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The issue of gun control is a polarizing one for the American population. The Pew Research Center (2010) cited in its most recent national survey that Americans were evenly divided among the pro-gun and anti-gun camps. Forty-six (46%) of American adults prefer the protection of gun owners' rights while a similar percentage (46%) indicated their preference for tighter gun control ownership regulations. The polarity in public opinion reflects political positions of citizens. Those who favor the passage of laws restricting gun ownership are usually liberals while those that believe the repeal of state and federal laws banning purchase and ownership of guns are usually conservatives (Pew Research Center, 2010).
The liberal view on the issue of the Second Amendment and its corresponding position in the gun control debate is that it is in the greater public interest to pass restrictive gun legislation. Pro-gun control legislation advocates offer the high rates of crime and violence as a strong rationale in lobbying for more stringent gun ownership controls. These advocates tend to have more supporters in the Democratic Party. Their position regarding legislation on gun ownership and use is based on 1) an originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment, 2) the need for measures to curb gun violence, and 3) the need to address the public health aspect of gun ownership.
The Second Amendment pertains to a collective right to own a gun related to the militia.
The fundamental difference between those that advocate gun control and gun ownership is its interpretation of the words in the Second Amendment. The most contentious phrase refers to whether the right to bear arms should be strictly construed as one belonging only to the "Militia," in the context of the time the Amendment was conceived or whether it applies to an individual right applicable in the contemporary context.
Since its inception, the United States of America has already been a gun-owning nation. Advocates for gun control have emphasizes on the deleterious effects of making guns more accessible on the health and safety of the population, especially youth and children. This is in contrast to the conservative position that gun ownership is a lawful and relevant part of American culture. The liberal view takes the originalist position. At the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, each state possessed their own militia - an armed force made up of citizens tasked in the defense of the local population. The militia were a part-time and well-regulated military force which received training in combat, firearms and other military exercises. There was a clear separation of the militia and the population, the latter being the subject of the former's protection. The militia was then conceived to be a mandatory form of military service designed to safeguard the existence of a nascent nation from its enemies abroad. Hence, the word "militia," as it was intended by its drafters, did not point to the larger population of citizens.
The establishment of a professional army by virtue of the U.S. Constitution fueled fears of oppression among the conservatives who linked it to the erstwhile standing army which oppressed the colonists during British rule. The anti-Federalists quickly moved to deter this possibility by providing a counterbalance - the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment was conceived as an armed force that will offset the federal army. It also guaranteed that the federal government could not unlawfully and unilaterally disarm the state militia.
Based on this interpretation, liberals construe the Second Amendment as a protection that applied only to the militia, and not to the individual. They asset that had the Second Amendment intended to apply the right to bear arms to individuals, it should have been worded explicitly to say, "The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed" (emphasis added). Anti-gun control advocates have also countered that had the Second Amendment been written only to support a functioning militia's existence, it should have been explicitly worded to say, "Members of state militias have the right to keep and bear arms" (emphasis added).
The dispute regarding the wording of the Second Amendment is one of the most mysterious. There are no clear discussions, articles, and reasons cited by the drafters of the amendment as to the purpose of such a wording. Thus, both sides of the gun control debate have claimed to insist that they have the correct interpretation of the Second Amendment. Meanwhile, the liberals who insist upon the originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment regard it as anachronistic because the citizen militia the amendment hoped to empower no longer exists as it has in the 18th century.
Tougher laws restricting gun ownership are needed to curb rising rates of gun-related violence in the nation's cities.
Much of the rationale supporting gun control laws centers on the lethal nature of the gun. Simply put, a gun kills; while people may be endangered by other weapons such as knives, the instant and almost effortless act of gunning somebody down makes the gun morally and socially dangerous. As a result, supporters of strict gun control regulations cite crime and violence statistics in order to build their case. A data compilation performed by Agresti and Smith (2010) cited that of a 2009 population of 307 million in the United States, gun ownership among civilians reached 300 million firearms in 2010, 100 million of which were handguns. Liberals have equated the high level of gun ownership in the country to the reciprocally high level of crime. For the year 2008, over 16,272 murders were committed, with 67% or 10,886 of these cases committed with the use of a firearm. Moreover, survey data from the U.S. Justice Department estimates that out of over 5,340,000 violent crimes committed in the United States during 2008, 8 percent or 436,000 of these cases were committed by persons visibly armed (Agresti & Smith, 2010).
Another compelling rationale to support gun control policies is the deadly string of shooting sprees in schools in the United States. Among the most prominent shootings are the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado (21 wounded shot, 13 dead, including shooters, 1999), the Thurston High School shootings (25 wounded, 2 dead, including parents of shooter), and the Virginia Tech Massacre (32 dead, 2007). One liberal view of these incidents is that the easy access of the perpetrators to guns led to the shootings. Generally, gun control advocates point to the ease which people can acquire guns as determinant of the high rates of suicide and assassinations in the country. By reducing the access of individuals to the firearms supply, suicides and vigilantism would be reduced.
As a result of these convictions, liberals push for stringent gun legislation. While they do not deny a basic right to self-defense, they believe that this is valid only among those who actually need protection. Those who support gun control are doubtful of the self-defense argument. Many pro-gun supporters insist that they will be better protected from property theft and burglary if they have a gun inside the domicile. Anti-gun supporters however rebut that majority of the burglaries occur when no one is home. Moreover, the ensuing fear and confusion would also not guarantee that the homeowner will be able to use the weapon effectively.
Among the American states, New York has the most stringent regulations. In order to be issued a permit to carry any concealed firearm, citizens must show reasonable cause and prove that they indeed need protection. Most of the applications to carry handguns are denied. However, despite strict gun laws, the circulation of guns in New York has not declined. Advocates insist that the guns that proliferate in the state are not from New York but are mostly traceable to the southern states, which have a predominantly gun-owning population.
A reading of the Second Amendment to the liberals is simple: to reduce violence, the federal government should make access to firearms difficult. The federal government should pass stricter laws that will be applicable to all states within the Union. Among the most influential groups that take a liberal stance on gun control is the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (formerly HCI).
Liberals push for gun policies in all levels of government. These gun ownership and use regulations vary. Include are laws which 1) prevent certain categories of people from purchasing or owning firearms; 3) restrict the types of firearms which may be legally sold; 3) regulate gun safety and carrying; 4) regulate the market; and 5) inform criminal justice system responses (Woods, 2005).
Guns represent a major public health challenge.
Another argument by liberals pushing for gun control is the public health aspect. Government health agencies consider gun violence as a serious public health problem. Guns are prominent in their fatal role in homicide and suicides as well as in non-fatal cases. Reich, Culross, and Berhman (2002) opined that firearm injury and death is a public health issue by any standard because it "demands a response not only from law enforcement and the courts, but also from the medical community" (p. 5). Gun violence has captured significant attention in the light of the increasing victimization of youth and children in gun-related crimes. The National Vital Statistics Report cited in 2000 that over 3,000 American children died from gun-related injuries. In 1994, annual deaths among children due to gun-related incidents reached 5,833, which fell to 3,792 in 1998. The statistical decline is not relevant however because the fact remains that the incidents among children and youth because suicide, homicide, and unintentional shooting far exceeds the frequency in other industrialized countries (Reich, Culross, & Berhman, 2002).
Aside from the health costs of gun violence, the economic costs are also high. Medical costs because of injuries have increased. This is notwithstanding other economic costs such as modernization of law enforcement, costs of prosecution, as well as incarceration of gun offenders. The economic costs of gun-related violence are estimated to reach about $4 to $5 billion yearly (Cook & Ludwig, 1999). Other hidden costs also exist such as higher taxes, housing costs out of domicile transfers, and psychological costs and reduced productivity.