News and Events

A Critical Analysis of Pro-Gun Control Arguments

It was roughly 25 years ago, that a bank in Colorado carried a whopping $500,000 worth of Weatherby rifles and shotguns in a special vault for customers choosing to open a 20-year CD in lieu of interest payments. It was quite the bargain for residents of the town who lived, breathed, and canceled school for the opening of deer season. A bank giving away firearms for business? This may seem preposterous to most people, especially now, in 2016. With a basic background check and an investment in their bank, North Country Bank offered its customers a free shotgun or rifle by purchasing a CD with them.

Gun control in modern times

Politicians, criminals, law abiding citizens, and news reporters. What do all of these groups people have in common? The fact that gun control has taken center stage in many of their lives. It seems as though these days you cannot turn on the television, open your Facebook feed, or browse the Internet without some exposure to the topic of guns in the United States of America.

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” – Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRASource: Salon

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) since 1991, openly opposes any measures to make gun control laws stricter.

For every argument for the possession of firearms, there is an equally valid argument against them. Everyone has a unique perspective and opinion on gun control laws and how they should be implemented. The purpose of this discussion to highlight, break down, and analyze the pro-gun control arguments that have been making news in the past few decades. The days of free firearms as an incentive for business seems like a lifetime ago.

Gun rights in the past

Gun rights in the United States can be traced all the way back to the formation of this country. It was important enough that the right to bear arms is cited in the 2nd Amendment of the U.S Constitution. It explicitly states that

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.“

This amendment is most often the go-to source of information for all those who fear that our rights in terms of owning firearms would ever be threatened. There is some key phrasing in the 2nd Amendment that offers those who seek to destroy gun rights a proverbial loophole in the clause. This amendment, contingent on a “well-regulated militia” seems to be archaic to those taking pro-gun control stance, being that we now have the most powerful military and police forces in the world serving American citizens.

Gun control laws started taking shape in 1934. This was a time when gangsters such as Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger began terrorizing the country.

The Tommy gunSource: THRLST

The “Tommy gun” – or Thompson machine gun – is often depicted in films as the weapon of choice for 1930s-era mobsters. In fact, the gun was used by notorious gangsters Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde. This machine gun was first used in World War I and gained notoriety by both police and criminals during the prohibition era.

The National Firearms Act of 1934 added a hefty tax on individuals seeking to own certain long guns like sawed off shotguns and machine guns. President Franklin D. Roosevelt also required dealers to record all firearms sales in the Federal Firearms Act of 1938. Gun control legislation did not stop here though. The 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s brought in a whole slew of control laws considering the many assassination attempts that those turbulent decades witnessed.

History of gun legislation (1968 – 1994) Source: WP

Since the days of Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde, gun control has been a salient issue in America. The table below summarizes key gun legislation from 1968 to 1994.

Legislation Presidency Summary
Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 Lyndon B. Johnson Prohibits convicted felons and mentally ill from buying guns
Gun Control Act of 1968 Lyndon B. Johnson Raises the legal age in order to purchase firearms to 21
Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 Ronald Reagan Limits the ATF from inspecting gun dealers more than once per year
Amendment to Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 Ronald Reagan Bans machine guns made after 1986 from being owned by civilians
The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993 Bill Clinton Requires gun buyers to submit to a background check by the NICS
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 Bill Clinton Implements a ban on the manufacturing of semi-automatic assault rifles

This would not be the end of gun control in the United States, but merely the beginning.

Related infographic blog post:View a timeline of American gun control legislation since the Second Amendment was ratified.

Current gun control laws

It is important that we understand the arguments of gun control laws. Many who are pro-gun control will argue that there are just not enough of them to keep us safe. If the 20,000 or so gun control laws we have now is not enough, maybe there will never be. That number is, however, heavily disputed. Pro-gun control supports say, via a study conducted by the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, that “relevance” is the key word in this situation. Out of those 20,000 laws only about 300 are deemed practical.

The study does not include a tally of local gun laws. In fact, the authors note that since more than 40 states preempt all or most local gun control laws, there’s no reason to include local laws in a gun-law tally. It is “irrelevant” to count local laws that are superseded by state laws, the authors said in a press release heralding their study.” (Jones)

This year alone there were at least four amendments that were presented to congress. It is not surprising that none of them passed since it seems as though difficulties regarding gun control are being so fervently scrutinized. These amendments are as follows, along with the two major political party’s stance on them:

Gun legislation presented to Congress

The nation stands divided on the issue of gun legislation. The table below describes gun legislation presented by democrats and republicans. However, none of the legislation below passed when it was presented to Congress.

Amendment Republican version Democratic version
47511
  • Encourage cohesiveness between federal courts, Congress, and states when conducting background checks
  • Better presents mental competency
  • Makes it mandatory for the Attorney General to analyze mass shootings
  • Presented by Senator Chuck Grassley
N/A
47502 N/A
  • No background check/no firearm
  • Presented by Senator Chris Murphy
47493
  • Changes an existing law for those on the terrorist watch list from not being able to purchase a firearm, to having a seventy-two-hour wait
  • Presented by Senator John Coryn
N/A
47204 N/A
  • Under no circumstances will anyone be allowed to buy a firearm if they are on the FBI’s terrorist watch list
  • Presented by Senator Dianne Feinstein

Important gun statistics

Today there are approximately 300 million guns on the streets in America. It would be great to think that these firearms are safely unloaded and locked away in gun safes owned by law abiding citizens. It would be even better to know that they have never been fired except for maybe hunting or recreation. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

The following statistics are based on information found on some of the leading firearm, gun law, and law enforcement outlets available present day:

Guns in America – Key facts and statistics

With roughly 300 million guns in America, it’s important to be informed about their acquisition and use. Below are key facts from leading firearm organizations, gun law organizations, and law enforcement agencies.

    • 5 out of 6 felons have, in their possession, firearms acquired by less than legal means.

 

    • There are only approximately 15 out of 100 firearms purchased by felons that were sold in retail stores.

 

    • According to the U.S. Department of Justice, instances of juveniles between the ages of 15 and 24 involved in homicides rose over 150% between 1984 and 1993.

 

    • A report from the Crime Prevention Research Center reveals that it is legal to carry a concealed weapon in every state as of 2014. The numbers of permitted carriers range from 0.02% in Hawaii to a whopping 12.03% in South Dakota.

 

    • The same report from the Crime Prevention Research Center notes that homicides are dwindling in numbers as the adult population taking advantage of concealed carry permits rises.

 

  • Gunfacts.info lists a variety of myths, with facts to debunk them, including the myth that concealed firearms are not necessary. This is corroborated by statistical information showing that it is of popular opinion that people feel safer, about 56%, knowing the person standing next to them may be carrying a firearm.

American shooting statistics: 2016

A topic that is now synonymous with gun control is mass shootings. The number of mass shootings seem to rise every year, or at least they’re more sensationalized in the media in recent years. The amount of shootings in 2016 seemed to be just as bad, if not worse than the number of mass shootings in 2015.

It is of a popular belief that a mass shooting consists of dozens of killed bystanders and a gunman who either commits suicide or is shot by police. In all actuality, definition of what a mass shooting is has evolved, is under constant debate, and varies from expert to expert.

For the purposes of this analysis, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s interpretation might be the most appropriate. Even though they are the most credible in regards to defining crime and all that entails, the FBI has slowly changed the way they view, classify, and define mass shootings as well.

The FBI’s old definition of mass shootings, as presented in 2008, classifies mass shootings as events that consist of an armed perpetrator and four or more fatalities occurring in one place. This definition does not fully encompass one of the major keywords present, which is shooting.

Virginia Tech mass shooting

The 2007 Virginia Tech massacre is the second-largest mass shooting in American history. The gruesome act, committed by 23-year-old Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho, ended with 32 lives lost before Cho turned the gun on himself.

The 2013 evolution of the FBI’s definition leans more towards labeling “active shooter” incidents that the 2008 version. We are now looking at scenarios where there does not have to be as many as four fatalities, but injuries are being include now as well. This shift in definition could cause researchers to backpedal in order to reclassify previous shooter events.

Now that we understand what mass shootings are, it is important that we know how many have occurred, specifically in this year alone. The following chart highlights information based on an FBI report that has compiled shootings incidents from 2000 to this year.

Active shooter incidents (2016) Source: FBI

Americans faced an unfortunate number of gun-related tragedies in 2016. The table below lists the locations and fatalities associated with select active shooter incidents that year.

Mass shootings*
Kalamazoo, MI | 2/20/2016
  • Fatalities: 6
  • Injuries: 2
  • Perpetrator status: Arrested
Newton and Hesston, KS | 2/25/2016
  • Fatalities: 3
  • Injuries: 14
  • Perpetrator status: Deceased; shot by police
Madison Junior/Senior High School | Middleton, OH | 2/29/2016
  • Fatalities: 0
  • Injuries: 5
  • Perpetrator status: Arrested
Pulse Nightclub | Orlando, FL | 6/12/2016
  • Fatalities: 49
  • Injuries: 53
  • Perpetrator status: Deceased; shot by police
Other shootings
Antigo High School | Antigo, WI | 4/23/2016
  • Fatalities: 0
  • Injuries: 2
  • Perpetrator status: Deceased; shot by police
Tennessee Highway Patrol Headquarters | Bartlett, TN | 6/10/2016
  • Fatalities: 0
  • Injuries: 0
  • Perpetrator status: At large; not arrested

Mass shootings are not the only crimes resulting in deaths involving firearms that are causing people to pay more attention to gun control laws. The United States is in a world of its own when it comes to gun related deaths occurring each day. Though there are no complete reports compiled yet for 2016, the national average is about 4.6 homicides per 100,000 people.

Jason DaltonSource: Reuters

Accused of a mass shooting, Jason Dalton – a former Uber driver – is suspected to have killed 6 people during a shooting spree in Kalamazoo, MI.

Where Trump, Clinton, and Obama stood on gun control laws and regulations

Gun control is most definitely at the top of political agendas in this presidential election year. As with candidates in the past, this year’s runners have their own sets of plans on how they will make America a better place. During President Obama’s time in office, he addressed such issues as:

  • Background checks
  • Bans on assault rifles
  • Fines for noncompliance
  • Mental health issues and firearms
  • School safety (NCSL)

Presidential candidates’ gun control platforms

The 2016 presidential candidates – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – presented differing views on gun control. The table below lists the 2016 candidates’ gun control platforms beside the solutions presented by President Obama in 2013 and 2015.

Obama1 Clinton2 Trump3
Background checks
  • Requires background checks on ALL firearm sales
  • Dig deeper with background checks
  • Requiring background checks for gun show and internet purchases
  • Instead of expanding background check systems, fix the ones we already have
Bans
  • Ban on assault rifles
  • Limits magazines to ten rounds or less
  • Ban abusers from purchasing guns
  • Ban on assault rifles
  • No bans on legally obtained weapons by law-abiding citizens
Licensures
  • Requires retailers to have a license to sell firearms
  • Repeal against retailers responsible for the sale of firearms used in violent crimes
  • Take away licenses for retailers selling firearms illegally
  • No information posted on the campaign site
Mental health
  • Raise mental health awareness
  • Include mental health services under Affordable Care Act
  • Prevent individuals with severe mental illness and those involuntarily committed to mental hospitals from purchasing firearms
  • Focus on fixing the American mental healthcare system
School safety
  • Engage more school resource officers
  • Train in emergency safety plans
  • No information posted on campaign site
  • No information posted on campaign site

Now that we have an extensive framework set up in regards to gun control in the United States, let’s get to the arguments.

Pro-gun control argument #1: Banning guns will save lives

One of the most popular pro-gun control arguments circulating currently is that argument that removing firearms from the hands of American citizens, specifically assault rifles and high capacity magazines, will make our streets safer. This sentiment echoes the buyback program introduced in Australia. But given the sheer amount of guns in America, the Australian approach to gun control isn’t likely to work here.

There are quite a few issues with this argument, the first being that guns are not the problem. According to the Rolling Stone Magazine article, 4 Pro-Gun Arguments We’re Sick of Hearing, it is not the guns that are killing people. It is criminals with firearms that pose the real threat. Many people in favor of taking guns off the streets entirely do not take into account the following:

  • It would be virtually impossible to reclaim all of the 300 million firearms that are on the street.
  • It is unfeasible to assume that those who have illegally obtained firearms in their possession would just turn them over to the authorities quietly.
  • It is unfeasible to assume that law-abiding citizens will quietly turn over their firearms as long as there are criminals with guns on the streets.

There is evidence that speaks to quite the contrary of this argument. The Firearms Commerce in the United States: Annual Statistical Update 2016 reveals that there has been a dramatic increase in the total number of firearms manufactured and imported in the United States in the last twenty or so years.

But the real surprise is homicide rates have also gone down to according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s International Homicide Statistics Database. The average number of homicides per 100,000 people has dropped by nearly half, from a whopping 8.2 to 4.6 since 1996.

Pro-gun control argument #2: The Second Amendment

Another popular argument in the pro-gun control arena is the fact that the Second Amendment is being taken out of context. The Amendment, which was ratified in 1791, was written during a time when the United States did not have the military and police force that it does today. Today gun legislation seems to be centered around how to curb gun violence without eviscerating the Second Amendment.

Rolling Stone Magazine reminds us again that the Second Amendment was created during a time when Americans were trying to defend themselves without the aid of those forces and a “well-formed militia” was the staple of everyday lives. What this implied during that time, was that we were a nation governed by a citizen army of sorts. At any given time, it was a civilian’s duty and honor to pick up a rifle and defend their homestead, community, and country.

The most common debate when it comes to the Second Amendment is whether the legislation was created for State or individual rights. In Don B. Kates, Jr.’s article, Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment, he makes note of several factors surrounding this debate. They include:

  • Whether or not it is constitutional under the Second Amendment to prohibit firearm ownership
  • Whether or not subsequent amendments (i.e. Third, Fourth, and Fifth) would encroach upon a possible prohibition
  • Whether or not the Second Amendment was meant for the protection of state or individual rights
  • Whether points of view are coming from legal or non-legal partisans
  • Whether or not gun ownership has benefits

One major issue that is arising with the Second Amendment in regards to both pro-gun control and anti-gun control arguments is the fact that the language displayed in the legislation is muddy. Coming from an individualist approach, the language reflects the concept of the individual as a whole. It never gives mention of firearm ownership in regards to age, expertise, licensing, or intent. It makes sense to assume that if the amendment has been molded by the law over the course of our nation’s history to reflect requirements or restrictions such as…

  • Minimum age to purchase and own guns
  • Mental health and criminal records restricting gun ownership
  • Weapons bans on certain types of firearms
  • Restrictions on where firearms can be carried

…there can also be allowances and new laws made to their contrary.

Pro-gun control argument #3: More guns equal more crime

A third argument ensuing over the pro-gun control debate is the presumed fact that the more weapons we have on the streets, the more incidences of murders and other violent crimes we will incur. This thought process is not accurate according to the FBI’s Crime in the United States, 2013 annual report. Directly quoting from them, we learn that:

“…while background checks for firearm purchasers hit record levels in 2013 — 21,093,273 to be exact — ‘violent crimes in 2013 decreased 4.4 percent when compared with 2012 figures, and the estimated number of property crimes decreased 4.1 percent.’…”

Seung-Hui ChoSource: NYT

Seung-Hui Cho was the shooter behind the deadly rampage at Virgina Tech in which 32 people were killed. Gun advocates argue that an armed student body could have prevented or limited the number of deaths in the massacre.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that of the 2,626,418 deaths that occurred in 2014, firearm related murders did not place in the top causes of death. Of the 15,809 homicide deaths that we did experience, 10,945 were firearm related. This was closely tied to results found in subsequent years.

Pro-gun control argument #4: The public supports gun control

Pro-gun control supporters like to also argue that the general public is very supportive of stricter gun control laws. As with any argument. There are those in favor of stricter gun control laws, but many more lined up to debunk those arguments. They best way to highlight this topic is by displaying the nitty, gritty statistics.

It would be extremely difficult to make a cut and dry conclusion that either people are in favor of gun control laws or against them. Like most of life, there is no black and white here, but many grey areas that the general public has a vast number of opinions on. Some of these areas include:

  • Who should and who should not own firearms
  • What kinds of firearms should we and should we not be able to own
  • Where should we be allowed and not allowed to take firearms
  • Should open carry be allowed or prohibited
  • Should concealed carry be allowed or prohibited

How opinions on gun control issues differ

Americans are divided on key aspects of gun control policies. The table below shows how Americans feel about key gun control issues based on their pro- or anti-gun control viewpoints.

Issue Pro-gun control Anti-gun control
Ban on weapons
  • 57% in favor of assault weapon ban
  • 53% in favor of high capacity magazine bans
  • 38% disagree on banning assault weapons
Gun ownership restrictions
  • 83% are in favor of background checks for private sales and gun shows
  • 8% oppose background checks on firearm purchases
Open carry
  • 45% are against open carry in public places
  • 41% are in favor of open carry in public places
Concealed carry
  • 41% are against carrying concealed firearms
  • 56% are in favor of carrying concealed firearms

These statistics reveal without a shadow of a doubt that the United States is split when it comes to opinions on gun control laws.

Concealed carry in public places Source: SGL

Many states allow concealed weapons to be carried in public places. The number of states that allow or prohibit concealed carry in public places are listed below.

Location Allowed Prohibited
Colleges and universities Concealed carry is allowed in 8 states Concealed carry is prohibited in 20 states and Washington, D.C.
Bars and nightclubs Concealed carry is allowed in 8 states Concealed carry is prohibited in 21 states and Washington, D.C.
Churches, synagogues, and temples Concealed carry is allowed in 5 states Concealed carry is prohibited in 12 states and Washington, D.C.
State parks Concealed carry is allowed in 18 states Concealed carry is prohibited in 15 states and Washington, D.C.

The future of gun control in America

In conclusion, the pro-gun control arguments that have been analyzed in this piece are fierce. Some of them are very viable, while others will never be feasible. The general consensus is that it would be virtually impossible to rid the streets of firearms as those in favor of weapons bans would like to see.

There are, however, actions that can be taken to alleviate some of the threats that firearms pose. These actions could include stricter background checks, bans on assault rifles and high capacity magazines, and keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally unstable. The Second Amendment protects our rights to bear arms, but some of the language is archaic and should be reevaluated.

You may be asking yourself at this point what can you possibly do about gun control. The answer is simple: vote. Those who remain extremely opinionated on the subject, but make take no steps toward voting on bills and other crucial gun legislation whether they are pro or anti on the matter are wasting their breath.

When you are casting your vote, it important for those who feel so passionately about gun control to pick the candidate that most similarly aligns with their beliefs. It has been proven through massive amounts of research that guns have many positive attributes when they are placed in the right hands. Conversely, they can also be a danger to society if not treated with respect.

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