Gun Control: A Fight Worth Resurrecting

In the wake of the brutal shooting of 71 people in a Colorado movie theater, many are experiencing feelings of shock and disbelief.  But upon examination of gun laws in this country, that feeling of disbelief may start to melt away.

James Holmes, the alleged shooter, bought both his guns and ammunition legally.

In most parts of the United States, it is relatively easy to buy both a gun and ammunition. Who could forget that scene in Bowling For Columbine, where Michael Moore opens up a bank account and with it, receives a free gun?  Scenes like this are often put down as being ridiculous and specific to that one instance, rather than being representative of a nation in which gun violence is rampant.  In Colorado, where this brutal shooting took place, the only requirements for buying a legal firearm are being at least 18 years of age and not being a criminal.  Owners are not required to register guns, there are no limitations on assault weapons and magazines, safety training is not required, and there are no consumer safety standards on guns1.  Finally, besides some restrictions set by the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, there are no state restrictions on legal gun owners carrying firearms in school zones.  If nothing else does, this last item should catch your attention–13 years after the Columbine Massacre, there are no state regulations on firearms in Colorado schools.

Supporters of gun control, however, are wary of trying to create and pass stricter gun control laws because of the obvious political repercussions.  From slogans like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” to the successful lobby of the NRA, it is clear that the 2nd Amendment freedom movement, as some call it, is incredibly strong.  And the most frequently used argument by the movement is just that: the 2nd amendment.  By restricting gun possession and usage, one is restricting the civil liberties of the American citizen.  The fascinating part of this argument is the fact that most Americans don’t make a fuss about other civil liberties restrictions the way they make a fuss about gun rights.

NRA

Every once in a while, the local news channel will run a story about the TSA’s new policies, perhaps noting that they could be construed as “invasive”.  But, to be frank, most discussions about airport security infringing on Americans’ civil liberties end up with a few recycled jokes, not an office on K Street.  A much more serious test of civil liberties’ restrictions, Bush’s Patriot Act, certainly had its share of protesters, but now is largely out of the spotlight; in 2011, President Obama extended three key parts of the act, including wiretapping and searching business records, without creating much of a stir.  So why do Americans so readily give up so many of their civil liberties and cling to just this one?  Perhaps the need to own a gun is linked to fear or weakness.  Perhaps it is solely out of an interest in weapons.  One thing is clear: the culture in the United States is one that is both celebratory of guns and gun ownership, and one that is prone to gun violence at levels up to 12 times that of other Western nations­2.  It is possible to have gun ownership without such violence, but more stringent gun laws must be enacted in order for this to occur.

Banning certain guns, magazines, and ammunition, like the extended magazine clip used by Jared Loughner, the man who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords among others in the Tucson shooting, has been proven effective in eliminating the banned items from use.  More extensive background checks that include criminal records and mental health records have also been proven effective in lowering gun violence3.  If a prospective gun owner does not have a criminal record or records indicating poor mental health, then he or she should not feel distress over such laws, as they would not restrict his or her access to legal firearms.  Politicians and lobbyists are forced to compromise on most issues and this can no longer reamin an exception.

Representative Giffords before and after the Tucson shooting.

American citizens need to weight the costs of stringent gun laws against the benefits.  Are we as a country willing to accept the astonishing amount of gun violence that terrorizes our communities so that we can take our gun with us on an evening walk?

So that we can take it to the movies?

 

 

Sources:

1. http://www.coloradoceasefire.org/Col-state.htm

http://www.rmgo.org/images/stories/Gun_1-Pager.wpd.pdf

2. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=6166

http://www.politifact.com/virginia/statements/2012/jan/27/jim-moran/rep-jim-moran-says-us-gun-homicide-rate-20-times-h/

3. http://www.thecommunityguide.org/violence/viol-AJPM-evrev-firearms-law.pdf

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9 Comments

  1. Great article! You and Bloomberg hit it on the head. If we don’t politicize this event now in order to change laws, this will just happen again. Thanks for the piece.

    Reply
  2. Matt

     /  July 21, 2012

    The acts of evil in Colorado are tragic, and I extend my personal condolences to all those touched by this senseless violence.

    However, I respectfully disagree with you; further restriction of our right to self-defense, granted to us through the second amendment, is not the answer. Regulation of a legal market is doomed to fail when an alternate, illegal market exists. There is a thriving black market for guns in this country, and the thugs who wish to use guns to commit crimes are the types of people who will likely have no qualms about purchasing their firearms illegally. Though Holmes obtained his firearms through legal means in this case, it should be noted that only 1 in every 5 guns, a mere 20%, used to commit a crime in this country is bought legally (source: Freakonomics). Criminals will always have guns, and there is nothing we can do about that.

    That said, one of the greatest deterrents to gun crimes and shooting sprees are, in fact, guns. If you think about it, this tragedy in Colorado could have been averted if one person in that theatre had been carrying a firearm (though Colorado places few limits on gun purchases, it restricts the ability to carry firearms in public by requiring government-issued conceal carry permits). Same goes for the Virginia Tech shootings. You mentioned in your article that in certain states, American citizens are permitted to carry firearms in school zones. I’d like to point out that the states of Montana, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming, five states with relatively lax gun laws and allow gun owners to carry in schools, have among them experienced a grand total of zero school shootings (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/graphic-school-killings.htm).

    So while the recent events in Colorado are heart-breaking, the solution is not to infringe upon our second amendment rights. The right to self-defense is a right that should be afforded to everyone in this country. Constraining the fundamental right to protect oneself, family, and property will only embolden criminals. Case and point: after guns were banned in Britain, citizens no longer had a realistic opportunity to defend themselves and criminals had no reasonable fear that their victims could fight back with lethal force. Gun crimes rose 40% in Britain (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1440764.stm). In the coming days, the debate over gun ownership will be re-ignited, and we must “stick to our guns” (pun) and defend our sacred second amendment rights.

    Reply
    • What are your opinions on gun control laws that make the process of buying a gun more restrictive to say, the mentally unstable? What about gun safety courses? If one accepts the fact that people are going to carry guns around (legally), then do you believe it would help to have a mandatory course? This would be nothing but a minor inconvenience to the experienced and responsible gun owner, and would ensure that all who carry guns would do so safely.

      Reply
  3. Matt

     /  July 21, 2012

    I agree with you that we should closely examine those with a criminal record and those with a history of mental health problems; it should not be impossible for these people to obtain guns, but you are right that we should take a closer look at these people before we sell them firearms. However, current gun laws in certain states are not simply a “minor inconvenience.” In New York, in order to obtain a handgun, one must fill out a detailed application, get peer recommendations, meet with a judge, meet with a detective, submit to deep background checks, and fill out stacks and stacks of paperwork. All said and done, it takes an absolute minimum of 6 months for a New York resident to obtain a hand gun. No one wants to go through that, and if that New York resident is seeking a gun because he/she feels like there is an impending threat to his/her life, then why bother? All those laws do are keep guns out of the hand of responsible citizens, and getting guns in the hands of responsible citizens is, in my opinion, a very good thing.

    Reply
    • The reason the regulations in New York are so strict is because of New York City. Owning and carrying a gun in a rural area is one thing, but doing so in the 14th largest city in the world is quite another. New York has had major problems with gun violence in the past, and since these laws have been implemented, it has become one of the safest cities in the country (http://tinyurl.com/cy86hz3).

      And as I mentioned in the article, the reason the infringing on civil liberties argument doesn’t work for me is the fact that so many Americans so readily give up their civil liberties for much less. More restrictions do lessen civil liberties–there is no contesting this–but there is a serious upside. Recently, the NYPD has introduced some seriously invasive policies in which they track what goes on in every single part of the city (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44292512/vp/44380953), among other things. These policies have been met with little opposition when compared to the uproar when minor gun control laws are introduced. Why is this?

      Reply
  4. Sydney

     /  July 22, 2012

    “Criminals will always have guns, and there is nothing we can do about that.”

    Well, if that’s the case, why not just open up the market and sell guns directly to criminals, they are just going to get them anyway? Why do any background checks?

    Probably because we’d at least like to throw up a few road blocks to make it harder for them, right? That’s what we’re talking about, a few more road blocks. But then that might inconvenience you. And we wouldn’t want to do that, now, would we.

    Reply
  5. Penny Ander

     /  July 22, 2012

    Once again, I agree with Ms. Velona. We need gun control. And it is hard to understand the intensity of the opposition to any gun control.

    Reply
  6. against apathy

     /  July 23, 2012

    Matt’s suggestion that if people in the theater were armed then they could have defended against Holmes is flawed. Sadly, once Holmes walked into the theater in head-to-toe body armor, there wasn’t a thing those people could have done to defend themselves. Bullets would have bounced off of him.

    Those who oppose gun control often to resort to the argument that the best way to defend against the wrong element having guns is to ensure that we all have access to them. Holmes’s decimated that argument when he donned his ballistic helmet, ballistic vest, ballistic leggings, throat and groin protectors, tactical gloves and gas mask before he opened fire in Aurora.

    First Amendment absolutists’ preferred remedy for combatting bad speech is not to regulate speech, or criminalize hate speech but instead to call for more speech, which will presumably drown out the bad speech. Setting aside the efficacy of that response, there is a clear parallel between the remedy against bad speech advanced by first amendment absolutists and that offered by second amendment supporters, namely that the best defense against criminals having guns is to ensure that all citizens have them. However, the parallel between the two situations is shattered when it comes up against the $3,000 in tactical armor worn by Holmes. This armor rendered Holmes immune to bullets. More guns would have done nothing to him.

    The only solution is to regulate the access of people like Holmes to weapons, ammunition and tactical armor. At the very least a system must be put into place where purchases such as those he made over the last several months would trigger an inquiry into his actions. At that point, it seems likely that any regulator who was even half awake would recognize something was wrong. It is notable that the owner of a gun range claims that he knew that something was wrong with Holmes based on hearing his answering machine message.

    From what I’ve read, Holmes did not have a history of being an active gun owner, so his large purchases of weapons and ammunition, along with the full-body tactical armor, would trigger an inquiry into his actions. In contrast, such an alarm would not be triggered by similar purchases of weapons and ammunition by someone like Dudley Brown, Exec. Dir of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, who was quoted in the NY Times as saying that he could easily blow through 4-500 rounds in a day and who calls “6,000 rounds of ammunition running law.” (Presumably the first such large purchases by a Dudley Brown would have triggered an alarm, and assuming he passed scrutiny, further purchases would not necessarily trigger further scrutiny.)

    There are no good solutions to the problems of gun violence but we must try to do something.

    Finally, I note that the regulation of tactical gear is not a second amendment issue. (although such regulations do implicate the commerce clause).

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/23/us/online-ammunition-sales-highlighted-by-aurora-shootings.html?pagewanted=all

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2012/07/the_aurora_shooting_bulletproof_vests_swat_gear_and_body_armor_refute_the_nra_.html

    Reply
  7. Penny Ander

     /  July 28, 2012

    Yes, I find it incredible that not one dealer picked up the alarming series of purchases of armor, guns, and ammunition that Holmes was making. I too was impressed by the owner of the Range who, not only picked up Homes’s weirdness, but, instructed his employees to immediately contact him before allowing Homes to do anything at the Range. In addition to other regulations, there should be a central place for reporting all purchases of any supplies that are related to killing. Much as hospitals share information about any diseases coming in to their hospitals.

    Reply

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