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Americans highly value their right to bear arms and the US has the highest number of private firearms ownership among industrialized nations. However, the relationship between the increase in firearms related violence and gun ownership has led to calls for more stringent gun control policies by the government.
Branas et al. (2009, p.2034, para.1) observe that guns are among the major issues facing the American public with people holding polarized views on whether gun control should be made stricter or loosened. In spite of the many years of debate over the issue, gun control remains to be a bitterly contested issue in the United States.
Much of the controversy comes from the fact that gun regulation will have direct impacts on individuals all over the country. Many Americans are wary of the implications that gun control has on issues such as waiting periods and purchasing permits. This paper will set out to argue that gun control is desirable since the benefits attributed to private gun ownership do not justify the risks.
A Case for Gun control
A major argument made in support of guns is that more guns result in less crime in the country. Proponents of gun control dismiss these assertions as unfounded since there is no valid research backing up these claims. Lambert (2004, p. 3, para. 3) observes that the decrease in crime attributed by opponents of gun control to relaxing of carry laws could be attributed to other factors such as better policing or increased economic well being in the state.
Opponents of gun control also maintain that increased possession of guns will have a deterrent effect on criminals who will be deterred from committing crimes due to the additional risk that the victim may be carrying concealed weapons. This assumption is baseless since criminals normally overwhelm their victims with excessive force.
In addition to this, Lambert (2004) points out that permit holders will “not always carry their weapons and will not always get a chance to use them” (p.4, para.3). In addition to this, cases of defensive gun use are marginal. Lambert (2004, p.4, para.7) articulates that defensive gun use by permit holders is extremely rare which means that criminals are not going to be worried about the marginal probability that the victim will engage them in a gunfire exchange.
Gun control legislations are effective in decreasing the rate of suicide by guns in the country. Suicide by firearms is an important issue considering the fact that guns are the most favored tool of suicide by white males aged 20 to 64. The availability of guns increases the chance that they will be used for suicide with reports indicating that “urban areas with less strict handgun laws had a 5.7 fold higher rate of suicide involving firearms” (p.129).
Weapon availability increases the risk of committing suicide among suicidal-prone individuals. Hemenway (2011, p.509, para.2) notes that many suicides appear to be impulsive acts and guns provide a quick and lethal instrument during such periods. A study by Lambert and Silva (1998, p.129, para.2) revealed that gun control legislations could decrease these firearms-related suicides significantly.
Opponents of gun control point out that gun control is not the only way through which suicide rates can be decreased. While it is true that other means can be used to decrease suicide rates, the benefits of gun control should not be ignored. Gun control laws should therefore be imposed to help reduce the number of guns and hence the suicide rate in the country.
One of the most common arguments raised by opponents of gun control is that having a concealed weapon protects a person from being a victim of an armed assault. This is not the case and possessing a gun does not decrease the probability that the individual will be shot at in an assault.
Research by Branas et al. (2009) highlighted that on average, “guns did not seem to protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault” (p.2037, para.9). The justification that possessing a firearm will safeguard a person from being assaulted is therefore invalid.
On the contrary, possession of a gun may actually increase risk of being assaulted. Branas et al. (2009, p.2037, para.10) explains that people who have guns may feel empowered to enter into a dangerous environment that they would normally avoid and therefore expose themselves to risk of assault.
Gun possession poses significant risk in the home of the owner. Hemenway (2011, p.502, para.3) states that while handguns are desirable for protection against crimes; they pose greater health risks in the home than the benefits they bring. Hemenway (2011) highlights the main risks of having a gun stemming from the fact that “someone inappropriate can be shot or intimidated with the gun” (p.503, para.2).
Cases of accidental shootings in the US are 11 times higher in the US than in other developed countries. Gun control policies can help reduce the unintentional firearm fatalities that the US currently faces.
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Male partners also use guns to scare and intimidate their female companions in cases of domestic abuse. Reports indicate that hostile gun displays occurred more often than self-defense gun uses in the home (Hemenway, 2011, p.506, para.9). More stringent gun control laws would decrease the availability of guns at home and therefore increase the safety for women.
Arguments Against Gun Control
Gun control can be termed as an intrusion of the government into the private citizen’s life. The USA is a country founded on the principles of liberty and governmental intrusion in personal life is not welcome. Guns are used for a myriad of legitimate personal activities including hunting and sporting.
Wolpert and Gimpel (1998) documents that the values associated with the gun culture are “ideologically related to individualism” (p.244, para.3). There is a strong connection between guns and the country’s early struggle for independence. Opponents of gun control therefore demand that the government should remove the restrictive policies against guns and let gun owners enjoy their freedom to bear arms.
While gun control does reduce the rights and privileges of gun owners, it cannot be equated to an intrusion by the government into private individual’s lives. Moorhouse and Wanner (2006) note that gun control laws restrict the “types of firearms that may be purchased, designate the qualifications of those who may purchase and own a firearm, and restrict the safe storage and use of firearms” (p.103, para.1).
These actions are not an infringement on individual rights by the government but rather positive steps to ensure that gun ownership by an individual does not pose safety and security to the rest of the public.
Opponents of gun control argue that possession of guns by older Americans (those over 25) does not result in an increase in gun related violence. Wintemute et al. (2004, p.734, para.5) supports this view by noting that America’s young people are at a higher risk of engaging in gun violence.
Enacting gun control rules that ban gun sales for the entire population would therefore be wrong since it would penalize the older possessors who are less likely to use their guns to carry out crimes.
A more astute approach would be increasing the price of guns to prevent the younger generation, which has financial constraints from purchasing guns and banning the sale of inexpensive guns. Wintemute et al. (2004) reported that a ban on the sale of inexpensive pistols was “linked to a 9% decrease in homicide rates in Maryland” (p.740, para.7).
However, young people might still access guns even if their prices are high. Research by Cao, Zhang, and Ni (2008, p.161, para.5) on carrying of weapons to school for protection indicated that the likelihood of adolescent gun carrying increased with the prevalence of local gun ownership. A decrease in the overall ownership of guns will therefore reduce the changes of American’s young people possessing guns and using them for violence.
Proponents of gun control suggest that these policies result in less crime. However, research indicates that gun control does not reduce crime rates in the country. Moorhouse and Wanner (2006, p.121, para.4) assert that there is no linkage between gun control and crime rates. States with relaxed gun control laws continue to experience crime levels that are equivalent to those of states with stringent gun control legislations.
In spite of this lack of correlation between crime and gun control, high crime rates “provide a powerful rationale for passing more restrictive gun laws” (Moorhouse & Wanner, 2006, p.119, para.1). Opponents of gun control therefore call for a reduction in gun control since they do not have any desirable impact on crime. While this may be the case, gun control laws do reduce the chances of individuals with criminal backgrounds from acquiring guns.
Opponents of gun control are concerned that small restrictive measures such as a one-week waiting period for the purchase of firearms might lead to even greater restrictive measures in future. Wolpert and Gimpel (1998) best articulate this concern by noting that minimal restrictions on gun ownership are a slippery slope that could “eventually lead to more prohibitive measures late including an outright denial of the right to bear arms (p.244, para.1).
Such a move would hurt legitimate gun owners who have developed a gun culture over the decades. While there is a possibility that the current minimal restrictions on gun ownership might evolve into more stringent restrictions, this is all highly speculative.
The government has not engaged in any action that suggests that it will strip American’s their right to bear arms. Arguments that current gun control measures are paving the way for a ban on all private ownership of guns are therefore alarmist in nature and should be ignored.
This paper set out to argue that gun control is important to ensure the safety of the nation. It began by highlighting the controversy surrounding the situation with some people calling for more gun control while others oppose such moves. The paper has highlighted some of the merits of gun control including less access to guns by criminals, reduced accidents involving firearms, and reduced suicides.
Some of the arguments presented by opponents of gun control have been discussed and counterarguments offered. The paper has conceded that gun regulations will result in loss of some personal control by gun owners all over the country. However, this is a small price to pay for the enormous benefits that such regulations promise to bring to all citizens.
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Cao, L., Zhang, Y., & Ni, He. (2008). Carrying weapons to school for protection: An analysis of the 2001 school crime supplement data. Journal of Criminal Justice, 36 (2), 154–164.
Hemenway, D. (2011). Risks and Benefits of a Gun in the Home. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 5 (2), 502-511.
Lambert, J. T., & Silva, P.S. (1998). An Update on the Impact of Gun Control Legislation on Suicide. Psychiatric Quarterly, 69 (2), 127-134.
Lambert, T. (2004). Do more guns cause less crime. Retrieved from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.119.9142&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Moorhouse, J.C., & Wanner, B. (2006). Does gun control reduce crime or does crime increase gun control? CATO Journal, 26 (1), 103-124.
Wintemute, G.J., Romero, M.P., Wright, A.M., & Grassel, K.M. (2004). The Life Cycle of Crime Guns: A Description Based on Guns Recovered From Young People in California. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 43(6), 733-742.
Wolpert, R.M., & Gimpel, J.G. (1998). Self-interest, symbolic politics, and public attitudes towards gun control. Political Behavior, 20 (3), 241-262.