and influence. The major group that advocates for minimizing gun control is the National Rifle Association, which has 5 million members and has a history of influencing politicians in their favor by financially backing pro-gun candidates and their campaigns. As a result, gun lobbying is one reason that meaningful gun control legislation has not been implemented.
Who Gun Violence Affects
Mass shootings, school shootings, and hate crimes against BIPOC are among the many instances of violence that stem from the US’s lack of strict gun control policies. Biden’s plan for stricter control over firearms came about after the mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta. The incident in Boulder on March 22nd, 2021, resulted in the death of ten people. The Atlanta shooting perpetrated by Robert Aaron Long, which specifically targeted Asian-Americans, took eight lives: Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Dayou Feng, Paul Andre Michels, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue.
There are also numerous incidents in which Black Americans are targeted and murdered. Statistics show that Black Americans experience 10 times the number of gun homicides, 18 times the number of gun injuries, and approximately 3 times the number of fatal police shootings compared to white Americans.
In 2021, there were a reported 34 school shootings. One of the most recent ones occurred on November 30, 2021 at Oxford High School in Michigan where four teenagers were killed: Hana St. Juliana, Tate Myre, Madisyn Baldwin, and Justin Shilling. This was a premeditated attack by a 15-year-old who is now on trial facing 24 charges including one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
The Accessibility of Guns
A survey found that four-in-ten adults have a gun in their household, and 30% of people say they own one themselves. Different states have different gun laws in place. Alaska is among the most gun-friendly states; no permits are required, open carry is allowed, and there are no background checks on private gun sales. California is a stark difference as it is among states that have heavier restrictions. In California, permits are required as are background checks but open carry is still allowed.
In 2017, it was estimated that American civilians owned 46% of the approximate 857 million weapons that are in civilian hands globally. As many gun owners don’t properly store their firearms, many accidental shootings occur. In 2020, for instance, there were 220 unintentional shootings by children that resulted in 92 deaths and 135 injuries. Having firearms present in the home also increases rates of suicide.
While there are several barriers when it comes to buying a firearm in the US, many people find alternative ways to go around those restrictions. For example, there are age restrictions that ban the purchase of firearms if you are under 18, and some types of firearms require that people be over 21 to purchase. You also may not be sold a firearm if you’ve been convicted or indicted for a crime that saw imprisonment of over a year, have a severe mental illness, have been a fugitive from justice, are a user of illegal substances, have been convicted of domestic violence, or are an undocumented immigrant. Nevertheless, while different states have different laws, most allow for relatively easy access to firearms.
While retailers are not allowed to sell guns without running a background check on the buyer, there are loopholes which do not require background checks, such as by buying guns from guns shows and also private sellers such as family, friends, or associates. In addition, the background check process is not a very meticulous process to begin with. It’s an underfunded and understaffed system in which many who should not be in possession of firearms slip through the cracks and manage to obtain them anyways.
How the US Compares to Other Countries on Gun Control
Rates of gun ownership and gun homicide in the US are significantly high compared to other democracies in the world. In contrast to the US, many other countries also have stricter gun control. Canada has restrictions on guns that were created to help combat rising gun violence, such as imposed waiting periods for purchases, mandatory safety training courses, detailed background checks, bans on large-capacity magazines, and bans or restrictions on military-style firearms. Due to these measures in place, Canada has significantly lower gun-violence rates.
In stark contrast to how the US reacts to gun-related tragedies, New Zealand quickly put in place and enforced strict gun control after the Christ-Church attacks in 2019. New Zealand’s parliament also voted to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons.
Enforcing gun control has been proven to be effective in curbing gun-related crimes. After a chain of mass shootings between 1987 and 1996 in Australia, strict gun rules were put into place. This resulted in much lower rates of gun-related crimes and mass shootings have since become very rare in the country.
Gun control in the US has become overly politicized, to the point where the “freedoms” of some Americans are prioritized over the safety and lives of many others. While many say they want free access to firearms for safety reasons, the countless tragedies that have occurred over decades prove that they are not being used in this way. Putting in place measures such as requiring permits, stricter background checks as well as more education on how to store and keep guns in the household would likely reduce rates of gun violence.