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Throughout the world, legislation aimed to control guns has proved ineffective time and time again. Contrary to the laws noble intentions, crime rates continually increase after firearm restrictions are put into place. Some countries who exemplify this trend include England - whose crime rate increased between 1997-2000 immediately following stricter gun control legislation - Australia - where the same thing happened between 1996-1997 - and Washington D.C. between (DATE and DATE). In fact, in Washington D.C., the total gun-related crime rate reached an all-time high immediately after law enforcement issued a broad-based legal ban on handguns. Likewise, Great Britain had the highest crime rate in the entire world immediately after British officials implemented their own stricter gun restrictions. The United States' time, efforts, and funding would be significantly more effectively utilized if they were directed toward various social and economic improvement programs, rather than systems of gun control regulation, legislation, and punishment in the name of decreasing crime and homicide rates.
Before one forms an opinion on whether the United States government should have control over its citizens' right to bear arms, one must have a firm understanding of the role guns actually play in violent crimes and fatalities. Newton and Zimring of the Task Force on Firearms report that 63% of all homicides, 37% of all robberies, and 21% of all aggravated assaults in the United States involve some sort of gun (1970). They go on to say that although only 27% of guns owned in the United States are handguns, they are the overwhelmingly the predominant firearm of choice for use in violent crimes. 76% of gun-related homicides are committed using handguns, while 86% of gun-related aggravated assaults and 96% of robberies involving guns are committed using handguns (1970).
When many American citizens think of gun control laws, the first thought that pops into their heads is the slew of recent school shootings. Many people in this country and around the world view these school-based homicides and injuries as a viable reason to increase and strengthen gun control throughout the country. However, what these people fail to realize is that most gun-related crimes - including the horrific shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech - occur in gun-free zones that are regulated by the American government. There are many other gun-free zones aside from high schools and colleges, some of which include the United States Post Offices and people's places of work. The main concern with these so-called "gun-free zones" is that criminals with guns know without a doubt that everyone present in those areas are unarmed, and therefore incapable of defending themselves against someone armed with a gun. Legal gun owners will not carry their permitted weapons in such zones - since it is illegal. That fact alone makes anyone in that area perfect, defenseless victims for a criminal wielding a firearm (CITE).
If there were no gun-free zones, more law-abiding citizens of the United States could use their weapons in an effort to stop crime from occurring in the first place. In fact, on average, firearms are used 2 million times each year to stop crimes from occurring in the first place (CITE). Often, just the presence of these guns makes the criminal stop committing violent acts or murder and flee the scene of the crime - sometimes before the crime is even committed (CITE)! Firearms are the only street-legal weapon in existence that can make a 110 pound woman as physically powerful as a 300 pound body builder. In some environments, this kind of protection is invaluable.
Although every school shooting is scary and horrific, thankfully not all of them end up the same way that Columbine and Virginia Tech did. For instance, in 2002, the Appalachian School of Law experienced a very different outcome than Virginia Tech would later face 5 years later in that same state. A previous student - in his 40s at the time - returned to the law school in an attempt to recreate what happened at Columbine High School: a massacre. When all was said and done, he ended up murdering three people, and three more were injured. Luckily, thanks solely to two Good Samaritans, the terrible shooting spree stopped there. Two male students in different classrooms simultaneously overheard the shooting taking place, and went to their cars to retrieve their personal, legal firearms with the intent to stop the shooter from continuing. Thankfully, since these two men had guns of their own they were in fact able to restrain the shooter until police arrived on the scene to apprehend him (CITE). If not for those two men, who knows how many more students, teachers, and facutly would have been injured or killed that day in Virginia.
What happened at Virginia Tech 5 years later in 2007 differed greatly from what occurred at Columbine High School, Appalachian Law School, and every other publicly-broadcasted school shooting to date. It was there that the shooter, 23 year old Seung-Hui Cho, shot and killed 32 people and wounded many others. This massacre is still cited as the most deadly peacetime shooting in American history (CITE). Besides the sheer number of homicides and injuries committed in this incident, what makes this case stand out the most is the international attention and criticism it drew regarding the United States' legislation and culture. Intense debates erupted around the globe, primarily focusing on America's gun violence and laws, as well as this country's system for treating mental illness (CITE).
The Department of Justice requires a background check for anyone attempting to legally purchase a gun in the United States. Included in this check is any history of criminal acts, violent crimes, or mental health records. Anyone with a criminal record or diagnosed mental illness is immediately denied a gun (CITE) - or so the law reads. Cho had extensive records indicating his severe mental illnesses, but somehow the Department of Justice missed them during his background check. Cho received intense psychotherapy as well as different forms of special education and support throughout junior high and high school. He was also diagnosed with a mental illness as an adult while he was enrolled at Virginia Tech, at the same time that several of his professors encouraged him to seek counseling based on disturbing creative writing pieces he submitted in class (CITE). In Cho's case, there is no question that he should have been immediately denied the right to buy and own a gun in the United States, but someone at the Department of Justice clearly failed to do their job during his routine background check. These security measures, like background checks, are only effective if they are performed and carried out to their fullest potential, each and every time. Clearly, this did not happen with Seung-Hui Cho when he legally purchased his firearms in Virginia. Cho had been repeatedly diagnosed with mental illnesses since he was a boy, but, based on their actions, that apparently was not enough to make the Department of Justice concerned enough to deny him the right to buy and own a gun.
Many people react to this monstrosity by demanding stricter and stronger gun control legislation. There are, of course, others who oppose this kind of law enforcement. Alan Keys, a United States Senator from Illinois summarizes these people's viewpoint best when he stated, "We know that criminals, by definition, are people who don't obey laws. Therefore, you can pass all the laws you want, and they will still have access to these weapons, just like they have access to illegal drugs," (CITE). Still there are others who insist that if other students and professors were legally allowed to possess their firearms on campus Cho would have been stopped prior to killing and injuring all of those people. So which group is correct in their thinking? Those in favor of stricter, stronger, and more stringent gun control laws, or those in favor of less government interaction in terms of American citizens' right to buy, own, and utilize firearms? And what about gun-free or restricted zones?
The National Academy of Sciences issued a 328-page report in YEAR. Their research included the findings of 253 journal articles, information collected from 99 books as well as 43 government publications, a survey of 80 different gun-control laws, and its own independent studies. To summarize the report, the panel of researchers failed to discover a link between restrictions on gun ownership, and lower rates of crime, firearm violence, or even gun-related accidents. This panel of researchers was established during the Clinton administration, and all but one of its members was a well-known gun-control enthusiast (CITE). According to this group of social scientists, gun control legislation does not in fact inhibit rates of firearm-related crime or homicide.
Clearly, the topic of gun control is a very pressing, heated, and debatable topic in the United States today, and with good reason. From school shootings across the nation over the past decade, to horrific and violent gun-related crimes and homicides in every city and town in the country, the topic of gun control - and who ultimately has right to this control, the American government or the "free" people of this country - is undeniably important. Gun control legislation is an issue that has been plaguing America for almost half a century. Most civilians and experts agree that something has to be done to lower the incidence of gun-related crimes and homicides. If fact, generally speaking, Americans have historically supported some kind of gun control; sixteen surveys prove to conclude that 75% of the American public is in favor of some form of gun control established and upheld by the federal or state governments (Smith, 1980). Most states already have regulations on police-issued permits and carrying licenses, but are these types of laws the most effective solution to America's problems of violent, gun-related crimes and homicides?
While there have been few empirical studies evaluating laws attempting to improve civilians' gun control, specifically in regards to their effectiveness in deterring crimes and murders, those experiments that have been conducted suggest that the United States' resources would be better spent developing programs that seek to improve this country's various socioeconomic downfalls.
Social scientists over the past 40 years agree that these multifaceted and complex socioeconomic issues undoubtedly lead to increased rates of violent gun-related crime and homicide. They further believe that, rather than increasing gun control through stricter legislation, violent crimes and homicides would be better prevented through programs aimed at improving and eradicating these socioeconomic setbacks (Smith, 1980; Kwon, 1997; and Seitz, 1972). America's time, efforts, and funding would be more effectively utilized if they were directed toward social and economic improvement programs, rather than invested in systems of gun control regulation, legislation, and punishment in the name of decreasing crime and homicide rates.
Newton and Zimring of the Task Force on Firearms illustrate that 63% of all homicides, 37% of all robberies, and 21% of all aggravated assaults involve the criminal possessing some sort of gun (1970). They go on to say that although only 27% of guns owned in the United States are handguns, these firearms are the overwhelmingly the predominant gun of choice for use in violent crimes. In fact, 76% of gun-related homicides are committed using handguns, while 86% of gun-related aggravated assaults and 96% of robberies involving guns are committed using handguns (1970).
Instead of treating the symptoms these socioeconomic problems create, these social scientists urge American politics to solve the root issues: to strive to improve socioeconomic plights and in turn lower the incidences of gun-related crimes, as well as other problems such as poverty and overwhelming jail and prison populations. Psychologists from around the world agree that positive reinforcement - in this case, positive reinforcement would come in the form of programs which seek to improve the socioeconomic climate for thousands of minorities in this country - is a much more effective long-term method of behavior modification than punishment - which in this case consists of increasing gun control legislation, regulation, and consequence like how long one could be locked up in prison for violating these laws (Kwon, 1997).
For most of this country's history, gun control was never a major topic for debate. Only during the past few decades has this issue divided Americans. The first major attempt at government-regulated gun control was the Federal Firearms Act of 1938. This Act received very little attention from the majority of American people. The Gun Control Act of 1968, however, received much more interest and media attention (Smith, 1980). There were two major turning points in American history throughout this thirty year span that caused this drastic and dramatic change of heart in the minds of the American people: President Kennedy's public assassination at the hand of an armed gunman in 1963 (Smith, 1980), and the growing concern the medical community developed in the mid-twentieth century regarding gun violence and their patients' medical well being (Kwon, 1997).
Over the years, the continued and blatantly obvious correlation between gun-related violence and medical implications resulted in members of the medical community publicly reevaluating the relationship between guns, violent crime, and medicine in the twentieth century. This reevaluation helped to shift the gun control debate from a Second Amendment or Constitutional issue - which of course is where this debate began - to a growing and widespread healthcare concern (Kwon, 1997).
Whatever one's background, the issue of gun control almost instantly stirs up intense emotions and passionate debate between any two people living the United States in the 21st Century. Many people push for stronger, stricter gun control laws and enforcement; however studies suggest that legislation is not the most effective answer to America's gun-related deaths and crimes.
Although there are many facets to the government-based gun control debate, arguments also ensue when discussing the nature of the relationship between guns - especially handguns - and violent acts in general. breaking it the most important aspect of the government-based gun-control debate is the context of the systemic relationships between firearms and violence, and the effectiveness of gun control legislation on that relationship (Seitz, 1972).
Some argue that restricting firearms accessibility would not result in a significant decrease in homicide, since the offender could easily find another weapon to kill their prey with (Wolfgang, 1958). Many in this country, including Wolfgang and his followers, believe in two assumptions: 1) that all or most deadly acts of violence are motivated by a single-minded intent to murder; and 2) that all weapons the murderer could choose to use are as deadly as guns. To quote the infamous American euphemism, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."
Others, like Franklin Zimring, argue that the homicide rate can be attributed to what he calls "ambiguously motivated" deadly attacks - rather than single-minded intentions to murder (1968). In other words, most gun-related murders are not completely premeditated. Most murderers do not go out attempting to murder someone; something happens that sets them off, and since they have a gun on their belt they take it out and end up committing a murder. Add to this that guns are significantly more deadly than many other weapons readily available; in fact, the rate of homicides is about five times greater when the argument involves a gun as when knives are involved (Zimring, 1968).
Those who support gun control legislation strongly believe in the argument that a reduction in firearm accessibility would result in a reduction of crimes and homicides. This argument is supported by two theories: 1) Criminals who would have used guns to commit their crimes would be forced to utilize other, less lethal means of violence to attack; and 2) Due to the decreased accessibility of guns, the number of criminals that do have one-track-minds whose intentions are to kill would decrease (Zimring, 1968).
There are some alarming statistics that demonstrate that laws aimed at controlling firearm accessibility and ownership are completely ineffective. For instance, automobiles result in more human fatalities each year than guns. X people die each year in car accidents, and Y people die each year as a result of a fatal shooting (CITE). Yet there are no civil activists debating whether or not people should buy specific cars, which are undoubtedly more dangerous than others. If that were the case, no motorcycles would be allowed on the road, and everyone would own Hummers or other excessively large sport utility vehicles. Another example that perfectly illustrates this point is the rate of deadly malpractices in hospitals. Although this would come as a surprise to many Americans, malpractice cases have a higher death rate than gun crimes in this country. In fact, each year X amount of people die as a direct result of malpractice, whereas Y people die as a result of a shooting.(CITE). People tend to overlook the fact that going to the doctor or driving a car is actually more dangerous than shooting a gun, but the statistics do not lie.
However, there are reasons to believe that gun control laws would effectively reduce gun ownership. For instance, purchasing restrictions would increase the cost and effort someone would be willing to spend in order to legally buy a gun. Similarly, carrying restrictions reduce the number of guns carried due to the added costs of obtaining a permit - if in fact one is necessary in that state. It appears that gun control legislation is successful in reducing gun ownership over long periods of time; since these laws reduce new purchases, over time they would serve to reduce the total amount of guns owned (Seitz, 1972).
The problem, however, is not in the amount of guns legally owned in America right now, or in the future. Rather, the issue at hand is the relationship of gun use and the incidence of violent crime, especially homicide. Gun restrictions and regulations seem to only decrease the rate of gun-related crimes and homicides in the subcultures in the American population whose gun-related crime and murder rates are already low (Seitz, 1972). To fully understand this concept, one must comprehend the various socioeconomic factors that impact gun use in this country.
The root of this nation's problem of gun-related violence does not rest on inadequate gun control laws. Rather, social and economic disparities among groups lends certain demographics to turn toward violent, gun-related crimes. Some of the socioeconomic factors that disenfranchise certain groups and relate to their disproportionate rate of gun-related violent crime and homicide include gender, race, community type, and poverty. To exclude these variables and to claim that government-enforced gun control legislation and regulations are - or would be - solely responsible for drastic positive changes in gun-related crime rates is overly simplistic and naÃ¯ve (Kwon, 1997). Until these socioeconomic factors that infiltrate every aspect of American culture are adequately addressed, "these [disenfranchised] groups will undoubtedly continue to contribute disproportionately to the homicide rate" (Mauser and Holmes, 1992).
One important social and economic factor that relates to gun use in violent crimes and homicides in America is gender. Multiple studies have investigated the statistical differences between men and women's attitudes in reference to gun control, and the results have been significant. In one study, the data illustrates women clearly being in favor of increased gun control laws - such as mandated police permits required for gun possession - whereas men are opposed to such legislation (Smith, 1997). These findings are not just mere coincidence; scientists and psychologists agree that sociological factors that have evolved over millennia have helped to shape males and females to view issues like gun control differently. In fact, in the 1970s J. Mueller wrote about how women are much more likely to support gun control laws since traditional female upbringing generally includes pacifism, sympathy, and passivity. In short, he claims that women are generally more opposed to war and capital punishment, and are often more disinterested in firearms than men (1973).
The psychological aspects related to the social constructs of gender also impact the incidence of gun-related crimes. There is another social construct that is commonly referred to as the "subculture of violence," in which a culturally-transmitted lifestyle is passed from member to member - due to sociological evolution of the human species, members of this subculture are mostly comprised of men - through hostile interactions and brute physical force. In this subculture, guns are psycho-sexual symbols of masculinity and power, and are therefore integrally related to the commission of violent crimes. In this subculture, males are essentially "socially castrated" when faced with external influences that would otherwise seem like positive opportunities - such as school or legitimate, legal work - since the ultimate favored way to control others and to maintain or improve personal status in this subculture is through violence and crime (Wolfgang, 1967).
Interpersonal violence is often so interwoven with masculinity, power, and control in this subculture that one literally cannot separate the two. Couple that with notorious instruments of sexual symbolism: the gun or knife, and it becomes increasingly obvious that these weapons are vital aspects to the predominantly male members of this subculture of violence. What makes guns even more essential in this subculture - where individuals pride themselves on their ability to control others - is the fact that they make it possible for physically and mentally weaker people to overpower their superiors (Seitz, 1972).
Another influential socioeconomic factor that intertwines with gender in regards to gun-related crime and murder is race. Statistics on violent crimes consistently show that blacks have crime rates four to ten times higher than whites (Wolfgang, 1967). Similarly, criminal homicide among blacks is about eight times the rate of whites (Vital Statistics). According to Mauser and Holmes, states with a higher than national average African American population appear to have more firearm deaths than the rest. Similar results, though not as drastic, are found in states with a disproportionately high Asian population (1992). Seitz clarifies,
This is not to say, quite obviously, that the convergence of physically aggressive
behavior and notations of the masculine ideal is a function of racial difference. Rather, the structural arrangements of society - its institutionalized racism and its class hierarchy - determine the avenues of expression for physically aggressive behavior, just as certain structural arrangements of society encourage violence as a culturally favored weapon for controlling others.
Structural poverty, experienced by many minorities, and specifically African American and Asian communities in this country, play a major role in gun crimes and homicides. For instance, in 1989 20% of American families - in this case, "families" include married couples with children under the age of five - of Asian or Pacific Island decent live below the poverty line (Kwon and Bae, 1995). Comparing that population's 20% to the overall U.S. average of 12.4% that year shows a disproportionate number of families of Asian and Pacific Island decent living below the poverty line.
As would be expected, results of a study performed by Ik-Whan G. Kwon confirm that poverty levels in general - ie. the study disregarded any factors involving race - is strongly related to firearm-related deaths, and proved to confirm the findings of earlier studies (Lofftin et. al., 1989; Parker, 1989; and Vold, 1986). Clearly, there are many factors that would prove to explain this relationship, some of which include reactions to increased stresses of poverty living, higher crime rates in impoverished areas, and an inclination to turn to violent crime as a response to a situation of hopelessness (Kwon, 1997).
Issues revolving around violence, gender, race, and disproportionate poverty also relate to the environment in which one lives. The convergence of physically aggressive behavior and masculinity manifest differently in the suburbs versus the ghetto. In the suburbs, men are more likely to drive recklessly and speed than to shoot someone. In suburbia, a car serves as a symbolic expression of a male's masculinity, power, control, and status. For men in the ghetto, expressing masculinity through reckless driving is a less viable alternative than gun violence. For one thing, social and economic conditions make it far easier for youth in the ghetto to access a gun than a car; however, it is also important to note that life in the ghetto revolves around interpersonal violence (Seitz, 1972).
Aside from decreasing guns' accessibility, gun control legislation also helps to establish social norms. They help increase the costs - both monetarily and socially - of deviant behavior, through awareness of abnormal behavior as well as increasing the risks associated with behaving abnormally. If looking at this trend with regard to socioeconomic factors, one would conclude that social norms and gun control laws would only decrease violent gun-related crime and homicide in the larger culture - where interpersonal violence is not the ultimate weapon in controlling others in the community - than similar laws in the "subculture of violence" (Seitz, 1972).
Steven Thomas Seitz conducted a study that examined the impact gun control legislation has on different demographic groups. He specifically compared the criminal homicide rates of the "subculture of violence" - which according to Seitz includes mostly African American men - to that found in "white" populations. To recap the socioeconomic plight of the "subculture of violence," these men face disproportionate rates of poverty, are part of a racial minority, and struggle with how to demonstrate masculinity in a safe and legal way. The control group in Dr. Seitz's study is what he refers to as the "white" group, which is comprised of people above the poverty line, who are not part of a racial minority, and who show masculinity through somewhat less destructive means.
In each case, the dependent variable in Seitz's experiment was the total incidence of criminal homicide for the given population, not the incidence of gun-related homicides for each group. This variable is important to note, due to the effectiveness of gun control legislation ultimately depending on a link to the total incidence of criminal homicide, not just those that involve the use of guns (1972). Here are his results:
Insert Table from Study (Seitz, 1972)
Page 608 (pg. 15 in PDF) Sorry, my computer is a piece and wont let me do it!
The results of the case were conducive to Setiz's hypotheses. He predicted that there would be no significant link between gun control laws and the incidence of nonwhite - or those people who are part of the subculture of violence - criminal homicide, and in fact his study proved that gun control laws do not in fact influence the incidence of nonwhite criminal homicide. Seitz also hypothesized that a direct link exists between gun control laws and the incidence of white criminal homicides, since the legal ramifications in this community are more meaningful than in the subculture of violence. Seitz predicted that in both groups gun control legislation would reduce the total incidence of criminal homicide by reducing the accessibility of firearms for criminal and illegal purposes (Seitz).
Based on Seitz's findings, one could conclude that gun control laws only improve the rates of gun-related violent crime and homicide in subcultures that already commit the fewest crimes and murders and therefore do not need legislation as much as other groups such as the subculture of violence. In other words, investing in and implementing gun control legislation and regulations, crimes and murders involving guns would only decrease in populations that are not the most targeted by police and law enforcement since they do not commit the most crimes. The American people need and deserve a well-rounded and holistic approach to decreasing gun-related crimes and deaths that target the members of the subculture of violence specifically, not a mediocre attempt to slightly decrease these rates in other subcultures that do not require such laws.
In conclusion, Seitz's experiment proves that gun control legislation is an effective means of reducing the incidence of criminal homicide, but only in subcultures where rates of gun-related crimes and homicides are already low (Seitz, 1972). In an interview conducted with a police officer from Oakland, CA, the cop offered anectodal evidence agreeing with Seitz's results when he stated, "Gun laws don't stop bad guys from getting guns. They only stop civilians from protecting themselves," (CITE). In subcultures of violence throughout this country (Seitz, 1972), many men of racial and ethnic minorities are continuing to commit various types of crimes and homicides of passion motivated by their feelings of hopelessness which stem from their socioeconomic setbacks (Kwon, 1997).
Efforts to reduce or eliminate these sources of hopelessness are more likely to have an effective and positive impact on their use of guns in violent crimes. America's "resources would be more effectively used if directed toward social and economic programs rather than toward systems of regulation and punishment," in an effort to reduce gun-related crime and homicide (Kwon, 1997). Seitz goes on to say that "It is all but a truism to point out that an organized repressive sanction enforcing behavior at best tangential to culturally prescribed behavior is somewhat arbitrary and perhaps even dictatorial" (1972). Therefore, America's time, efforts, and funding would be more effectively utilized directed toward social and economic improvement programs, rather than systems of gun control regulation, legislation, and punishment in the name of decreasing crime and homicide rates.