The Review: Reduce Gun Violence Through Responsible Reforms
The Review is the editorial board of the Political Union and Review at NYU, NYU’s political debate society. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the editor in chief and the editors of the Review.
This past Tuesday, the Political Union and Review at NYU hosted a debate about one of the most divisive topics in America today: gun control. Gun violence has become a nearly ubiquitous occurrence in the United States, especially as social media has greatly increased our awareness of the potential of these weapons to cause harm to others. This has helped give rise to the debate over whether the federal government should increase the regulation of firearms in the United States. For some, even the notion of gun control sounds like an encroachment on one’s constitutional right to freedom and self-protection while for others, gun control sounds like an absolute necessity for a safe and civil society. No matter one’s opinion on gun control, the epidemic of gun violence is one that must be addressed.
Guns have an idealized and unique place in American culture. For many around the world, guns represent war, death, and destruction. Given the chance, there are numerous countries that would eradicate the presence of these weapons from their borders altogether. Yet in the United States, guns have come to represent freedom, individuality, and even community values. Such sentiment stems from the experiences of early American frontiersmen and colonizers who had to maintain their own properties and cultivate their own land without help or protection from law enforcement – leaving them to protect their families on their own.
Therefore, in exploring this topic and possible solutions for decreasing gun violence, we must keep in mind the deep cultural values associated with these weapons and remember that the vast majority of gun owners throughout the United States are responsible and respectful of firearms. Regardless, we do not see the necessity of the possession of particularly dangerous weapons, such as semiautomatic firearms, nor do we see why some of the most simple, preventative, and straightforward of proposed gun reforms – such as the implementation of mandatory background checks – would infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans.
The 2nd Amendment was created to act as both a safeguard against tyrannical government and a precaution against the possibility that a colonizing power would attempt to conquer the nascent United States. As a revolutionary state, the United States defined itself in opposition to the imperialist domination of the British Empire, and this cultural antagonism to supposedly over-reaching government control still manifests itself in today’s political discourse over gun rights. With the militarization of police weaponry through the 1208/1033 Program, allowing the transfer of excess Department of Defense military-grade weaponry to police forces, gun rights activists claim that arms control legislation will only further increase governmental ability to exert dominance over citizens. As seen from the recent Ferguson protests, the police do in fact have the capability to deploy this heavy weaponry in situations of civil strife. Lawrence Hunter, writing for Forbes Online, described the Second Amendment’s importance succinctly: “The Second Amendment was designed to ensure that individuals retained the right and means to defend themselves against any illegitimate attempt to do them harm, be it an attempt by a private outlaw or government agents violating their trust under the color of law.”
On a smaller scale, however, many guns rights advocates have pointed to self-defense as a key reason for why Americans must own and carry firearms. This argument is, in part, rooted in the inability of government regulation to affect the unofficial sale and transfer of weapons between individuals or on the black market. As James Wilson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “It is virtually impossible to use new background checks or waiting-period laws to prevent dangerous people from getting guns. Those they cannot buy, they will steal or borrow.” Thus, guns that are ‘gifted’ to friends or stolen from registered owners vanish off the grid, gaining immunity from both taxation and registration. Furthermore, when gun regulation limits the ability of licensed owners to purchase and carry firearms, advocates of gun rights believe that responsible citizens will become increasingly vulnerable to violent crime and criminal activity. The idea, then, is that more guns in the hands of licensed, trained, and conscientious citizens will bring about more safety.
However, arguments that more guns will amount to more safety must be dispelled. The American Journal of Public Health has found that “states with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides.” That is why the only way to reduce tragic mass-shootings is to drastically reduce the ability of irresponsible people to access firearms and the ability of anyone to access military-grade weaponry.
Despite the complexity and ubiquity of this problem, simple and responsible reforms can make great strides towards eliminating the scourge of gun violence. President Obama has already called for a number of such solutions: a ban of “military-style” assault weapons, tightening background checks, prohibiting the use of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds, and improving mental health awareness. Other possibilities include banning the sale of armor-piercing and hollow-point rounds.
The weapons referred to above – specifically the military-style assault weapons and the armor-piercing and hollow-point rounds – are completely unnecessary for the purposes of self-defense. These are extremely dangerous weapons that belong on battlefields, not in neighborhoods.
How should we dispose of these weapons, millions of which can be found across the United States? The U.S. government, on several occasions, has flirted with the idea of a buyback solution. However, this in itself raises several issues. Considering the government’s increasingly strained budget, the U.S. government would most likely be unable to afford the thousands of what would soon-to-be banned weapons. However, it is likely that any plan that involves the government taking away Americans’ weapons will, for many, sound like a government that has become Orwellian and oppressive, and gun regulation’s many opponents will likely demagogue a buyback program in this way.
The idea of tightening of background checks has perhaps received the most attention in the media and from gun control advocates. Unfortunately, despite that the fact that the majority of Americans and gun owners support increased background checkers, this debate has become polarized to the point where any attempt to restrict arms has been met with bombastic antipathy from organizations like the NRA, which have drowned out the voices of the millions of gun owners who take no issue with ensuring that weapons do not fall into the hands of those who are not responsible enough to possess them.
Gun violence is a problem for all Americans, regardless of whether or not they own firearms or live in communities where gun violence is frequent. This epidemic will continue to take lives and shake families until elected officials, community leaders, and private individuals take action.
- The Review