The Gun Control Debate: Stricter Gun Laws Will Reduce Gun Violence
This paper will argue that stricter gun laws have the capacity to reduce gun violence rates. Over the past few years, there have been extensive debates about whether the United States should adopt stricter gun control measures. Supporters of gun control argue that more firearms equal to more gun violence and more crime. On the other hand, opponents of gun control argue that gun ownership is first and foremost a fundamental right as outlined in the US Constitution. They also argue that guns deter criminals and if the number of people with guns is high, the incidence of gun violence and crime will be low. However, this is not true. Countries, such as Brazil, South Africa and Colombia have previously tightened their gun laws and saw a significant reduction in gun violence within their borders. In the past, the country has witnessed mass shootings perpetrated by individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The persons carried out these acts because they had access to guns even though they are unfit. Guns have also ensured that our homesteads are not safe as they should be. Past research has showed that most children, women, and older adults are murdered at home. This may be due to homicide, suicide or accident. Guns are also used to batter women. While pro-gun activists believe that guns deter crime, previous experiences show that this is not the case.
Key Words: Gun control, crime, homicide, domestic violence, gun violence
The Gun Control Debate: Stricter gun laws will reduce gun violence
Over the past few years, there have been extensive debates about whether the United States should adopt stricter gun control measures. This discussion was elicited after the Sandy Hook shootings and its aftermath, when President Barack Obama suggested plans of controlling gun ownership by banning acquisition of assault weapons and establishing comprehensive background checks before someone is allowed to purchase a gun. This suggestion appeared to have polarized opinions in the country. Supporters of gun control argue that more firearms equal to more gun violence and more crime. Therefore, reducing gun ownership levels would translate to less violence. On the other hand, opponents of gun control argue that gun ownership is a fundamental right as outlined in the US Constitution. Thus, denying anyone the right to own a firearm will be a violation to his or her constitutionally given rights. In addition, they argue that guns actually detract criminals and that if more people had access to them, gun violence would be lower since evil-minded people would be deterred.
Strict gun control or lack thereof, is an essential topic in the field of criminal justice. The main aim of this field is to mitigate and deter crime so that there is social order. Guns account for about 70 percent of all deaths that arise from crime. However, they are used in only 5% of all crimes. This perhaps explains why the matter of gun control is extremely polarizing. In investigating whether guns actually encourage or discourage gun violence, it is essential that practitioners in the criminal justice field look for objective evidence. In this regard, this paper will argue that stricter gun laws have the capacity to reduce gun violence rates. To support this assertion, it will use academic findings from other countries as well as scholarly literature.
Stricter Gun Control Will Reduce Gun Violence
Stricter gun control has been affected in different countries with positive effects. In the past, countries such as Brazil, Colombia and South Africa have passed gun legislations, which have led to reduction in gun violence. Apart from its incredible fascination for soccer, Brazil has a reputation for having one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Crime statistics from the country show that as many as 45,000 people are murdered every year. This translates to one person killed every twelve minutes. It has also been established that homicide is the main cause of death for Brazilian men aged between 15 and 44 years. Furthermore, about 90 percent of homicide cases in this age group involve guns. In 2002, the rate of firearm death was estimated at 21.72 per 100,000 individuals. This was significantly higher than the US firearm related deaths that year, which was 10.7 per 100,000 Americans.
Faced with such high gun violence rates, the Brazilian government decided to introduce tighter gun laws in late 2003. This regulation sought to control the flow of guns within the country’s borders and banned the ownership of unregistered guns. Furthermore, the government banned people from carrying their legally acquired guns outside their homes or business premises and instituted extensive background checks when one intends to purchase a gun. The minimum age when a person could buy a firearm was also raised to 25. Tougher penalties and fines were also introduced to punish individuals who violated these new measures. Following the passage of the law, a countrywide disarmament program was launched.
Maria de Fátima Marinho et al. (2007) sought to investigate the impact of these measures by analyzing firearm related deaths and hospitalizations between 1996 and 2005, about a year after the law came into effect. Their results show that hospitalizations fell by 13 percent in the first year of enforcement. Meanwhile, attempted suicides using firearms reduced by 18%. Based on data from the previous years, the researchers projected that the law prevented at least 5,563 firearm related deaths in 2004.
Another country that was struggling with gun violence until it was forced to act is South Africa. At the turn of the millennium, the country had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Statistics show that until 2003, guns were the leading cause of homicide for all age groups from the age of five. In the same vein, gunshot wounds were accounting for more than 50 percent of male and 41 percent of female homicide. However, the country’s police service has been reporting a decline in homicide in the past decade. This decline has been attributed to the Firearms Control Act of 2000. This Act was passed as a way of reducing the number of guns in circulation. It was implemented gradually and fully came into effect in 2004. As part of the gun control strategies, civilians were encouraged to hand in illegally acquired guns with the promise of amnesty. There was also a more thorough application of licensing conditions. In 2003, the country recovered more than 35,000 guns, majority of which were destroyed. During the first six months of 2005, about 100,000 firearms were recovered.
The impact of the Firearm Control Act in reducing gun violence has since been investigated by Matzopoulos et al. (2014). In their retrospective population study of five South African cities between 2001 and 2005, the researchers looked at about 37,000 gun and non-gun homicide cases. They utilized generalized linear models to estimate and compare yearly trends of reported homicide cases. Their results indicate that there was significant decrease in firearm-related homicides from 2001. Between 2001 and 2005, homicides rates declined 13.6% per year on average. In addition, non-firearm homicides reduced by 0.976% per annum. The researchers estimate that the Act might have saved up to 4,585 lives across the five cities.
Gun legislations in Brazil and South Africa led to a reduction in gun violence in both countries. Another country that has previously benefitted from such legislation is Colombia. A study by Villaveces (2000) on two Colombian cities showed that law that banned carrying guns on holidays, on weekends after paydays and on election days caused a 13% decline in homicides. These examples show that establishing stricter gun control laws within a country can indeed reduce the incidence of gun violence within its borders, as long as it is implemented thoroughly. Therefore, the United States should also effect such laws if intends to address this problem effectively.
For the past fifteen years, the United States has witnessed two episodes of mass shooting on average. When such an incident occurs, scores of people are left dead and injured since the shooters usually use supercharged firearms. Presently, the country has one of the worst statistics related to gun deaths and mass murders in the developed world. This sad state of affairs arises from the fact that civilians have access to powerful guns and that the current gun laws allow almost anyone to access them. The proliferation of such guns is what has made the country such a dangerous place to live. Since a person can access unlimited rounds of ammunition, he/she can cause enormous damage within an instant. Contrary to the opinions of opponents of gun control, guns do kill people (Frances, 2012). Therefore, a person with one can be murderous at an instant. To reduce violence and ensure that many people do not succumb to mass murders, the country needs tighter laws that will prohibit ownership of assault weapons.
Most perpetrators of mass shootings have been found to be suffering from mental illnesses. Since they are not under full control of their actions, they take to shooting innocent civilians without critically considering the repercussions of their actions. Opponents of gun control have always used this line of thinking while arguing for their cause whenever a mass shooting occurs. However, this ought not to be the case. The main reason why the mentally ill persons go on a shooting spree is that they can access a gun in the first place. If they would be denied a firearm, they would not go around killing innocent people. Gun laws should be tightened so that such people are prohibited from owning or accessing guns.
Control of guns is not the solution to crime since firearms are used in only 4% of all crimes. However, other factors indicate why they should be restricted anyway. For instance, they account for about 70 percent of all criminal killings. This shows that whenever a criminal has a gun, he/she is likely to use it to kill the victim. Guns are majorly used in violent crime such that they raise the death rate per 100 violent attacks. Therefore, to address violent crime, it is necessary to also explore ways of dealing with gun ownership. Crime statistics show that guns account for twice as many criminal fatalities as all other ways of killing combined (Zimring, 2004).
Most criminal homicides arise from violent attacks that have no criminal motivations such as rape or robbery. Moreover, gun assaults are 7 times more likely to kill than all other forms of criminal assault. Knives are common weapons used by criminals, and are the most deadly after guns. However, they are five times less likely to kill when compared to guns (Zimring, 2004). All these show why it is essential to prevent criminals and persons with a violent reputation from accessing firearms.
Numerous studies have been carried out in the past to examine the impact of gun laws. While some have found that gun legislation has been counterproductive in some countries, others have showed that strict firearm control is effective in reducing gun violence. The lack of conclusiveness in research studies has been one of the main reasons why the gun control debate has persisted for a long time. Kwon and Black (2005) believe that the disparities in country-by-country or state by state studies arise since most researchers utilize individual gun laws as the key independent variables. According to them, this is not the right approach since these laws should be taken in their aggregate form.
Acknowledging this research flaw, Kwon and Black (2005) conducted an independent study that would use a holistic and all-inclusive measure of state gun restriction laws to investigate their aggregate effectiveness. In the data analysis, they analyzed the association between the holistic measure and firearm fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants of each US state. This was done using a multivariate linear regression model. They found that a comprehensive gun law indeed reduces the number of firearm related deaths by between 1 and 6 per 100,000 residents. This figure was highest in states that had the strictest gun control legislations.
Many gun owners claim that they need these weapons for self-defense in case of an attack. However, keeping a firearm at home poses greater risk to family members than people from outside. Past research has showed that most children, women and older adults are murdered at home. This may be due to homicide, suicide or accident. Gun ownership has meant that the country’s rate of gun homicide for children aged between 5 and 14 is 13 times higher than the rate of other developed countries. In the same vein, the gun homicide rate for the 15-24 age group is 43 times higher. Data from US states show that those with more guns have greater incidences of children, adolescents, women, young adults and older adults when compared to those with fewer guns (Miller et al., 2007). These statistics show that guns are making it unsafe for individuals belonging to these demographics.
Having a gun makes disputes, quarrels or disputes more deadly. This implies that a disagreement that otherwise would have ended amicably may lead to a fatality. Many murders are carried out during moments of extreme anger. In a family setting, where disagreements cannot be avoided, the presence of gun is extremely risky and increases the chances of violence. For instance, many homicides in a household occur when family members cannot agree on matters such as money, love, food and other domestic issues. Such incidents usually involve acquaintances, lovers and family members. Neighbors might also be involved.
In many cases, domestic gun violence involves a drunken family member, who cannot control think through the consequences of the shooting. In fact, previous reports show that only a minute minority of domestic homicides appear to have been carefully planned by a person with a resolve to kill. A large majority of them is impulsive and mostly regrettable. Consequently, when a family member shoots another out of rage, he/she will be shocked, immediately realize their mistake and become emotional. The fate of victim depends on the caliber of the firearm, the shot organ and the time before medical attention arrives.
Gun ownership has played a key role in the perpetration of violence against women at home. An investigation of battered women admitted in emergency shelters in the state of California-which records more than 600,000 cases of women battery committed by intimate partners each year-showed that if there is a gun at home, almost two thirds of the assaulters had used it to scare, bully or beat the victims. This indicates that guns are active agents of domestic violence if they are kept at home. In contrast, even though the battered women could also use the gun, the study found that they rarely do so. Findings showed that less than 7% of them had used guns for self-defense (Sorensen & Wiebe, 2004).
The level of gun ownership in the country, coupled with the reluctance of women to use guns in a domestic dispute, has ensured that US women are at a far greater danger of homicide victimization than those of other developed countries. The greatest peril for women in homicides that happen in the home comes from intimate partners who possess a gun (Richardson & Hemenway, 2011). This means that whenever a family possesses a gun, both the children and women face the risk of being victimized or even killed. Batterers adopt several ways to control their victims. For instance, they can threaten to kill their spouses, the children or themselves until they get what they want. In the case of an argument, they may intimidate the victim by holding, loading or pointing the gun unless they have a way. Such assaulters may threaten to shoot their spouses if they consider opting out of the union (Hemenway, 2011). This not only causes mental torture and anguish to the victim but also prevents her from having an important say in the marriage.
Intimidation, battery and victimization at home are not the only consequences of keeping a gun at home. Some studies have established that having a gun increases the risk of experiencing a violent death at home. Dahlberg et al. (2004) carried out a survey on individuals who keep a gun at home and related it to the national mortality data. They found that individuals who possessed a gun were more likely to die from a violent homicide while at their homes than those without a gun. These persons were also at a greater risk of being killed by guns. In the same vein, men who kept guns were also more likely to commit suicide than those without guns. Moreover, they were more likely to use their guns to kill themselves. These findings show that everyone is at risk of violence whenever a gun is stored at home.
In these hard economic times, our households and families ought to be the places where everyone should be seeking solace. Our family members and loved ones should be the people that we trust most not to harm, especially physically. Furthermore, when two people are settling down in marriage, or when lovers decide to stay together, they do not expect that the person they have given their love is the one that will intimidate, bully, scare, mentally torture or kill them. However, guns have ensured that this is not always the case. Since they are readily kept at home, they have become objects of victimization and murder in many homes. This has meant that the home is not the safe place that it should be. Guns have also meant that we cannot fully trust the people we live with, since they can turn deadly in an instant. To protect the essence of family, gun ownership should be restricted.
The widely used argument for pro-gun advocates is that owning a gun deters criminal and would-be attackers. The popular thinking is that when an attacker knows that the potential victim has a gun, he/she may fear for their life and thus decide against committing a crime. On the other hand, if the attacker senses that the potential victim does not have a gun, he/she will readily pounce since the consequences of their actions will be insignificant. Previous research studies and crime statistics have showed that this populist way of thinking is false. For instance, Dahlberg et al. (2004) found that keeping a gun at home cannot deter a home break-in. Therefore, a criminal will attack regardless of whether the victim has a gun or not. In any case, home break-ins are rare.
Past experiences have also dispelled the myth that gun ownership deters criminals. For instance, the police departments of Orlando and Kansas City once introduced an extensive campaign of training its residents on how to use guns with the hope that they will be able to dispel rapists and robbers. Even though the two services boasted of success, a careful analysis of criminal data in the two cities showed that there was no change in crime rates in either of them. Two particular cases that can be used to show how ineffective gun ownership is deterring crime can be drawn from Kennesaw, Georgia and Morton Grove, Illinois. The former once passed a resolution that guns should be kept in all households while the latter banned handgun ownership. When criminal data was analyzed for Kennesaw, no evidence was found that the guns actually reduced crime. On the other hand, data from Morton Grove showed that the banning of handguns led to a statistically significant reduction in burglary reports (McDowall et al., 1991).
There are fundamental flaws in the current existing laws that have played an important role in encouraging gun violence. For instance, civilians who have formerly been found guilty of violent conduct can access guns. Even those who have received a restraining order from a court of law due to domestic violence can still own a gun. Meanwhile, individuals who have a long history of alcoholism and drug abuse cannot be prohibited from possessing a firearm. Many past mass shootings have occurred because the mentally ill shooters could not be prevented from accessing a gun. At present, federal laws allow a private gun seller to trade his/her own weapon without even findings whether the purchaser has passed the full criminal background check. These loopholes explain why tens of thousands of Americans are killed each year by guns (Devi, 2012). The country needs a tougher law that will cover these loopholes. This will be the most effective way of addressing the gun violence problem.
The discussion about gun laws has become contentious in the recent. However, what cannot be contested is the fact that the United States has one of the worst statistics related to gun deaths and mass murders in the developed world. This sad state of affairs arises from the fact that civilians have access to guns and that the current gun laws allow almost anyone to access them. At present, many people can access an assault rifle. The proliferation of such guns is what has made the country such a dangerous place to live. Instead of only trying to act whenever there is a mass shooting, the federal government needs to address the issue of gun violence firmly. Each day, more than eighty Americans lose their lives because of being shot. It is high time that the government passes a law that will restrict gun ownership to protect lives and reduce the gun violence menace.
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