Why I am for gun control
One and a half million. That’s the number of people who have been killed by firearms in America since 1968. That is more than America has lost in any war. In fact, that is more than America has lost in every war combined. Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the Viet Cong, and Al Qaeda, could not wrought the same level of destruction on America as the American people could on themselves. And the American people did it in just forty-seven years. These deaths snatched the lives of the suicidal and mentally unstable. They snatched the lives of those who were allowed to carry a gun, but were never trained how to properly use one. And they snatched the lives of thousands of homicide victims. Snatched from churches and schools. Snatched from houses in the suburbs and from the desperate corners of ghettos. Snatched from people who loved them, and whose worlds will never be the same.
In face of tragedies like Charleston, the American public’s response has grown predictable. Everyone says their hopes and prayers are with the victims. As soon as anyone even begins to ponder how we can stop more shootings from happening, political pundits remind us that the gun didn’t cause the crime, and only better parenting and values could stop such violence in the future. My Facebook newsfeed becomes full of links to stories about how tough grandmothers protected themselves from burglars by carrying a gun. Gun control advocates are told not to politicize the issue. And then the NRA sponsors ads warning that the government will take your guns, and they quietly begin to bankroll members of congress. Soon our memories of the tragedy fade, we give more attention to the killer than we do to solutions on how to solve the problem, and months roll by until we’re faced with another shooting. By then, nothing has changed, nothing except thousands of more deaths that don’t get our attention.
I do not write much publically about politics. I don’t like arguing about politics. I often hide my own opinions. However, I cannot face another shooting in silence. I generally approach political issues with respect, but today I’m angry. I’m angry because I’ve seen all this happen before. I’m angry because gun advocates care more about their own dogma than they do facts, reason, or saving the lives of others. I’m angry because I know nothing will be done. I’m angry because nine more people are dead, and thousands more are on the way. I used to be in favor of unlimited gun rights, but then I looked at the facts, and became compelled. Our government must pass gun control now, and I’m going to tell you why.
I’ll first explore the background on gun control, then why it works and the current system of unrestricted gun rights fails, and then I’ll examine how each of the objections to gun control do not hold up closer scrutiny.
What laws does America currently have on guns?
Federally, relatively few. Most laws are state by state. Nearly forty states do not require a permit to purchase a gun, and only four states require guns to be registered. Forty-seven states do not require a proficiency in firearm safety or safety training of any kind. Over forty states do not require a license to purchase or possess a gun, and over forty states do not require mental or criminal background checks before purchase. Thirty-five states do not require a permit to carry a gun in public. In over thirty states, guns can be carried by children of any age. Over 40% of guns are sold by unlicensed sellers. Over forty states allow for the purchase of assault weapons, weapons that are used by private militaries, and can easily be adapted to become more deadly (perhaps that’s why the 60,000 casualty Mexican Drug War is primarily fought with U.S. purchased guns, but that’s another matter). In short, in America, it is very easy to sell, purchase, possess, and carry a gun. That’s why we have more guns than people, and more guns than any nation in human history.
What gun control bills do we need to pass?
Often, when I mention that I favor gun control, people say ‘so you want to take away everybody’s guns?’ It’s a straw man best articulated in NRA ads. I do not want to ban all guns. I think that’d actually be a pretty harmful policy. What I do believe, however, is that the United States should require permits to purchase, criminal and mental health background checks, license to own and carry (which requires showing proficiency and care in gun ownership), registration tracking, ammunition stockpile limits, and an assault weapons ban. These policies are used broadly by the developed world, both because they’re logical, and because they are empirically successful.
Most of these proposals are intuitive. In an age where you need a license to drive, sell liquor, get married, or cut hair, requiring a license to possess the ability to kill another human being is fairly reasonable. Furthermore, requiring training also makes sense; giving untrained people a gun is an accident waiting to happen, just like an untrained driver or pilot. Background checks are logical; most professions require basic background checks. I received a more extensive background check while applying to work at Chipotle Grill than many people have had to purchase a gun. Putting guns into the hands of the criminal or the mentally insane doesn’t make anyone safer. These sorts of regulations do not diminish the right to bear arms; if you’re a responsible citizen, you will still keep your gun, so long as it’s not a military grade assault rifle. The reasonableness of these policies is exactly why Republican Ronald Reagan even proposed the most expansive gun control legislation ever proposed by a U.S. President, demanding all the proposals I described. Imagine Reagan and Obama agreeing on something. They agreed because the policies made sense.
Not only is gun control logical; it also has historically worked. In OECD countries, or countries from the developed world, the United States has the highest rate of gun ownership, and is one of the only countries not to have gun control. They are also near the top of the list of gun related deaths, with the recent average being around 32,000 each year, according to the Center for Disease Control. Countries with the gun legislation I described do not even come close; the U.K. passed gun control and has forty times fewer gun deaths per capita than America-that means you are forty times more likely to get shot and killed in America than you are in Britain. India, even with all of its racial tension and poverty, has twenty two times fewer gun deaths per capita. In Japan, in a year where over 12,000 Americans were murdered with guns, Japan just lost two. After Australia passed gun legislation in the ‘90s, they never had another mass shooting, violent crime fell across the board, and firearm suicide fell by 80%. The list could go on. All told, America has twenty times more gun deaths per capita than the average of all developed countries, according to the World Health Organization. In virtually every major developed and stable nation that has passed gun control, gun violence has dramatically decline. The U.S. stands alone among wealthy, stable nations, with its figures of thousands of deaths. No other similar country comes close. In short, when people say gun control won’t work, they’re wrong; it already has. History has already proven its broad success. Few laws have universal success from culture to culture, but gun control has had just that.
Despite its empirical support, Congress has failed to act to stop gun violence and pass these reasonable policies. The NRA has managed to craft brilliant and persuasive campaigns against gun control in the wake of mass shootings. There are six primary objections to gun control, that while persuasive to the public, fail to stand after closer scrutiny.
Before I address the more credible objections, first let me rid of us of one utterly ridiculous one. For those who think that unfettered gun rights is the one thing keeping us safe from government tyranny, please rid yourself of your Red Dawn fantasies. If the United States military decided to destroy and oppress their own citizens, your AR-15 wouldn’t stop them, and there would be a lot of things that went wrong for America in order to get there besides gun control. Back to reality.
Does gun control violate the 2nd Amendment?
The first argument is that gun control violates the constitutional right to bear arms protected by the 2nd Amendment, an amendment written in the age of muskets, not AR-15s. If I was proposing we ban all guns, then that would be unconstitutional. However, requiring licenses or banning certain kinds of guns doesn’t violate the 2nd Amendment, just like banning threats, hate speech, perjury, or shouting fire in a crowd doesn’t violate the 1st Amendment. In the Supreme Court Case Heller VS Columbia, in conservative Justice Scalia’s majority opinion, he argued that while banning all guns is unconstitutional, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” the Justice explained, and that “the Second Amendment is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Indeed, Scalia’s opinion in Heller warned that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt” on a wide range of gun laws, including bars on felons and the mentally ill from possessing guns, restrictions on guns in “sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” or laws “imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” The Supreme Court of the United States, the court that determines the constitutionality of our laws, with conservative judges voting unanimously, determined that the gun control laws Obama, Reagan, and I have all endorsed are constitutional. Those who claim gun legislation violates the constitution have no case.
Don’t guns keep people safe?
The second most common argument is that gun ownership saves lives. They argue that, since criminals may still get guns on the black market, then citizens should be able to defend themselves. That argument also falls for two reasons. First, gun control does not mean citizens won’t be able to defend themselves. Law abiding, mentally sound, licensed citizens can still carry a gun to protect themselves, just not a military assault weapon. Saying that gun control means only criminals will have guns is tantamount to saying that requiring a license to drive means only criminals can drive. Law abiding citizens can still carry a gun under most gun control proposals. Virtually none of the benefits of home defense are lost with gun control.
Second, easy access to guns doesn’t keep people safe. The crux of gun rights advocates’ argument is that if citizens can easily purchase and carry a gun, then crime will be deterred. Unfortunately, in America, that has never been the case. We have more guns than any nation in history; under gun rights advocates’ rationale, with so many citizens carrying guns, we should be among the safest countries in the world. We’re not. You are twenty times more likely to die by a gun in America than any other developed country. In the South, where there are more guns per capita than any other part of the country, there are more innocent gun deaths per capita than any other part of the country, according to Pew Research. With all of the guns on the market supposedly keeping citizens safe, we wind up ranking alongside Mexico in terms of gun violence, a country in the midst of a virtual civil war with little law enforcement.
Citizens being able to defend themselves is a good thing. Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, said the oft used mantra of gun advocates, that “the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Unfortunately, due to our lack of gun legislation, according to the Violence Policy Center, for every good guy who kills a criminal in self-defense, thirty four innocents are killed with guns. Responsible citizens should be able to use guns to defend themselves, but that’s just it; responsible citizens. Not criminals, not the mentally insane, not the untrained, and not the unlicensed.
If gun control works, why do cities that ban guns have crime?
The third argument is that gun control hasn’t worked when America tried it in big cities. Gun advocates point to the high homicide rates in D.C. or Chicago, cities that banned all firearms. I freely admit; citywide gun control goes not work. Banning all guns in Chicago while allowing for guns to be purchased without a license in a town two miles away is lunacy. Any gun control, like the successful gun control examples I provided, must be passed on a federal level.
Other nations have different cultures; gun control just won’t work in America.
Another argument of gun rights advocates is that historical examples of gun control working in other nations are not applicable to America because America has a different culture. It is true that, sometimes, laws in one culture will not work in another. Gun control, however, has worked across many radically different cultures; the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Japan, India, Australia, Kuwait, Zimbabwe, and South Korea all have passed gun legislation and have an average of twenty times fewer gun deaths per capita, according to the World Health Organization. The cultures are different, but the results have been the same. Furthermore, most statewide gun control efforts have been successful; the states in America with lower levels of firearms restrictions have higher rates of gun deaths, whereas the few states in America with gun control have lower rates of gun violence.  This sounds intuitively obvious, but lawmakers and lobbyists have ignored the obvious. While they may ignore the obvious, that doesn’t change this basic fact: gun control reduces gun deaths throughout the world and in America. ‘Culture’ is just a wall the NRA has built to hide behind.
Why blame guns? People kill people. Guns don’t kill people.
Gun advocates are also quick to point out that the gun didn’t commit the crime, the person did, and so banning guns will not solve the problem. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, as many bumper stickers say. If we ban guns, some of the more hypothetical thinkers add, will we ban knives next? It is true: guns don’t choose to kill people. However, easy access to guns does lead to needless deaths: both by homicide and by accident. Murder, of course, will still happen, but empirics have shown that at least fewer murders will happen, and on a significantly smaller scale; school shootings seem impossible with only a knife. Some gun advocates take to the airwaves of talk radio or post memes on Facebook pointing out that cars also kill thousands, but not one calls for the banning of cars; true enough, but use of cars is extremely regulated, and you must be licensed in order to drive. We shouldn’t pass gun control because guns, tools designed to harm and kill, are inherently immoral; we should pass gun control to stop those tools from falling into the wrong hands.
If you pass gun control, won’t criminals just get them on the black market?
The final argument, one of the most persuasive for voters, is that if gun control passed, that would just lead to criminals getting guns off of the black market. There are three problems with that argument. First, the kind of legislation I proposed, such as being able to track and check people for a license if they own a gun, is designed specifically to figure out who purchased their gun legally and who did not. Second, history has shown that while a black market will exist, gun control has shrunk the black market and the proliferation of illegal firearms. While there are black markets in most countries that have gun control, the gun crime rate is still astronomically lower than the countries without gun control, like the U.S.
Finally, just because some people will disobey the law is not an argument for not having the law at all. Human trafficking still exists in America; that is not a reason for why we shouldn’t have abolished slavery. You pass laws because they will make things better, even if they do not make things perfect. Yes, gun violence will still occur. Yes, guns will be illegally owned and sold. But history has shown that less violence will occur, and fewer criminals will have guns, and more lives will be saved, if you pass gun control.
Gun control should not be a liberal or conservative issue. Both Reagan and Obama understood that. You should support gun control if you are pro-life. You should support it if you are pro-family, if you are for social justice, if you are anti-war, if you are for our schools and businesses, if you’re tough crime; if you are Republican or Democrat, black or white, young or old. With over thirty thousand of our countrymen dead each year, this is an issue that demands the fierce urgency of now.
After 9/11, when three thousand Americans lost their lives, we were compelled to act, in hopes of doing anything to save American lives. We created a new Federal Department, passed a litany of laws, violated free speech and privacy rights, tortured prisoners, invaded two countries, and launched drone campaigns in half a dozen others, all for the sake of saving American lives. But when our own countrymen kill each other in the streets or on school grounds, we resign ourselves, and say that no law could fix this problem. Over 400,000 have been killed in America by guns since 9/11. Still, we refuse to listen to reason, and act.
Gun advocates talk of freedom. It raises the question, the freedom for who, the freedom to do what? The freedom of criminals and the mentally ill to purchase guns? The freedom to sell military grade assault weapons without a license? The freedom to use a gun around your kids without any training? What of the freedom of the victims? Each year, over thirty thousand join those who will never have the freedom to do anything; to vote, to work, to love and be loved, to speak, or even to carry a gun themselves. They lost all their freedoms, because they’re dead and gone.
I have given you many reasons to support control. But, ultimately, my voice is not the voice that should be compelling you to act. For there are other voices, the voices of the victims of gun violence, the voices of those who are now just memories. The memory of a young woman who looked forward all week to going to the movie theater with her boyfriend, before he was killed in Aurora, Colorado. The memory of a young freshman girl in college, who during her second semester was just figuring out her major, only to be gunned down on the campus of Virginia Tech. The memory of a high school girls’ softball coach, who coached for twenty five years and loved nothing more than encouraging his students, students whose lives he saved before he bled to death in a hallway at Columbine. The memory of a seventy-six year old pastor who was shot on his way back from a supermarket in Tucson. The memory of a six year old girl, whose parents would drop her off at school each day, and watch as she raced across the playground to class, and wonder when she grew up, that maybe she’d become a doctor, maybe she’d become a ballet dancer, maybe she’d become a mom, only to see all those maybes turn to emptiness and despair, when she was killed later that day, on a cold morning at Sandy Hook. There are more than just five victims; for there are over thirty thousand each year who are taken, the one and a half million already lost, and there are the lives of those they loved and those who loved them, lives that are irrecoverably broken. We forget them when the media does. And now there is Charleston. All these lost futures, all these shattered hopes, these sorrowful memories, they tell us the most compelling two words we know; never again.
Never again will we fail to act. Never again will we forget our anger. Never again will our school grounds become battlegrounds. More may still die, but never again will we be able to say we did nothing. Never again.
By the time you finish this essay, another American life will be taken by gun violence. Seventeen minutes after that, another life will be lost. Hopefully by then, you will know just why we must pass gun control. Gun violence is a complex issue, and it has its host of political challenges. No single bill will banish all gun violence, but each life saved is a reason why we must act. This is not a time to merely send prayers or condolences, or bemoan the state of the American family. That didn’t stop Sandy Hook from becoming another Columbine, and it didn’t stop Charleston from becoming another Sandy Hook. We are the United States of America; we have found more ways to amass wealth than any other nation, we vanquished Fascism, cured polio and smallpox, and with awe and wonder, stepped onto the surface of the moon; surely we can do better than this. With reason guiding our laws, with remembrance of those who we lost, with God’s grace upon us, and with courage and hope in our hearts, surely we must do better.
Shall we stop this bleeding?