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Fire arms have been around for thousands of years, with gun powder made even before that. Its a common staple in many cultures and a widely accepted use of protection and hunting. Since 2000, a Gallup Poll has found that over one-third of Americans consistently personally own a gun in their home.  Despite many years of acceptance, within the last year in the United States it has become a heated debate. With the mass shooting that occurred in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012, and the school shooting of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14th, 2012, it has spiked the public interest in gun control laws. Both of these shooters had easy access to firearms, and both of them had them in their own homes. The issues of mental illness have brought up many solid arguments for stricter gun control, but what about those who are not diagnosed? It's impossible for a family to know exactly what is going on in the minds of some, and should there be laws to subject the entire family to, and deny them of the protection of a firearm in their own home? Currently under Federal law, 18 U.S.C. Â§ 922(d),Â it is unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution."  Despite this federal law, it does not even begin to cover the range of mental illness out there that has not been diagnosed or seen by a judge. In the case of both recent shooters, neither was in violation of that despite clear mental illness being present. But the larger question at play is: Should all people be allowed to possess firearms in their home as a form of self-defense? Or are these guns becoming a gateway to larger crimes and suicides? These two men in the shootings were just a very small sample of people that have easy access to firearms in their homes and have used them in the wrong way. What is to be done about home protection by guns? There are many conflicting surveys, analyses, crime reports, and many other things that point to one direction, however that direction is never the same.
Prior to all the media attention about guns in the home, there was a 2004 study done by the American Journal of Epidemiology on the risk of guns in the home as associated with violent deaths. As clear to most people, there is an apparent higher risk of death or injury from a firearm when there is one present in the home versus not. But is this number significantly higher, or is it just an associated risk? They showed that the "risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than males without guns in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 10.4, 95% confidence interval: 5.8, 18.9)"  It's also noted that approximately sixty percent of all homicides and suicides in the United States are committed with a firearm.  Despite many numbers and statistics present in this journal, they still say at one point that their methodology does not sufficiently determine if a gun increases the risk of a violent death to the individual person. It would be easy for someone to read this entire journal and determine that guns in the home were significantly more dangerous, and even just breeze past the part where they outright tell you that they cannot be certain. Even with their "impressive" numbers and statistics, it's almost always a case by case issue with guns, and there is no feasible way to assess the future threats to an individual or family prior to the ownership of a gun.
Being in possession of a firearm does not always mean that a person will commit a crime within their home either. Many of the mass shootings we hear about are at public places, where the shooter has taken a gun from their home out into a public setting and shot people. In the case of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, the shooter; Adam Lanza, was able to access a small arsenal of weapons just from his own home. Court reports show that a search warrant of the Lanza home, where he lived with his mother in Newtown, Connecticut, turned up three firearms in his home that were not even used in the shooting, and nearly hundreds of different ammunition. Both he and his mother were members of the National Rifle Association and his mother had taught Adam and his brother for years how to shoot guns of all sorts.  Since he killed his mother, it is not completely clear why she had so many guns in her home, but it is believed that she was "prepping" for protection if anything were to happen. While cases like this are rare, they tend to grab the most media attention. The national gun debate is something everyone was talking about after this incident and something that is still being debated to this day. If a mother is worried for not only her safety, but the safety of her children, is it okay for her to have firearms in the house and teach her children how to fire them? I believe families are a case-by-case situation and that there is no final right or wrong answer for this.
On the flip side to this tragedy, many people, usually more in favor of guns believe that adults at schools should be able to arm themselves. The term "responsible citizens" is used frequently in relation to this notion of arming the people. In light of the Sandy Hook shooting, many pro-gun people stated that if there had been an armed guard at the school, or even a teacher or administrator at the school who had even just one small handgun, that many of the events of that day could have been prevented. Some schools in mostly southern states, like Texas, were even training teachers and allowing them to arm themselves in case another tragedy like this one were to occur. Many parents of young children struggle with the thought of their children going off to school and it not being a safe environment. While others believe that just because someone is a teacher does not mean that could not abuse the gun and then become the attacker instead of the protector. Many schools are now in favor of guards, and even some with armed guards. While this may be a radical approach, it's still interesting to note the change in school atmosphere post-these events.
There are millions of gun owners in the United States, and only a very select few are misusing their ownership privilege. Because of media attention, we never seem to hear about the good side to guns and protection. In a magazine that is said to be the "official journal of the National Riffle Association", American Rifleman frequently publishes a section called "The Armed Citizen" in which they highlight a story of a citizen who used their own firearm to protect themselves, their family or others from harm's way. In a recent post, they highlight a woman who used her gun for protection when two men tried to rob her. She was able obtain her handgun before the men kicked in her door, and aim it at them, which ultimately scared them off and potentially saved her life and her possessions in her home. Stories like this will rarely see the national spotlight, but it's important to realize that while there are tragedies, there are also many more instances of protection by firearms in the hands of responsible people. Without this firearm, the woman could have been robbed, injured, or even killed by the two men. This is especially relevant for women living on their own in places where they don't have much protection. Big cities are hot spots for crime and women living on their own are at a higher risk than most. The stereotype is that most men own guns, and that women do not, however, according to the 2011 Gallup poll, gun ownership by women is at a new high, now registering 43%.  Guns in the home are particularly aimed at protecting those who wouldn't be able to otherwise, and it's obvious why many single women feel the need for this added protection.
This is the catalyst for many pro-gun people: women and children. When the Senate tried to propose a new ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, some were outraged, claiming that it would hurt vulnerable women and their children. Gayle Trotter, a woman in support of guns for females, stated that an assault weapon "in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home become a defense weapon."  Many guns are hard to load or fire, especially for those who are weaker, generally women. While shotguns are the most common for home defense, many women would be less stable with that than perhaps a handgun. While it's difficult to deny a women protection of herself and her children, it's also hard to pinpoint the amount of protection a gun can fully provide. Just because a woman is in possession of a gun, does not mean that in the event of a break in, she would be able to access the weapon and use it for defense. Most responsible people that have firearms keep them locked up, whether it is in a gun safe, or a locked case or box. It's also common practice to keep the ammunition in a separate locked container. In the event of a break in, there are precious minutes before a dangerous, and possibly armed criminal will encounter you. If you're not moving quick enough to get to both the gun and the ammunition, it becomes less time that you could have been calling the police. The debate with guns is such a toss-up, and this idea only furthers that question. While many see firearms as protection for females, it's also a way for them to be hurt or killed. Also in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (2003), it states that the risk of a homicide for women increased eightfold when the abuser had access to firearms. And that there was "no clear evidence" that victims' access to a gun reduced their risk of being killed.  What was once a protection, can now become a murder weapon. When a woman has a gun in her home, the risk for abuse increases, even if the abuse is not coming from the owner.
In-home protection is a large concern for many families, not just those with single women and small children. With new technologies and advancements, there are other ways to protect your home than just a firearm that are shown to be less dangerous. At Emory University, there was a study done in the nineties about injuries involving guns that were kept at home. They observed home gun-owners in three cities, Memphis, Seattle, and Galveston. Their conclusive evidence was that these weapons, when fired, were fired far more during accidents, criminal assaults, homicides, or suicide attempts than in self-defense. In fact, "for every instance in which a gun in the home was shot in self-defense, there were seven criminal assaults or homicides, four accidental shootings, and eleven attempted or successful suicides."  While some say guns in the home provide safety for the family, it's also providing an extra risk to those same people it may be protecting. It is also noted that in the case of owning a gun in your home, that gun is forty-three times more likely to kill a member of the household or a friends than it is to kill an intruder. 
One reason people stand by owning a gun in their home is that there are not enough police to protect from all the crimes. This especially applies to people that live in rural areas where response times of police personnel are longer. It could take up to ten minutes for a first responder to get to a home, and in the event of a break in, those minutes could mean life or death. This is also true for people that may live in a heavily populated area, such as big cities where it's difficult to maneuver through traffic and side streets. Even in places where police can arrive very quickly, having a gun can give the individual or family a greater sense of safety in those situations. Just the sight of a gun can be enough for people to scare off their attacker or at least buy them more time until the police or help they need can arrive.
With all of the concern over purchasing the firearms, the most popular, and current idea, is stricter background checks. Most people do not support something that would limit or ban guns altogether, but almost all Americans support stronger background checks that would help to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals and people with mental illness that cannot handle the responsibility of a firearm. As of 1993, the federal law says that to purchase a firearm through a licensed dealer, you must subject to a background check which has a waiting period. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also set up NICS, The National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It is used by all Federal Firearm Licensees (FFLs) to "instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn't otherwise ineligible to make a purchase."  Even though this NICS only covers FFL's and not every sale, this has still been able to check over one hundred million purchases and has also denied over seven-hundred thousand people due to ineligibility. While this covers a large portion of gun sales, it does not cover private, online, and black market type sales. This is how many people are able to obtain guns immediately despite having a history of misuse or symptoms that may lead to misuse. These people that are deemed unfit to have guns should not have access from people they live with either. In the case of Adam Lanza, had his mother known her child was suffering from deep psychological issues, she should have not been able to have guns within her home, even for self-defense reasons. With background checks for all gun sales, it would drastically cut down on the people that are obtaining firearms that should not be. This is the case for a 39-year-old Virginia Beach woman named Deborah Wigg. In April of 2011, she sought a protective order from her soon-to-be-ex husband, Robert. After he physically assaulted, she filed the order and stated that she was fearful of him even still, because he own a semiautomatic handgun. Despite his arrest for assault and a protective order against him, Robert was still able to keep his gun. Just months later, he kicked in Deborah's door and Robert Wigg shot and killed her, with the same gun that she asked the law to protect her from.  Cases like these would make it easy for the public to see that there needs to be background checks for those wishing to purchase firearms, as well as a database of those owning firearms. While Mr. Wigg may never have shown previous signs of mental illness, his arrest and protective order against him should have allowed law enforcement to seize his firearm for his and others safety. Situations such as Deborah Wigg's could be solved if there were stronger background checks.
While the benefits of stronger background checks far outweigh the negatives in terms of human life, it is going to be difficult for some sort of definitive background check to be created. Logistically, it would be a nightmare for both the seller and the buyer, in order to go through all the steps for someone to privately sell a gun to another person. It would also be very costly, and with the rising national debt, it would be unrealistic to expect the government to be able to allocate more funds in order to up the background checks without increasing taxes. Most people don't support an increase in taxes, but everyone would support safer gun laws. The issue with this increase in background checks and funding is that the people who are going to commit these dangerous crimes would not take the time to go through these steps. Many people believe that a violent person will find a way to commit violent crimes regardless of their possession of a gun or not. Whether the person shows mental illness or not, when they set out to commit a violent crime, they will do it regardless. With the current standards of purchasing, people that are knowledgeable of their violations of purchase would not be the ones going to the Federal Firearms Licensees to purchase guns. Instead these people are seeking out others to purchase the guns for them or finding black market or online sales. In many cases however, having a gun in their home created an easier way for them to commit such acts. When other family members have purchased guns and kept them in the home of a violent person, they are unknowingly becoming assistants to the violence. These are the type of people that make creating new guns laws so difficult. While many people see the guns as being something that will inflict harm on others, they have also brought up a lot on controversy in the homes with suicide. Almost two-thirds of suicide attempts by teenagers are with a gun. Unfortunately unlike other suicide attempts, gun shots are almost always fatal.  This leaves many teenagers without a second chance. This also ties back to the issue of mental illness with not only adults, but with teenagers and even younger.
With so many case-by-case issues, it's hard to draw the line on what is right and what is wrong with the current debate over guns and their safety. While many people believe they provide a feeling of security and protection unlike anything else can, others believe that they only create more problems than they solve. When analyzing the cost of both sides, there is no way that anyone can pinpoint the correct answer. With Congress and the President trying to come to a conclusion on gun control, background checks, and mental illness, it's becoming the most talked about topic of the year. As with things like religion and politics, there will always be multiple sides to the argument. Had someone brought up the gun debate two years ago, the public opinion may be vastly different. But in the recent light of all of the tragedies and the access these people had to guns from their own homes, it has become much different. As someone who has personally been around guns her whole life, I find it hard to grasp that everyone does not take their safety as seriously as I do. I also believe though that they are very dangerous and have proven to be misused many times. As much as any parent would love to protect their children at all costs, is it worth the potential risk of abuse and having it turned against the family in the opposite way it was intended. Only time, and the media, will be able to tell what the future of gun ownership will bring.
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