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Polar Opposite Approaches to America’s Gun Problem

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    Gun control is probably the single most controversial issue in American society and, unlike other social issues, shows little sign of waning in favor of either side. This research paper explores the nature of gun control in the United States. Specifically, this paper examines solutions to solve America's gun problem: more regulation, or none at all.

    Approaches to America’s Gun Problem

    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.

    Those words comprise the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which grants citizens the right to possess and use a firearm if required in self-defense; the amendment is perhaps the most controversial in the Constitution, as it is somewhat vague. At a time when the only guns available were rifles and single-shot handguns, it was very clear what guns the amendment was referring to. However, in an age where there are handguns the size of a cellphone and military-style assault weapons capable of killing large crowds of people in the blink of an eye, the situation has become much more controversial. As a result, a gun control movement has emerged that advocates for the restriction of firearms, while the pro-gun movement believes there should be little regulation due to the fact that the Bill of Rights to the Constitution grants all citizens the right to keep and bear arms. 

    Gun Violence: Too Far?

    Widespread violence is the primary reason many have called for strict gun control laws. The National Crime Victimization Survey released a study that detailed how prevalent gun violence has become in the United States. In 2011, 467,321 people were the victim of a crime committed with a firearm. On top of that,

    • 68% of murders
    • 41% of robberies
    • 21% of aggravated assaults

    involved the use of a firearm. There were also an astounding number of deaths that resulted from firearm use, with 10,869 United States citizens being killed at the hands of a firearm in 2008 (Gun Violence, 2013). A cursory glance at the numbers shows there is at least some correlation between guns and crime. 

    Implementation of gun control legislation

    Until 1993, there were essentially no federal gun control laws in the United States. Anyone could walk into a gun shop and purchase any gun on the shelf with no threat of being denied due to the fact that there were no background checks conducted on purchasers. That all changed on November 30, 1994 when Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act into law, with the law officially going into effect in February of 1994 (DeFrances and Smith, 1994). The law, which was named for the former White House Press Secretary who was shot during the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan, implemented background checks for all handgun sales, barring certain exemptions, and established the nation’s first national criminal-background information system (DeFrances and Smith, 1994). It is still the most extensive gun control law ever enacted in the United States.

    Federal involvement to counteract lax state gun regulation

    Although the regulation of firearms had previously been handled at the state level, Congress used its powers granted to it under the Commerce Clause to regulate the sale of handguns. Citing the inefficacy of previous gun control initiatives, such as the 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, which barred an individual from selling a firearm to any individual under indictment or person previously convicted of a felony, Congress decided further measures were necessary (DeFrances and Smith, 1994). The problem with the previous laws was that although it was illegal to sell a firearm to said individuals, there were rarely, if any, background checks conducted to ensure the purchaser was not a convicted felon. 

    Public Awareness and the Media

    Columbine

    One reason there has been a recent push for even stricter gun control laws is due to the fact that the public is now aware anyone is capable of committing atrocious crimes if in possession of a firearm. Due to the increase of these mass shootings, some states have their own gun laws in effect. This first became evident following the tragic shooting at Columbine High School in suburban Colorado. On April 19, 1999, two anonymous children entered their high school and opened fire on fellow students and faculty. Ultimately 12 students and one teacher would die at the hands of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold before the two teenagers took their own lives (Grider, 2007). The incident shocked and terrified those across the country, as parents now realized even a school was no longer a safe haven from gun violence. Immediately following the incident, there were massive cries for further gun control initiatives, but ultimately nothing came of the cries. 

    Theater assault

    A little over a decade later, another mass shooting would once again revive the gun control debate. This shooting would also take place in a suburban Colorado town. During a movie screen for “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises,” James Holmes entered a crowded theater armed with an assault weapon and opened fire on the innocent spectators. Dressed in body armor and a gas mask, Holmes also killed a dozen during his rampage and injured another 58 before being apprehended by police (Leonnig and Achenbach, 2012). This incident would raise public awareness because it displayed that even those who seem to be successful in life are capable of violence. 

    The one you'd least suspect

    Holmes was a PhD candidate whom his fellow classmates would never have suspected of committing such a brutal crime. He had earned a merit scholarship and graduated with honors from his undergraduate school before pursuing a PhD at the University of Colorado at Denver (Leonnig and Achenback, 2012). Obviously capable of easily passing a background check, the case of Holmes led many to believe that if someone as accomplished as he were capable of committing this type of murder, then just about anyone is – meaning high-powered assault weapons should be banned completely, not just for those who have been convicted of a felony in the past. 

    Sandy Hook Elementary

    However, the incident that would repulse a nation and lead to the most serious gun control talks the nation has seen in decades was without a doubt the scene that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in late 2012. In what was the most disgusting act of gun violence the nation has ever seen, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School on the morning of December 14, 2012 armed with 10 30-round magazines and a semiautomatic Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15 rifle, two handguns, and a shotgun with the intent to kill anyone in his path. Twenty school children between the ages of 6 and 7 did not make it home that day, nor did 6 faculty members or Lanza himself (Candiotti, Botelho, and Watkins, 2013). This was the tipping point in the recent call for stricter gun control, as citizens finally decided enough is enough. 

    Lack of government response

    Congressional disputes

    There have been a number of bills introduced in Congress that have been pushed by the gun control movement since the Newtown incident, although none have made it through both chambers of Congress to President Obama’s desk. The president himself has introduced a plan designed to prevent guns from entering the hands of dangerous individuals and put a halt to mass casualties like we have seen in recent years, although again, nothing has become law thus far. There are numerous facets to his plan that address issues with sales, trafficking, and also the mental health of gun owners. 

    Background Checks

    Central to the Obama Administration’s gun control plan is background checks. As of now, it is nearly impossible to identify buyers who are drug addicts or mental defectives, both of whom are supposed to be barred from purchasing firearms. This is due to the fact that drug-treatment facilities are legally prohibited from disclosing patient records if they receive federal funding, making it impossible for the current background check system to identify drug addicts (DeFrances and Smith, 1994). The same holds true for mental health facilities, so essentially as long as he or she is not a convicted felon, both drug addicts and those with serious mental problems are able to purchase a gun with little resistance. Under President Obama’s plan, the background check system would be expanded in order to identify potential risks and would require background checks for all gun sales. 

    Loopholes and exploitation of ineffective gun laws

    The proposal is also designed to eliminate one of the major loopholes of the Brady Act, which is the purchase of guns at a gun show. Currently the Brady Act only requires background checks to be conducted by those who are in the business of gun dealing (DeFrances and Smith, 1994). This leaves a major loophole in federal regulation of weapon sales for person-to-person sales, and has allowed many to easily obtain firearms without going through a background check. Many believe it is necessary to close this loophole and require background checks for all gun purchases to shut down one of the primary avenues associated with illegal gun trafficking. 

     
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