Gun control has been a controversial topic of discussion in the United States ever since it was initially introduced in the 1920s. Conventional wisdom says that guns are responsible for violence and that they need to be regulated more stringently to prevent further harm. Guns advocacy groups, on the other hand, claim that such violence is a result of the actions of specific criminals, and that the punishing of those criminals and the use of guns as a deterrent from illicit activity should supersede the prioritization of gun control. Violence associated with guns is a very realistic and nearly daily occurrence in this country; the proper solution to this threat will benefit nearly everyone living in it. Restriction of access to guns by law-abiding citizens and stricter regulations regarding their sale and monitoring of their buyers violates Constitutional rights as guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Gun control also detracts from the simple fact that there needs to be stricter punishments and regulations for criminals directly responsible for the threat of gun violence. What is needed is not more gun control, but rather increased vigilance in law enforcement as well as punitive measures for those who transgress the law. Such measures, coupled with the deterrent of guns used for lawful measures of self-defense, would effectively help to reduce the violence associated with firearms in this country. Gun rights advocates like the National Rifle Agency and Gun Owners of America are correct that the increased prevalence of guns actually helps to deter criminal activity, and statistical data supports this viewpoint. Opposition to Second Amendment rights, which the Supreme Court has recently upheld, is based on the emotional lobbying and blanket partisanship of gun control supporters and the liberal bias of the urban mass media.
Will Vizzard, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent, noted that gun control first became a major issue in the 1920s and 1930s, when the federal government began to pass crime control legislation to ban the sale of automatic weapons or carrying guns across state lines with the intent of committing a felony. This was part of a broader effort to give the Federal Bureau of Investigation more tools to combat organized crime and gangs of kidnappers and bank robbers. Nor was it a coincidence that Alcatraz was built at this time to harbor the most notorious career criminals in federal custody like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. At the time, gun control was not a liberal vs. conservative issue in the way it became in the 1970s and 1980s, but was simply a method of attempting to control the violent gangs that emerged during Prohibition and the Great Depression. After the 1974 elections during the era of Watergate, the NRA began to fear that a more liberal Congress would be strongly in favor of gun control, although as it turned out “the group was suspicious of government and reluctant to give government any more control” (Sheley 2001). Nevertheless, the NRA began its campaigns that asserted gun laws were designed to persecute ordinary, law-abiding Americans who only wished to own forearms for hunting or self-defense. With the rise of violent drug gangs in the big cities in the 1980s and 1990s, gun control became a major issue again, with big city mayors and police forces on the side of more restrictive laws, such as criminals buying weapons in states with weak gun control and selling them in the major cities. For police forces again confronted with machine guns, assault weapons and ‘cop killer bullets’, tougher gun control measures seemed imperative. This finally led to the Brady Bill and the ban on assault weapons, background checks and mandatory waiting periods. It also put the NRA in direct “opposition to the police” for the first time in history. In reality, most states already had background checks, permits, waiting periods and gun registration laws, so the Brady Bill changed relatively little. Vizzard concluded that “legislation crafted for political ends provides limited utility and defies implementation and enforcement” (Sheley 2001).
At no time has the Obama administration made gun control a major issue over the last three years, nor will it be able to pass any new legislation on this issue in Congress given Republican control of the House after the 2010 elections. Despite all the partisan rhetoric during the country’s seemingly permanent elections, Obama is actually a cautious, pragmatic and centrist politician who prefers to avoid controversial issues if possible. He supported a renewed ban on assault rifles when he was a candidate in 2008, but never mentioned this again after the election. As usual, he treads a careful middle path, stating that he favors the individual right to own firearms while also supporting measures to reduce gun violence (Berger 2011). Even though the rhetoric directed against him has often been hysterical, he has never been a particularly liberal president by historical standards, and many of his major initiatives such as cap and trade and mandating the purchase of health insurance were originally Republican ideas. His main problems have always been the Great Recession, unemployment and the poor economic condition of the country, which he has not handled particularly well. He has also had difficulty connecting with white rural and working class voters, which is yet another reason that he avoids ‘cultural’ issues like gun control, and in reality no major legislation on this has been passed in almost twenty years.
Only the recent shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others by a mentally deranged gunman put the issue of gun control on the table briefly, but in reality very little changed because of it. Gun control becomes a hot topic temporarily after assassinations and mass shootings like these, but almost always the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other pro-gun lobbyists have the strength to block it in Congress. Obama mentioned “tougher background checks” and started to “chip around the edges” with new regulatory proposals, but nothing really came of it (Berger 2011). Once the media flurry over the shooting died down so did any discussion of control, at least until the next such incident like this. No new legislation of any kind is likely to pass the current Congress, which will not change until the 2012 elections — depending on the outcome of course. Larry Pratt, director of Gun Owners of America, was worried about a minor regulation that required gun dealers in New Mexico, Arizona, California and Texas which required them to report “multiple sales to the same person of certain kinds of rifles,” which was designed to curb illegal sales of weapons to the Mexican drug cartels (Berger 2011). In addition, the ATF was considering new regulations to ban the import of certain types of shotguns, while the State Department blocked the sale of “U.S.-manufactured antique rifles by the South Korean government to gun collectors in America” (Berger 2011). A bill to ban the sale of high-capacity magazines has 107 cosponsors in Congress, but has been stalled and will not pass. Mayors against Illegal Guns has launched a campaign for stronger background checks, especially at gun shows, and requiring that the names of those prohibited from buying guns be placed in the national database. As always, and punishment of gun criminals alone will reduce crime and violence. It also lashed out at Obama, the ATF and the Justice Department for a failed sting operation that placed thousands of weapons in the hands of Mexican drug gangs (Berger 2011).
Joe Sheley, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies at the California State University in Sacramento, finds that most of the debate about gun control is merely partisan rhetoric that fails to deal with the substance of the problem. As he put it in his book In the Line of Fire, which examined teenage gun violence, gun control is “more and more about symbolism and less about substance” (Sheley 2001). On the one hand, the NRA and other gun rights groups almost always have enough power and money to block any major control legislation in Congress. Like the Wall Street banks, they hardly ever lose, although the Brady Bill was one glaring exception, which put them in heated conflict with the Clinton administration in the 1990s. Even so, this law was more of a symbolic than a real victory for the supporters of gun control, while the NRA simply keeps repeating that “guns are not a problem — bad guys using guns are the problem” (Sheley 2001). Even if the U.S. had very strict gun control laws like Britain and Japan, this would do nothing about the tens of millions of firearms already in circulation or brought into the country illegally and sold under the table. More use of prisons and prosecutions to stamp out illegal gun violence would “require an almost military occupation of the country, and grant police much more power” (Sheley 2001). Even when Sheley wrote this in 2001, the U.S. already had the largest prison population in the world, and of course the police powers of the state at all levels increased exponentially after September 11, 2001. For Sheley, there will never be any real answer to illegal gun violence unless government took serious steps to correct the urban “environmental and social settings” where most violent crime takes place. Not since the 1960s has the federal government even attempted to address these serious urban problems, which have only worsened greatly in the last thirty years.
John R. Lott asserted that gun ownership has a positive side, particularly for purposes of self-defense and prevention of crime that is almost never covered by the liberal mass media that favors gun control laws. Instead, “we are inundated with bad news about guns are rarely hear about the benefits,” and even those self-defense cases that are reported only get attention when the potential victim shoots the criminal dead (Lott 16). Most of the print and broadcast media prefer to give attention to mass shootings such as public schools in Jonesboro, Arkansas and Littleton, Colorado, with large numbers of victims, following the usual prescription of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. Every year, though, guns are used to prevent crimes 1.5 to 3.4 million times, and Lott has a long list of cases in which victims used firearms to prevent robbery, sexual assault or murder. In all of these incidents, guns made it “easier for people to defend themselves where few other alternatives are available” (Lott 22). Use of guns prevents the crime from even occurring 95% of the time, while only one in 1,000 perpetrators is actually killed in self-defense cases (Lott 24).
More journalists favor gun control than the general public, which explains why successful use of guns in self-defense is so rarely reported in the mass media. When the New York Times ran a story of 100 mass shooting incidents in 1949 to 1999, it distorted the record to make it appear that these had been on the rise in recent years, mainly by ignoring most of the incidents before 1995 (Lott 25). Almost all big city reporters simply “assume that tighter gun laws would save lives” although in reality the right to carry concealed weapons causes mass shootings to decrease by 80% (Lott 30). Journalists routinely cite pro-gun control academics like Philip Cook, Alfred Blumenstein and Garen Wintermute while ignoring gun rights advocates like Lott. Public opinion pollsters skew their questions so that they only ask whether gun control would reduce crime and never whether gun ownership would prevent it. People in large cities are always “bombarded with stories about guns facilitating crime” and almost never with how they are also used in self-defense, which explains why urban residents are most likely to favor gun control (Lott 40). Rural areas have far less violent crime, and small town newspapers are also more likely to report of defensive use of guns.
Scholars opposed to additional gun control laws like Joe Sheley and James Lott make a strong case that more legislation will not solve this problem. Sheley is correct that drug and gang violence in large cities is a social and economic problem that has only been worsening since the 1970s and that more gun control laws, police or harsher prison sentences will not cure it. These are the areas where most gun violence occurs and that give the U.S., its disproportionately high murder rate compared to other Western countries. Lott is also right that gun ownership saves lives and prevents crime millions of times a year, even though this is almost never reported in the media. People should have the right to own firearms in self-defense, and without this the rate of violent crime would be even higher than it is today. Given the influence of the NRA, no new gun control legislation is likely to pass Congress in the near future, and in any case the Brady Bill that excited such heated opposition at the time merely duplicated laws that already existed in most states. Even the Supreme Court, which has guaranteed the Second Amendment right of all individuals to own firearms, is not going to repeal state and local laws that require permits, background checks and registration of firearms, since these do prevent some career criminals and mentally ill persons from acquiring guns. Nor is the Obama administration ever likely to make gun control a major issue, apart from taking steps to prevent drug gangs and organized crime from acquiring more lethal weaponry.
Berger, Judson. “Obama Administration Eyeing Gun Control ‘Under the Radar’ Groups Warn.” FoxNews.com. Fox News Network, LLC, May 28, 2011. Web. 23 June 2011. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/05/28/obama-administration-eyeing-gun-control-radar-groups-warn/
This is an excellent source for obtaining current political and administrative policies which may be affecting the future of gun control. It presents information from both pro- and anti-gun control groups, and includes statements from such credible sources as President Obama, Senator Carolyn McCarthy, and guns advocacy groups Gun Owners of America and the National Rifle Association.
Lott Jr., John R. The Bias against Guns: Why Almost Everything You’ve Heard about Guns Is Wrong. Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2003.
This book cites news reports and survey data to demonstrate that ubiquitous gun ownership prevents crime. Lott Jr. is an economist and an academician who has held research positions at Universities such as Yale, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania. He has a P.H.D. In economics from UCLA.
Sheley, Joe. “At Issue: The Politics of Gun Control.” California State University Sacramento Capital University Journal. Spring (2001). http://www.csus.edu/pubaf/journal/spring2001/24guncontrol.htm
This source discusses the effects of partisanship and emotional lobbying on both sides of the issue of gun control, as detailed by CSU Sacramento dean of the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies and author Joe Sheley, as well as CSU Sacramento criminal justice professor Will Vizzard, a former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent.
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