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.
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?