Shooting Down Gun Control Criminology Essay

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Since the first humans gained the ability to speak, arguments have taken place. As humans have evolved, so has their ability to produce arguments civilly. Debates are now common place at home, in schools, and on television. One issue which has seen a great deal of debate is the idea of gun control in the United States. Many citizens erroneously believe that additional regulations are needed because the Second Amendment is not properly understood, guns are solely responsible for high homicide rates, and that they have the numbers to back these claims up; yet they fail to realize that the guns themselves are not the culprit and that eliminating them is irrelevant because it is in fact people who are to blame.

Gun control is an issue that causes much debate in today's society; in fact, gun ownership in America is an issue that has been around just as long as the country itself. During the country's inception, the idea of citizens owning firearms was so vital that the founding fathers only addressed one other freedom before it. The obvious allusion here is to the Second Amendment, which states; "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" (U.S. Const, Amend II). Although the past two-hundred and thirty-four years have seen much discussed in terms of this Amendment's true intend and interpretation, one group which has surprisingly had little input on the matter has been the United States Supreme Court. As Harry Wilson puts it on page 19 of his 2007 work entitled, Guns, Gun Control, and Elections, "The Supreme Court's rulings on the Second Amendment have been few and somewhat vague. None of them are very recent. In addition, the Court has not yet made the right applicable to the states through the process known as incorporation" (Wilson, 2007, p. 19). This was of course true until about a year after the book's publication, June 6, 2008 to be exact. That was when the Supreme Court made a 5-4 decision which found D.C.'s handgun ban and extremely restrictive regulations for the storage of guns to violate the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller. The key issues at play in this case were the idea of handguns for self-defense and finality of the 'shall' in the Amendment itself. The second Amendment is the only one that contains the word shall, which designate an obligation to be done. In turn, the 'shall not' of the Second Amendment indicates the opposite with respect to the idea of modifying or 'infringing' one's right to bear arms in any way shape or form. The other aspect of the issue, which Justice Antonin Scalia successfully articulated was that handguns are commonly used for defending one's home and thus can not be banned; or as he put it, "the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table, this includes the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home" (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008).

Although it is too early to tell exactly what effect this ruling will ultimately have on the gun control debate, there are many Americans who strongly align themselves with the ruling's viewpoint, most notably our current President Barack Obama. On page 171 of their 2009 work, Horwitz and Anderson quote the President Obama's endorsement of the Heller ruling as follows; "I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms…As President, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun-owners, hunters, and sportsmen" (Horwitz & Anderson, 2009, p. 171). Especially before this ruling and even still, many who advocate increased gun control do so with the hope of a future where all guns are outlawed form society's private sector. This mentality has been supported through a plethora of rationales ranging from the so called outdated semantics present in the forefather's verbiage to the public safety of adults and children alike. They commonly point to examining the words of the Amendment with respect to their historical context as a necessity, as well cite statistics pertaining to violence involving guns and additionally claim that tragic events such as Columbine and Virginia Tech could have only been avoided by passing further harsh gun control legislator.

Many in favor of more stringent gun control legislature or even the complete prohibition of firearm procession by nonmilitary citizens feel their opinion is justified because that it is what the drafters of the U.S. Constitution truly had in mind. In his 2009 work, The Second Amendment, Patrick Charles states that "There have been changes in both the way we provide for national defense and the nature of crime and criminals. Citizen militias are obsolete, and violent crime has become both more common and more lethal… technological changes have made firearms much more dangerous in modern times" (Charles, 2009, p. 24). He believes that the Second Amendment must be viewed with the situations that exist today in mind and since the twenty-first-century America is an evolved one, the Amendment too must evolve. The problem with this reasoning is that although it is true guns, society, and the way in which wars are fought have changed, the principals behind these have remained relatively the same. The people who fight wars today still originate from society. Even though most soldiers choose to and go through extensive military training, less prepared citizens such as those in National Guard are still called upon to defend the country. This is in fact the case at the present moment. Many reserves have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with a quick stent in boot camp, their background knowledge, and their government issued firearm their only protection. If many extreme gun control activists had their way, a few months before their deployment may be a reserve's only chance to become acquainted with the weapon responsible for saving their life and protecting our freedom. For many of those in the National Guard, their prior experience with firearms through hunting and sport shooting will be the difference between them arriving home safely and a letter stating that opposite being delivered to their family's residence. This is just as true today as it was during the Revolutionary War. This background knowledge is precisely what David Young points to as the reason why the early colonist, Pennsylvanians in particular, had such an effective militia. In his 2007 work, The Founders' View of the Right to Bear Arms, he points out that despite its lack of a consistent militia system, the Pennsylvania colonists' fluency with guns used while hunting and such lead to their successfulness during combat (Young, 2007).

As for those whose agenda it is to eliminate guns for personal use by private citizen by citing issues with the founding father's semantics, their arguments have been basically the same for decades now. They almost always state that the drafters of the constitution did not intend for the Second Amendment to protect an individual's right to bear arms, because their intention was for it to be a collective protection reserved only for those involved in the military. The discourse between individual right theorist and collective right theorist was rather stagnate for the last hundred plus years. Each group had what they believed to be a more valid point but neither had over whelming evidence, however, the before mentioned Heller case has made it a mute point with in individual clearly the beneficiary.

Numerous proponents for gun control are quite quick to point to the November 20, 1993 passing of the Brady Bill by Congress coupled with the decrease in homicide rates in the years to follow as the quintessential smoking gun ending the gun control debate. It was "A bill to provide for a waiting period before the purchase of a handgun, and for the establishment of a national instant criminal background check system to be contacted by firearms dealers before the transfer of any firearm" (S. Res. 1025, 1993). There are a few very popular statistics which such advocates love to point to. The first is that between 1993 and 2004 there was a 73 percent decline in the absolute number of nonlethal violent crimes committed with firearms, 1,054,820 in 1993 to 280,890 in 2004; as well as a 37 percent decline in gun homicides during the same time frame as reported by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics in September 2005. On the surface these statistics seem extraordinarily impressive and it would not seem like one would need a great leap of faith to believe that there is a direct correlation between the enactment of the Brady Bill and the steady decreases. However, when one delves deeper into the intricate facts of the data, the statistics fail to seem as impressive. This further look is exactly what Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig took in 2003. Their most damming evidence came when they investigated states that did not have background checks in place before the Bill's enactment. It would only seem logical that these states would see the most significant declines as a result of the Brady Bill. Here is where the issue arose. There was virtually no difference between the diminished homicide rates evident in the two groups. They declined at quite a similar rate, negating the Bill's claim as the leading cause of reduction of homicide rates. They did however discover that the background checks did stop an estimated 1,228,000 criminals from purchasing firearms from licensed gun dealers. This statistic was found to also have a fatal flaw do to the fact that 40 percent of gun sales take place in secondary unlicensed market exempt from the Brady Bill's regulations (Cook & Lugwig, 2003).

Another Statistic constantly referred to as the reason for the elimination of guns is the tremendously greater chance one has of accidently dying via a gun than a knife. The National Safety Council found that in 2005 the 629 deaths which were the result of accidentally discharged firearm give a person a 1 in 5,808 chance of dying that way, while one has a mere 1 in 35,563 chance of accidentally dying via a sharp object. In lieu of fact that there has never been any reasonable debate concerned with refuting the idea that guns are much more deadly than knives, there is also another glairing problem when one in turns compares a gun to say a car. Harry Wilson points out that in 2001 firearms ranked as the fifth leading cause of unintentional deaths with 802. It is a large number when compared to that of knives; however, it appears to be minuscule when placed side by side with the 42,443 accidental deaths motor vehicles accounted for during that same year (Wilson, 2007, p. 51). When confronted with this evidence, those in favor of stricter gun control laws then state that cars and guns are apples and oranges or turn to those who can't yet drive, the children. With this in mind, there is something that one can compare guns to with consideration of children, swimming pools or even lighters. Pools, lighters and firearms are things that children should not be around without proper adult supervision. When these three items are examined with respect to their impact on the death of children, the results do not favor those who use such statistic to further the banning of firearms. In his 1997 work, Gary Kleck found that in 1996, across the United States 500 children under the age of five accidently drawn in swimming pools, while only forty died as a result of a gun's accidental discharge whereas 170 children died while playing with lighters in the state of Ohio only. It is even more telling that these numbers were complied only three years after the Brady Bill's enactment (Kleck, 1997).

A third statistic that gun control activist turn to is the total number deaths that involve firearms. In 2001, twenty-nine thousand deaths occurred in which firearms were involved. That does seem to be a large number, but only eleven thousand of them were actual homicides, eight hundred were accidental, while the remaining were the result suicides (Wilson, 2007). It is misleading to include suicides in these statistics, because there is not any evidence available that would cause anyone to believe that there is any chance of reducing the number of suicides with any measure of gun control or even the elimination of guns altogether. Suicide is a very serious psychological issue. Some may however claim that attempting suicide with a gun greatly increases the success rate. In addition to the obvious answer that it is common knowledge the guns are very deadly, this may also be accounted for by looking at the individuals themselves. It is logical to assume that since guns are know for their fatalness, those that attempt suicide with them are simply more serious about killing themselves than those that attempt it by less affective means. A background check would also be rendered useless since it would take a physiological examination to determine suicide as the reason behind someone's gun purchase. Also, it does not tend to be criminals that take their own lives, so a non-felon can legally obtain a gun in about a week and even if they could not, a determined person would surely find another means to complete the act. This is also another insistence in which advocates can not point to child safety as an issue given that there are already laws that impose criminal penalties for those who do not attentively store their guns. Henigan in 2009 showed that child access prevention laws have accounted for "an 8 percent reduction in suicide rates for youths aged fourteen to seventeen, which translates into 333 suicides prevented in that age group since Florida enacted the first CAP law in 1989" (Henigan, 2009, p. 63).

Once a gun control activist is made aware of the faults present in their statistics they tend to uniformly point to a nationally heavily covered tragedy such as the Virginia Tech shootings as definitive proof that there are severe gun problems in America that can only be handled through more and more gun control laws and ultimately the complete eradication of guns in society. The idea America does have gun problems is something that can be agreed with; however, more gun control laws is not the answer. Eliminating guns will not solve the high homicide rates in this country. As Tom Clancy states, "no firearm has ever killed anyone unless directed by a person who acted either from malice, madness or idiocy" (Project Safe Neighborhoods, n.d.). If it were true that it was the guns and not the people holding the guns that were responsible for so much violence and killing in America, then it would only make sense that if the guns were removed then the violence and killing would dramatically decrease. The counter argument to this is actually very easy to prove, because there is such a society in the United States in which the citizens do not have any access to firearms. It is called the prison system. The tenants of these facilities are absolutely prohibited contact with guns, yet no one feels that they are safe places. In fact the guards are the ones that need guns in order to remain safe and control the prisoners. The only thing that can be said about this is that it is because the worst of the worst are residing there. This may be true, but these are the same people that were once free to do as they please in society and may once again be given that opportunity. They of course will not be allowed to legally acquire firearms though.

Elimination firearms will not solve the problem, because they are not the problem. Just as people are the ones that kill people, they are also the ones that prevent the current gun control regulations from reaching their full potential. America does not need more gun control laws; it needs better enforcement of its current policies. As before mentioned, many gun control supporters point to national tragedies to support their desires of more gun related laws. These incidents may not effectively serve their purpose, but they do however serve as evidence that the people in charge of enforcing the current regulations are the issue. On April 16, 2007, Seung Hui Cho murdered thirty-two and wounded seventeen people on the Virginia Tech campus. Cho is the exact person the Brady Bill was designed to prevent from obtaining a gun. When a Virginia judge ruled him to be mentally ill and a danger to himself, he was also denied his right the purchase a firearm. Even though he was prohibited from buying guns, the database used by Virginia authorities to conduct his background check did not contain this information. This oversight allowed Cho to legally attain the weapons that he would latter use to cause such devastation. As Henigan points out, "As of 2006 less than 10 percent of an estimated 2.6 million disqualifying mental health records had been transmitted to the federal data base" (Henigan, 2009, p. 213). This is just one example of how human error has prevented the current guns laws from doing what they were designed to do.

The mentally ill is not the only group of people who are passing background checks that should not be; another such group is terrorist. Not only are terrorist a perfect example of why eliminating guns will not work, they also help to show why people are the ones responsible for the ineffectiveness of current regulation. The gun-less, airplane attacks which took place on September 11, 2001 show that even without firearms great numbers of people can be murder by those who truly wish to do so. In addition their role in the attacks, the Government Accountability Office found that from February to June 204, thirty-five persons whose names appeared on terrorist watch list records had cleared the background checks and bought firearms.

In addition to failing to prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who are not allowed to have them, but people also fall short in terms of their do diligence by failing to prosecute the few legal gun salesmen responsible for flooding the illegal gun market. In 2009, Henigan stated that "Crime gun trace data reveals…60 percent of crime guns originate with only 1 percent of licensed gun dealers…in a typical year, 85 percent of gun sell no guns traced to crime." He goes on to affirm that these reasoning to authorities that "if a dealer sells many guns, more of its guns will be used in crime" (Henigan, 2009, p. 175). If authorities were more willing to hold these few responsible, then more could be done to help lower the gun crime rate.

Another instance when if people in positions of authority were more thorough, the current regulations would show that they are sufficient can be seen in the case of Valley Gun Shop of Baltimore, Maryland. In 2003, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had found the shop in violation of over nine hundred laws. Even worst then the violations was the fact that at one point, more than 25 percent of the shop's firearms inventory was unable to be accounted for. Due to a fear of political backlash and other red-tape issues, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was not able to shut the shop down until 2006 (Wilson, 2007). It is events and situations such as this that promote the gun control debate, and enable the mentality that the regulations in place are not enough and may never be enough unless no private citizen is allow to possession of a firearm.

It is very evident that many citizens who are in favor of more gun control legislation have a view of the Second Amendment which the Supreme Court itself has refuted. Also, their skewed interpretation of the statistical evidence has left them with the inaccurate notion that the elimination of guns will produce a safer society for them and their children. A close examination of a few tragic events of the resent past when combined with the realization that people kill people, not guns and that these same people are the ones standing in the way of their own legislation makes it very apparent that new gun control laws or the eradication of firearms is not the answer to America's gun crime issues.