The United States continues to face a gun crisis. People with access to guns have increasingly come out to shoot people on a mass scale – in schools, entertainment hubs, or even at homes (crimes of passion). America’s obsession with guns has a long history that started during the fight for independence. The then atmosphere and situation led or misled the founding fathers to have guns and gun ownership entrenched in the constitution. Was it a mistake? Yes, it was a mistake because we have statistics to prove it, and no because we have the knowledge, power, and means to control the acquisition and use of weapons.
The results of having guns being sold in the market place without meaningful control have been devastating. Anybody of legal age can purchase a gun of whatever specifications without questioning his/her motive. Individuals in the past who have such weapons have shown their dark side. When their brains trip due to psychological issues, anger, or otherwise, the innocent public finds itself at the receiving end. This issue has been controversial, calling for the federal government to explain to the country how it is helping ease the situation and reduce access to guns. This paper explores the possibility of having the federal government increase requirements for purchasing handguns in the U.S.; proponents and opponents of the issue will be evaluated.
History of Gun Control
Uncontrolled sale of handguns has resulted in massive security breaches that have led to many casualties across the United States. The sale of military grade weapons to common citizens has seen statistics bulge. The consequences have been an expanding cemetery and an increasingly desolate and paranoid country. Gun Violence Archive (1) has captured statistics regarding casualties of the mass shooting. For instance, the website shows that already, for the incomplete month of January 2019, America has lost 24 people out of mass shooting. On average, one individual a day passes on because we cannot agree to end the problem. America spends billions of dollars on fighting terrorism, within and outside our borders. In most cases, we emerge victoriously, but with an in-house gun problem, we have consistently lost the battle, and more shameful we never learn. In 2017 and 2018, 346 and 340 lives respectfully were lost to mass shooters (Gun Violence Archive1). 15,657 and 14,646 lives were lost in 2017 and 2018 respectively to gun violence (1). In other countries, this is genocide, in America, it is freedom to own guns. With those statistics, it can be rightfully concluded that America is the most reckless and mindless country when it comes to guns.
How did it all start? In Europe, a continent that shares the same or relatively the same economic and social prosperity as the United States, the rule of law was embraced and everyone gave up the power to kill (using a gun) and in return, they got shared safety; that was in the 18th centuries. In the 21st century, Americans have refused to follow the same principle. Countries like Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, and the Netherlands among others acknowledge that a disarmed country is the foundation of civil society as put across by Squires (37). In the 1860s, slave owners adamantly refused to give up their arms riding on the race propaganda. Gun companies took the cue and through the National Rifle Association (NRA), guns have continued to coexist with Americans violently.
After the Civil War, the gun ideologies were resuscitated and it was delivered on the storyline that the whites (remember white supremacy and the KKK) could not take up equal protection as Black Americans. As such, white vigilantes’ uptake of violence against the blacks, the Indigenous people, and Mexicans was taken to the other level. The thirst for individual sovereignty became the American culture and those who were privileged, manipulated the constitution and public policy to operate roughshod over the society as observed by Patton (164).
History of Legislations by the Federal Government to Control Guns
Strong, Tracy, Sangji, and Barrera (1) documented the history of gun violence legislation in the United States. In the analysis, it became apparent that the federal firearm injury prevention research stalled due to the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act. It was a strategy. The NRM in response to a CDC study that found out that gun ownership increased the risk for homicide at home, lobbied the Congress to do away with the $2.6 million budget from CDC. This was the same amount that CDC used to conduct studies the previous year. CDC was effectively barred from conducting studies that advocate for gun control as it was documented by Dzau (1).
In 2015, through the intervention of President Obama, the Gun Violence Research Act was introduced in November. It was an amendment of the Public Health Service Act to reverse the 1996 declaration and effectively include gun violence-related injury as an acceptable research area for the CDC. Congress effectively shot down the bill and it was reintroduced back to Congress in March 2017. To respond to Congress’s high handedness, the National Institue of Health (NIH) funded nine proposals that aimed at researching firearm violence and its prevention. However, Rubin (1690) explains that the NIH efforts have effectively been suspended.
Current Status of Gun Control
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was established in November 1998, and it required gun sellers to conduct background checks on all gun buyers to ascertain their criminal behavior and mental stability as explained by NRA (1). In 2016, the NICS was used to conduct background checks for 27 million times as demonstrated by Strong, Tracy, Sangji, and Barrera (1) who also observed that gun sales did not change, but flowed with the same old fashion.
In 2018, Strong, Tracy, Sangji, and Barrera (1) explained that in Congress lay 149 firearm related bills and resolutions, such as the Sportsmen’s Act and the Silencers Help Us Save Hearing Act among others. Some of the bills support the Second Amendment and many have effectively stalled even in the committee stage. The main discussion around gun control is the discussion about the balance of protecting the rights of gun owners and at the same time protecting the public. To respond to mass shootings, several bills were presented to Congress, such as the Automatic Gun Fire Prevention Act, which was brought to the surface after the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. The bill aimed to make bump stocks illegal. Bump stocks transform semiautomatic rifles to automatic rifles. The device was used by the shooter in Las Vegas. The other bill was the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was successfully signed into law in 2018. The Act provided $20 million to boost up efforts aimed at reducing gun crime and gang violence but the bill prohibited the use of the funds to promote firearm control efforts.
The Congress has recently allowed firearm-related injuries and deaths reduction efforts. It has allowed research on means of enhancing secure storage of weapons for sale. The Safer Communities Act of 2017 aims at addressing the national mental health infrastructure.
Despite there being numerous bills aimed at controlling gun violence, such bills never make it to law. Lobbyists ensure that gun control remains an elusive topic that is never discussed where it should be. In return, gun violence has continued to wreck havoc in this country.
Having people who intend to purchase handguns subjected to a more stringent process to ascertain their suitability in handling guns, the solution lies with the federal and state governments. It seems the lobby groups, especially NRA have taken control of the Congress and inhibit it from executing its mandate, most importantly, protecting Americans. Instead, Congress takes the responsibility of protecting NRA, which in turns protects the interests of gun manufacturing companies and other profiteers along the gun value chain. The Congress should not take the business from NRA and other profiteers; instead, it should focus on ensuring that guns do not fall in the wrong hands. There should be a chain of responsibility that demands accountability from all the chain actors.
The chain actors need to understand the gravity of their actions and inactions. To demonstrate where such a strategy has worked, let us look at the use of explosives. Once in the recent history, explosives and explosive making contents were easily accessible until Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in 1995 in Oklahoma, and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. To respond to these attacks, the Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Death Penalty Act of 1996, the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, and the Safe Explosives Act of 2002. All the laws were able to tighten the rules of manufacturing, movement, sale, and handling of explosives.
The effect of changing the above-mentioned legislation had wide and far-reaching effects. Hamm and Spaaij (1) explain that in just two decades after 9/11, 105 lone actor shootings happened with 74% being perpetrated using guns and 11% only using explosives. That was in 20 years only. Six decades prior 9/11, 144 attacks were conducted by lone attackers and 47% of such attacks were conducted using explosives, while in 42% of the attacks, guns were used. The pattern established here demonstrates that there was a drastic reduction in the number of crimes perpetrated using explosives while gun use spiked. The difference was legislation.
The Congress should ensure that it becomes mandatory for people to be evaluated, screened and their suitability to handle and use guns determined from a physical and mental point of view. People who deal in the trade must be held accountable. If accountability exists in industries like automotive where car manufacturers are exposed to emission tests, why should gun sellers and traders be allowed to just sell without knowing whom they are selling to? The biggest threat America is facing today is from within, not from North Korea or Iran, it is from within its borders and only Americans can fix it. Sober leadership that is not corrupted by profiteers is needed, especially in Congress.
The process of acquiring guns when stringent measures are applied will be painful to the people of the United States. Subjecting people to a rigorous process when the same is guaranteed in the constitution is a contravention of the law and the same can be challenged successfully in court. It is a limitation of their rights, which are protected in the constitution. The opponents of gun control claim that even in the absence of guns, there will still be murder. For instance, the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) (1) argues that gun control was enacted in Britain in 1997 after a mass shooter killed 16 school children. 1n 1996 before the murder rate was 1.12 per 100,000 people, in 1997 it was 1.24, and in 1998 it rose to 1.43, in 2002 it was 2.1. The absence of a gun is not the end of a murderer’s intention to kill, they will still use something more effective.
Opponents of gun control argue that the Second Amendment was not just intended for ordinary home defense. The main intent was to protect the great nation of America against foreign aggression in case the military is run over or caught unaware. It intended to give the civilians a chance to protect themselves and their country if need be, without necessarily joining the military. The same notion is spread as opponents of gun control proposals say that guns in civilian hands help pin down the bad guys before policemen arrive. As such, limiting the number of guns in civilian hands is giving rogue shooters a free field day.
Active shooters often like soft targets. They will open fire at the most helpless citizens, such as elementary school children, party goers, churches, and theatres. They will go to places they have some level of confidence that there are no guns present. As such, arming a large number of people ensures that guns are almost everywhere to combat bad guys whenever they show up. Further, if the prohibition of alcohol did not stop alcohol from being consumed even by minors, what makes it possible to effectively control guns? The number of guns in America is almost the same as the number of people in the U.S. The government cannot mop up all those guns easily.
Call to Action and Conclusion
Discussion of particular requirements that the federal government can put in place to ensure that guns do not fall to the wrong hands while, at the same time, ensuring that the process is seamless should be the issue at hand. The Congress members should go to the discussion table without vested interests. This will ensure that they are able to see things from an impartial perspective. The likes of NRA and benefactors of profits from the sale of guns need to see the issue with the seriousness it deserves. Having a dead population out of their actions will not be a reason for celebration. NRA should support control of guns to ensure that there is a responsible use of guns in America. This will make their business more responsible for the wellbeing of Americans and their country. An automated system that allows the merchants, gun-manufacturing companies, the public, and the government have a central database that confirms that one is suitable to hold a gun should be established. As such, sellers who contravene the results of such requirements should be held accountable for selling firearms to people who are not suitable. This will also ensure that gun misuse is not something that people can easily engage in without attracting legal ramification. Coultas (64) explains that having a central registry is an effective way of crowdsourcing information that can be appropriately used in combating gun misuse. It has been demonstrated in this paper that the Congress stands at the gate and prevents Americans from enjoying their right to live in a safe society. Concerted efforts should be directed to the Congress to ensure that appropriate actions are taken with regards to the numerous Acts and amendments that are gathering dust in the chambers. The public should support the government in ensuring that new systems, which control guns, are effectively deployed, including funds for research.
California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA). Powerful arguments against ‘gun control’. (2018). Retrieved from California Rifle and Pistol Association Website: https://www.crpa.org/blogs/ten-powerful-arguments-gun-control/
Coultas, B. T. Crowdsourcing intelligence to combat terrorism: harnessing bottom-up collection to prevent lone-wolf terror attacks. Naval Postgraduate School Monterey CA. (2015).
Dzau VJ, Rosenberg M. Congress hasn’t banned research on gun violence. It just won’t fund it. The Washington Post. (March 21, 2018). Retrieved www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-research-can-help-us-address-gun-violence/2018/03/21/ecde2128-2c4d-11e8-8ad6-fbc50284fce8_story.html?utm_term=.ad7c443b6193.
Hamm, M.S. & Spaaij, R. The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism. Columbia University Press. New York. (2017).
National Rifle Association of America. Background checks for guns. Available at: www.nraila.org/get-the-facts/background-checks-nics/.
Rubin R. Tale of 2 agencies: CDC avoids gun violence research but NIH funds it. JAMA. (2016);315(16):1689-1691.
Patton, Tracey Owens. “Jim crow on fraternity row: A study of the phenomenon of blackface in the White southern fraternal order.” Visual Communication Quarterly 15.3 (2008): 150-168.
Squires, Peter. Gun Culture or Gun Control? Firearms and Violence: Safety and Society. Routledge. (2012).
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