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This paper examines opposing views on gun control legislation in the United States, and their respective impacts on violence in the country. In order to attain a well-rounded view on the issue, 3 popular arguments both for gun control and against gun control were chosen. While I came into this paper with my own opinion on the topic, I analyzed each argument in an unbiased manner and compared it with research and statistics in order to determine the validity of each point. For the pro gun control side this paper examines how gun control laws reduce gun death, protect domestic violence victims, and reduces the societal costs of gun violence. Conversely, for the anti gun control side, I examined the claims that the second amendment protects possession of all firearms, gun ownership deters crime, and gun deaths are negligible in the U.S. Following my analysis of the views for each opposing side I provide possible legislative solutions for this issue based on the realities brought to light by my research.
Keywords: Gun Control, Second Amendment, Gun Violence, Violent Crime
The topic of gun control has long been a divisive and heavily contested issue in American politics, especially due to the United States’ enumeration of a citizen’s right to bear arms in our constitution. The interpretation of this right has constantly changed throughout the countries history, but regardless of ever growing opposition to gun ownership the United States has the highest total number of guns and guns per capita in the entire world. Both sides of the issue consistently tout statistics and studies to support their side, and the purpose of this paper is to examine the validity of some of their main points, and determine the true effect of gun control legislation on violence in the United States. As will be shown in later portions of this paper, gun control legislation has been effective in reducing gun death, protecting domestic violence victims, and reducing the societal costs of gun violence in the United States.
Supporting Viewpoints for Gun Control
Reducing Firearm Related Death
One of the main points presented by proponents of gun control in the United States is a fairly simple one, gun control laws ultimately reduce deaths due to gun related incidents. Between 1999 and 2013 there were 464,033 gun related deaths in the U.S, and were the leading cause of homicide related deaths (66%) and the leading cause of suicide related deaths (52.2%). Gun related deaths were the 12th leading cause of overall deaths beating out liver disease, deaths by fire, drowning, machinery accidents, and hypertension (CDC). This profile of the part that gun violence plays in so many deaths and injuries every year is absolutely appalling, especially when numerous studies have shown a large portion of these deaths to be preventable with adequate gun control legislation.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that “legal purchase of a handgun appears to be associated with a long-lasting increased risk of violent death” (Cummings et al., 1997), which directly counters a popular anti-gun control message that gun ownership protects gun owners and deters crime, but this claim will be examined more in depth later on. A recent study conducted by Kalesan et al. in 2016 had startling conclusions about the dramatic impacts proper legislation could have, especially when conducted on the federal level. In this study, it was found that federal universal background checks could reduce gun deaths by 57%, background checks on ammunition purchases could reduce deaths by 80.7%, and gun identification requirements could reduce these deaths by 82.5% (Kalesan et al., 2016). Contrary to what anti gun control advocates may say, countless studies have shown that common sense gun control legislation would in fact reduce gun death and potentially save tens of thousands of lives each year. Not only does gun control have a dramatic impact on overall firearm related violence, it is especially important in order to protect some groups who face this violence at higher rates, especially domestic violence victims.
Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is an especially prevalent problem in the United States, especially for women, and the mere presence of a firearm during a domestic dispute increases a woman’s chance of being murdered by 500%. This statistic alone does not fully illuminate how many lives are actually taken in domestic violence incidents in the United States, especially how much more common it is here than in other similarly wealthy and developed countries throughout the world. According to a 2003 study in the Journal of Trauma, when compared with women in 23 other populous high-income countries, women in the United States accounted for 86% of total firearm related deaths and were 11.4 times more likely to be victims of a firearm related homicide. After examining these statistics–and keeping in mind that 57% of mass shootings involve domestic violence–it is shocking that 31 states allow convicted stalkers to purchase firearms and 41 states have no laws mandating convicted domestic abusers must relinquish their firearms (Hemenway and Richardson, 2011).
Across the country legislators opposing enhanced gun control laws are turning a blind eye to a virtual epidemic of violence that women are facing at the hands of their abusers and stalkers. Through the implementation of stricter requirements on gun ownership, especially regarding perpetrators of domestic violence, countless lives will be saved. However, gun control not only serves the purpose of saving thousands of lives, it also would severely diminish the monumental societal costs associated with gun violence, especially at the high rate that the United States currently has.
Societal Costs of Gun Violence
Societal costs of gun violence encompass much more than lost lives. According to a 2003 World Health Organization report on the topic, “the costs of gun violence can include legal services, medical costs, perpetrator control, policing, incarceration, foster care, private security, lost earnings and time, life insurance, productivity, tourism, and psychological costs (pain and suffering), among others”. In 2010, gun violence in the United States is estimated to have cost the government alone over 10.7 billion dollars, a financial burden that is partially transferred to U.S citizens due to an overwhelming majority of gun violence victims being uninsured, which comes out to about $564 per person in the United States every single year (WHO).
Considering the billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost to preventable firearm related violence, the adoption of gun control legislation not only seems to be the clear solution but the necessary and compassionate one. Opponents of gun control legislation dispute the validity, and even the relevance, of these long-proven and widely supported facts on the basis of a handful of questionable assertions, a few of which will now be examined–mainly how much the Second Amendment protects gun ownership, how much gun ownership deters crime, and the claim that gun control is unnecessary because few people die of gun related events anyway.
Opposing Viewpoints for Gun Control
Right to Bear Arms
Perhaps the most popular of all arguments against expanding gun control and the changes in allowed gun ownership that comes with it, is the assertion that the Second Amendment grants citizens the right to bear arms. While this is not at face value contested by proponents of gun control, the extent to which citizens are allowed to arm themselves is heavily debated. Supporters of the Second Amendment generally hold the belief that their right to possess firearms is absolute and includes all classes of weapons and the ability to carry those weapons in public. While gun ownership is an American tradition older than the country itself, at the time of the adoption of our constitution the country was in a far different place than it is today.
Having just successfully separated from an oppressive regime in England, a feat which militias formed by armed citizens played a fundamental role in accomplishing, the inclusion of “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” in our fundamental rights seemed necessary to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future (Alvarez and Bachman 2017). However, since then firearms and the United States itself has changed drastically. No longer are firearms single-shot weapons with a long reload time, now semi-automatic rifles like those used in wartime conflicts are available for purchase across the country. Additionally, the availability of concealable firearms like handguns is a stark difference from the 18th and 19th century weaponry. Regardless of how different society and politics are today from the time of the United States’ founding, there are many who see no reason that the interpretation of the right to bear arms should change.
- Alvarez, Alex, and Ronet Bachman. Violence: The Enduring Problem. 3rd ed., SAGE, 2017.
- Arthur L. Kellermann, Frederick P. Rivara, Norman B. Rushforth, et al., “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home,” www.nejm.org, Oct. 7, 1993
- Bindu Kalesan, Matthew E. Mobily, Olivia Keiser, Jeffrey A. Fagan, and Sandro Galea, “Firearm Legislation and Firearm Mortality in the USA: A Cross-Sectional, State-Level Study,” thelancet.com, Mar. 10, 2016
- CDC, “Data & Statistics (WISQARS),” wisqars.cdc.gov
- D. Hemenway and E.G. Richardson, “Homicide, Suicide, and Unintentional Firearm Fatality: Comparing the United States with Other High-Income Countries, 2003,” Journal of Trauma, 2011
- Institute of Medicine, “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence,” www.iom.edu, June 5, 2013
- P. Cummings, T.D. Koepsell, D.C. Grossman, J. Savarino, and R.S. Thompson, “The Association between the Purchase of a Handgun and Homicide or Suicide,” American Journal of Public Health, June 1997
- WHO, “The Economic Dimensions of Interpersonal Violence,” www.who.int, 2004
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