This is a response to The Panther’s Issue 4 Feature regarding gun control in the wake of the Parkland shooting and subsequent shootings.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, there has been an immense push for legislation to protect students from gun violence. It is easy to propose knee-jerk “assault weapon” control policies that infringe the rights of all gun owners because of the evil committed by a statistically small number of deranged mad men, but we must consider alternatives, and whether general gun restrictions – that is regulations that restrict the types of arms even law abiding citizens can own – would even be effective.
Of all the potential solutions, regulating firearms for all citizens is the only one that would require legislators to breach the constitutionally assured right to bear arms without infringement.
The right to bear arms is neither in place for personal defense nor hunting. The right was so centrally stated in the Bill of Rights because the founding fathers, who had personal experience in handling tyrannical governments, knew it was essential to have an armed populace to ensure that America did not fall into the hands of a tyrannical authoritarian regime. Although it sounds impossible for such an event to happen in America, the victims of countless dictatorships throughout history thought the same before it was too late.
This is not to say that America is or would become a tyranny. However, one of the greatest deterrents of such control is an armed populace. It is foolish to think government is the solution when the government’s failures at all levels – the FBI, local law enforcement, and a school officer – enabled the Parkland tragedy. It is also foolish to rely on the government to always act in the people’s best interest in a country with a history of Japanese internment, slavery and police brutality.
To claim that the founding fathers never anticipated the progression of technology is recklessly irresponsible. The founding fathers intended that the populace should have the right to own whatever firearms with which the military was provided.
At the time of the nation’s founding, individual citizens even had and exercised the right to own artillery ordnance. In fact, James Madison owned a personal warship equipped with a full arsenal of cannons. Although the definition of arms has shrunk to describe personal arms rather than all ordinance, the right to bear those arms is absolute, and prior infringement on this right does not justify future infringement.
However, even if, for the sake of argument, we say that we can and should subscribe to one of the only solutions that infringe on our most basic constitutionally assured rights, banning certain guns is unlikely to reduce gun violence and could increase it.
A common argument against further gun control is that private gun ownership can deter homicide and crime. The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey claims 67,000 occasions annually where privately owned guns have successfully stopped crime, and this is a low estimate; in 2013, the CDC estimated between 500,000 and 3 million defensive gun uses annually.
Despite this, it is still about six times greater than the average gun murder rate, and thus for every one gun death in America including gang crime and mass shootings, six crimes are prevented, usually without the loss of life.
Beyond this, there are cases where private citizens have even stopped mass shootings. Stephen Willeford stopped a deadly Texas church massacre after exchanging fire with the active shooter with his legally owned AR-15, the same type of weapon used in the Parkland shooting. The hero said he could not have stopped the shooting without his AR-15.
This recent case was not the first. In 2007, Matthew Murray was shot by a church member and stopped in a killing spree that killed four and would have claimed more lives. Last April, an Uber driver licensed to concealed carry (a concealed carry permit allows people to carry a concealed firearm in most public places and can be acquired by attending a short safety course and a background check) shot and wounded an active shooter in Chicago’s Logan Square.
Even though most cases of self defense are with pistols rather than rifles, restrictions on firearm capacity or on certain arms certainly could have prevented the heroes described above from succeeding in stopping deadly situations. The vast majority of pistols can hold “high capacity” magazines defined as a magazine holding more than 10 rounds by HR 5087, a recently introduced bill to ban assault weapons.
The Glock – a common firearm of self defense – has a standard capacity ranging from 15 to 17 rounds. After a break-in, a homeowner shot three home invaders with his AR-15. The family of one invader is now suing because the rifle gave the homeowner an unfair advantage. That is exactly the point of it, though. A law abiding citizen should have the right to every advantage when defending himself or herself.
Although some gun legislation may help the issue of mass shootings, such as enforcing already existing laws effectively and strengthening background checks, guns are by no means responsible for mass shootings. According to an article in Psychology Today, “mental health problems have pretty much been skyrocketing in our nation across the past few decades,” and it is likely that improving mental health in the nation – targeting and getting help to high risk people – may be the central solution to the issue, as well as fixing the massively dysfunctional school security systems in the country and countless other genuinely effective, rather than feel-good programs.
According to the New York Times, “More than 20 years of research funded by the Justice Department has found that programs to target high-risk people or places, rather than targeting certain kinds of guns, can reduce gun violence.” Although gun legislation, such as effective background checks and taking firearms from the mentally insane, are absolutely reasonable and should be enacted, guns are neither the core problem nor should they be the core of the solution.