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Thursday, February 22, 2007

The case for and against gun control

Do we need to pass stronger laws regulating guns?

The gun control debate has raged on in this country for years. On one side of the debate are those that believe that strictly regulating guns will result in lower gun crimes. On the other side are those that advocate allowing law-abiding citizens easier access to guns. Regardless of which side one falls in this debate chances are that one’s opinion on the matter is quite strong. This article will explore both sides of this issue, laying out the arguments for stricter gun control laws and against strengthening gun controls laws. Finally the author will give an opinion on the subject.

The case for stricter gun control laws

The first argument that gun control advocates will cite as a reason for strengthening, or even increasing existing gun control laws is that past gun control legislation has worked to reduce gun crime. These advocates claim that since past laws have been effective it makes sense to increase gun control laws to further lower gun crimes. Bill Clinton provides an example of this stance:

“I would close the gun show loophole, because the Brady bill has worked superbly. It’s given us a 35 percent drop in gun crime and a 31 year low in the homicide rate, and kept a half a million people —— felons, fugitives, stalkers, from getting handguns.” (1.A.)

This would seem to be logical argument. After all, if strengthening laws against drunk driving results in fewer drunk driving deaths then it would seem reasonable that further strengthening of such laws would result in even fewer drunk driving deaths.

The argument that fewer guns results in fewer gun crimes is a common argument in defense of strengthening gun control laws. This argument is usually accompanied by various statistics showing a drop in gun crimes. Obviously the person taking this stance is linking a drop in gun crimes with a drop in gun ownership.

Another argument gun control proponents use is that a waiting period for purchasing a gun is an effective tool for allowing the purchaser to cool down. The Brady Bill, passed in 1994, established a mandatory 5 day waiting period for those wanting to buy a gun. Proponents heralded this waiting period as a way to prevent murders of passion. The belief being that someone seeking revenge rushes out to buy a gun in order to use that gun to kill someone that has wronged them.

In 1998 the Brady Bill was amended to eliminate the 5 day waiting period. Instead of the waiting period a national felon ID system was put into place. A potential gun buyer was required to fill out a form, and then an instant electronic check against the felon ID system was done by the FBI to alert the gun dealer whether or not it was lawful for the person to purchase a gun. Many proponents of the waiting period saw this move as a weakening of the Brady Bill.

A further argument those that are for stronger gun control measures use is that the 2nd amendment is not an individual right. The 2nd amendment, which was part of the original Bill of Rights, reads:

“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 in favor of stronger and more gun control laws argue that the language regarding a “well-regulated Militia” clearly shows that this amendment was meant to be a right for state government and not individuals. The distinction is an important one, because if the 2nd amendment is not an individual right then governments, both federal and state, would be constitutionally authorized to prevent individuals from owning guns in any manner that the government so chose.

Another argument made by those seeking to strengthen gun control laws is that semi-automatic weapons and handguns are of no sporting value and therefore should be banned. This argument stems from the belief that the only legitimate reason for owning a gun is for hunting or other shooting sports. Since there is little or no value for certain firearms in this regard then they are fair game for regulation and banning.

Other arguments used by proponents of stricter gun control laws include:

· A majority of citizens are for stricter gun control.

· A gun in a home is more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.

· Gun control only prevents criminals from getting guns.

These arguments are a sample of the arguments used by gun control advocates in order to persuade voters and politicians into backing stronger gun control laws. Of course there are those on the other side of this argument that view the issue from the opposite perspective.

The case against stricter gun control laws

Those that argue against stricter gun control measures usually try to take apart the arguments of those that are for stricter gun control. Thus this article will look at the above arguments for stricter gun control and will give the opposite viewpoint regarding the given arguments.

First, regarding the argument that stricter gun control laws result in less crime, those opposed to stricter gun control are quick to point out that this is simply not the case. To begin with, there is no true evidence that stricter gun control laws are the reason for a given drop in crime. To claim such a thing, in the opinion of those opposed to strict gun control legislation, is to use anecdotal evidence.

Another counter-argument to this argument is that stricter penalties for crime in general is what has caused a drop in the crime rate, not gun control laws themselves.

“Laws aimed at criminal misuse of firearms are proven crime deterrents. After adopting a mandatory penalty for using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime in 1975, Virginia's murder rate dropped 23% and robbery 11% in 15 years. South Carolina recorded a 24% murder rate decline between 1975 and 1990 with a similar law. Other impressive declines were recorded in other states using mandatory penalties, such as Florida (homicide rate down 33% in 17 years), Delaware (homicide rate down 33% in 19 years), Montana (down 42% 1976-1992) and New Hampshire (homicide rate down 50% 1977-1992).” (1.B.)

Therefore, many would argue, strengthening penalties for crimes is the real deterrent, not trying to restrict gun ownership. Further, those would argue that all gun control laws really do is prevent law-abiding citizens from purchasing, owning, and legally carrying guns. As result more crime is likely since the only ones with guns will be criminals who do not buy guns legally to begin with.

“Clearly, criminals do not bother with the niceties of obeying laws--for a criminal is, by definition, someone who disobeys laws. Those who enforce the law agree.” (1.B.)

Also, those that are against new and stronger gun control laws would argue that instead of passing new laws the current laws should be enforced and there would be less of a problem with gun crime as a result.

As far as waiting periods go, those that are against stricter gun control laws argue that waiting periods do nothing but cause law-abiding citizens unusual hardship in legally obtaining a firearm. Waiting periods for gun purchases are based on the premise that at least some gun crimes are the result of someone seeking revenge and therefore buying a gun quickly to carry out vengeance. Those opposed to waiting periods, however, argue that the evidence doesn’t support the effectiveness of waiting periods.

“The waiting period, or "cooling-off" period, as some in the "gun control" community call it, is the most often cited solution to "crimes of passion." However, state crime records show that in 1992, states with waiting periods and other laws delaying or denying gun purchases had an overall violent crime rate more than 47% higher and a homicide rate 19% higher than other states. In the five states that have some jurisdictions with waiting periods (Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia), the non-waiting period portions of all five states have far lower violent crime and homicide rates.” (1.B.)

Those would further argue that a would be criminal that was trying to buy a gun for just such a crime of passion would turn to purchasing a gun through illegal means in order to carry out a crime of this nature. This also would mean that a waiting period would be ineffective in preventing these types of gun crimes.

So what about the 2nd amendment, is it a state right and not an individual right as some claim? Those that are against stricter gun control laws argue that it is indeed an individual right. The biggest argument in favor of the 2nd amendment being an individual right is that it is placed in second in a Bill of Rights full of individual rights. No one would argue that the 1st amendment is not an individual right. In fact, the other 8 of the first 9 amendments are all individual rights. It isn’t until the 10th amendment that the first state right is included. Why would the authors of the Bill of Rights, sandwich a state right between individual rights? Further, writings of those that helped author the Bill of Rights make it clear that the 2nd amendment is an individual right.

“The whole of that Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals...[I]t establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of.” -Albert Gallatin to Alexander Addison, Oct 7, 1789, MS. in N.Y. Hist. Soc.-A.G. Papers, 2. (1.C.)

Similarly, those that argue against stronger gun control laws point to writings of those that supported the Bill of Rights as proof that the 2nd amendment has nothing to do with hunting and shooting sports, and everything to do with preservation of liberty and self-defense. These writings, some would argue, prove that just because a firearm has no sporting value doesn’t mean it constitutionally can be banned or restricted.

“What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” - Thomas Jefferson (2)

Finally, those that are against stricter gun control measures would counter-point other arguments in favor of such measures in the following way:

· A majority of citizens are for stricter gun control.

Polls show that this claim is not true.

· A gun in a home is more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.

Research proves that this is a fallacy based on flawed studies.

· Gun control only prevents criminals from getting guns.

Since criminals get their guns illegally, gun control only prevents or impedes law-abiding citizens from obtaining guns.

The author’s stance on gun control

As one considers the arguments both for and against more strict forms of gun control, one must keep common sense at the forefront of reasoning. To take either side at face-value without realizing that personal bias and political agendas are at play would be fool-hardy. Common sense is a valuable tool when thinking about this debate and forming an opinion regarding this issue.

Rhetoric and political speak aside, the basis of the gun rights vs. gun control issue is whether or not the framers of the constitution, and the authors of the Bill of Rights specifically, intended for individual citizens to keep and bear arms. To argue that this fact is irrelevant to the debate is to concede this point, and thus the debate itself, to the opposing side.

When studying the writings of the men that framed the constitution it is nearly impossible to conclude anything other than the 2nd amendment was intended to extend an individual right to keep and bear arms to law-abiding citizens. Notice the common sense reasoning in that conclusion: law-abiding citizens. Obviously, it would be foolish to extend this right to those that would break the law, and therefore it is reasonable to conclude that the writers of the Bill of Rights did not mean for criminals to be extended the right to keep and bear arms.

So at its core, the debate over the gun issue is a simple one. Guns ownership was intended, by the writers of the Bill or Rights, to be a right of law-abiding citizens of United States. However, to concede this point doesn’t necessarily mean that one must dismiss the notion that gun control is unconstitutional in any form as it has already been discussed that one form of gun control is constitutional. That being the elimination of gun ownership rights for convicted criminals. However, the debate, even if this point is conceded, switches to the kinds of firearms that should be allowed to fall under this individual right to keep and bear arms.

Many have argued that the framers of the constitution, at the time the constitution was written, had only swords and muskets as arms and therefore only those weapons were intended to be within the rights of citizens to keep and bear. However, the preamble to the constitution has language in it that suggests otherwise, specifically:

“...secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity....”

This language suggests that the framers intended for the 2nd amendment to not only apply to the arms of their day, but to the arms of all future generations. Again, common sense is a must in this case and obviously a line must be drawn somewhere. Without common sense some would try to apply the 2nd amendment to howitzers, tanks, and nuclear devices. This application would be ludicrous and as such can be dismissed.

Conceding that the framers may have intended for the 2nd amendment to extend into the future, including advances in the development and manufacture of firearms, one might still have the temptation to take the following position: “Surely the forefathers couldn’t have foreseen the 2nd amendment being used to protect cop-killer bullets, fully automatic machine guns, and LAWs rockets”. While this may be true, this is a dangerous argument to put forth. For instance, the framers of the constitution could not have foreseen the 1st amendment being used to protect internet pornography vendors, yet the 1st amendment is often called into play for just such purposes. It is interesting that it is usually those that want to so broadly apply and interpret the 1st amendment that at the same time want the 2nd amendment applied and interpreted so narrowly.

Understand that the point isn’t that the 2nd amendment should be applied to LAWs rockets and fully automatic machine guns, but the point is only that trying to use the argument that the framers of the constitution meant for the arms mentioned in the 2nd amendment to be only defined as the arms of the late 18th century is shortsighted. Therefore a reasonable standard for private ownership of guns should be established that remains as close to the spirit of the 2nd amendment without unnecessarily concentrating weapons capable of considerable damage into the hands of private citizens.

Common sense also deems it necessary to look at ineffective methods of gun control that only cause undue hardship upon would be gun owners. For instance, waiting periods have not been proven to prevent a single violent crime. Yet many gun control advocates argue unequivocally for the institution of mandatory waiting periods for the purchase of firearms. Those that argue for waiting periods would be better served if waiting periods were an effective method of gun control. In reality, despite the fact that waiting periods have no intrinsic value for reducing crime, it appears that those that advocate for waiting periods do so because it feels like a good thing to do. No empirical data is presented to back-up the claim that waiting periods prevent gun violence.

Along those same lines, claiming that more gun control results in lower gun crime is disingenuous. As quoted early, Bill Clinton had this to say:

“I would close the gun show loophole, because the Brady bill has worked superbly. It’s given us a 35 percent drop in gun crime and a 31 year low in the homicide rate, and kept a half a million people —— felons, fugitives, stalkers, from getting handguns.” (1.A.)

At first glance this quote makes sense, after all if the Brady Bill really accomplished what is claimed here, why not expand its powers and further decrease gun crime? However, at closer look Mr. Clinton is guilty of scare tactics and anti-gun rhetoric. First of all, the whole notion of a gun show loophole is ludicrous. It is a charge trumped up by gun control advocates to try to garner support for their position. Dealers at gun shows are under the same federal regulations for selling firearms as dealers that sell out of their own private shops. (3)

The other thought that comes to mind on closer examination of Mr. Clinton’s comments is what are 500,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers doing walking around in society in such an unobserved manner that they can even apply to purchase a gun? Further, former president Clinton’s claim of the number of applications to purchase firearms being denied is true, but fewer than 500 arrests for illegally applying to buy a gun, which is a federal felony itself, had resulted at the time he made this claim. (1.A.) Why were the other 499,500 not arrested? Mainly because most of the 500,000 denied were a case of mistaken identity.

To engage in such rhetoric as Mr. Clinton does, regardless of the side of the issue one falls on, is counter-productive. Dealing in the statistics and data is where the real meat of the debate lies. For instance, the argument that the majority of Americans are for stricter gun control laws falls flat on its face when the actual polling data is looked at.:

“In 1993, Luntz Weber Research and Strategic Services found that only 9% of the American people believe "gun control" to be the most important thing that could be done to reduce crime. By a margin of almost 3-1, respondents said mandatory prison would reduce crime more than "gun control." This poll, unlike many others, allowed respondents to answer more honestly by using open ended questions without leading introductions. The result was an honest appraisal of the attitude of the American people: "gun control" is not crime control.” (1.B.)

As has been demonstrated this issue is watered down by the fact that those on both sides want to poison real data and statistics with rhetoric that supports their side. However you slice it the fact is that we do have the 2nd amendment included in the Bill of Rights which should settle the issue once and for all. If a law-abiding citizen wants to practice their right to keep and bear arms then government has no constitutional basis for preventing a citizen from doing so. To argue otherwise is to call into question the validity of the Bill of Rights as a whole.

Bibliography

1. http://www.guncite.com/

A. The Brady Bill. http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_brady_bill.html

B. 10 Myths About Gun Control. http://www.guncite.com/10myths.htm

C. Quotes from the Founding Fathers and Their Contemporaries. http://www.guncite.com/gc2ndfqu.html

2. Gun Control. http://www.justfacts.com/gun_control.htm

3. Lampo, David. Gun Control: Myths and Realities. 11/7/2005 http://www.cato.org/dailys/05‑13‑00.html

4. http://www.handguncontrol.org/

5. LaPierre, Wayne. Guns, Crime, and Freedom. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1994.

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