Rory Britt ’18
Gun control has yet again become a hot-button issue in America, as we see the devastating results of guns on a mass of civilians in Las Vegas. It is after events like this most recent one, that many Americans shake their heads and wonder why we even have guns in the first place. “Why have guns when all they are meant to do is end another’s life?” “Why have guns for defense when the police can protect you?”
These are remarks that many conservatives and liberals view as incredibly dangerous to our country. We are a nation that prides itself on its freedom, from a free market, to free movement, to yes, the freedom to own guns. So when many people hear those above remarks, they grow fearful that their freedoms and civil liberties may be infringed upon, and that is a very valid point.
First off, I want to express my opinion on gun control (and bear in mind, this is the opinion has changed and will likely change over time). I believe that we need common sense gun restrictions in place to prevent acts of mass terror and to stop criminals as well as those with mental illness from obtaining firearms. I also believe, however, that by banning any non-automatic or explosive weapons or attachments, or banning concealed carry weapons is unacceptable. Further, I believe that the Second Amendment of the US Constitution wholly applies to the individual and to the states and that the federal government should have no say in gun control laws unless those guns cross state or national borders, as is enumerated in the 10th Amendment.
Gun control is necessary for us, as I think that nobody needs an automatic weapon, and nobody needs high explosives to defend themselves adequately. Unfortunately, gun control often goes too far, and further, people often peddle false statistics about gun violence and the need for gun control.
For instance, the “gun show loophole” is a term that is used often to make it seem like any weapon bought at a gun show is not subject to a Federal Background Check. That is false. Any gun sold through a licensed firearms dealer, whether in a store or a VFW hall must require a background check for any and all guns sold. Period. What does exist, however, is an exemption in federal laws that allow for the sale of firearms between two private, non-vendor residents of the same state. This makes sense because so long as the gun stays within state boundaries of sale, and is between two people who are in no way licensed to sell or own certain commercial weapons, the federal government should not be able to touch it. States, however, can stop this, and some like Oregon and Illinois do.
Another common misconception is that gun violence and mass shootings are skyrocketing in America, often because of “assault-style weapons”. This is false, in fact, the Pew Research Center has shown the following:
- Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.
Similar FBI statistics tracking violent gun crimes supports this fact as well. The reason why this belief exists is often because our media has become so determined to cover these incidents, which tends to create a sense of omnipresent violence that is just not there. There is no reason to restrict or ban any guns because, despite the fact that there are more guns than ever in America, mass shootings and gun violence have decreased dramatically.
Finally, the idea that the “good guy with a gun” does not stop shootings, is false. Through websites like Mother Jones would have you believe that none of the 62 mass shootings between 1982 and 2012 were stopped by a “good guy with a gun”. But this is inherently flawed. Why? Well, the Federalist Magazine points out a key issue with these measurements.
- The fact of the matter is that shootings that happen in an area where concealed carriers can immediately respond don’t generally become mass shootings. It’s a bit like saying locked doors and alarms don’t prevent burglaries by only citing burglaries that happened in buildings with no locked doors or alarms as proof of your thesis. It’s no coincidence that so many mass shootings happen in areas declared to be “gun-free zones” by authorities.
In fact, once you begin to look at self-defense statistics with guns, you begin to see a clear pattern that law-abiding citizens with guns are often able to stop these incidents before they become deadly for many people. As the Washington Post points out in an article from 2015, titled “Do Citizens (Not Police Officers) with Guns Ever Stop Mass Shootings?”, that there is a litany of potential mass shootings that are in fact stopped by civilians with concealed-carry permits who defend the lives of those around them, sometimes even sacrificing their own lives to do so.
In addition, the vast majority of mass shootings occur in… Gun-Free Zones. The very places where those with concealed carry permits cannot bring their guns. In fact, this is so often the case that the in the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey done in 2016, it found that almost 84% of all mass shootings occurred in gun free zones. Perhaps that number of mass shootings could have been decreased had those places not been gun free.
Despite the examples listed above, gun restrictions should exist in the United States, however, they belong at the state level. What many people seem to think about the federal government, is that it can just pass a law and make it so that no guns can be allowed in America. That is impossible, as it would violate the Bill of Rights of the Constitution specifically, the right of states to largely control what occurs within their own borders. The only way that the federal government can regulate guns is on an interstate level, so if that firearm is sold, transported, or created between state lines, the federal government can be involved, otherwise, no.
That being said, I want to focus on what individual states are doing, and what I view as the ludicrousness and balefulness behind much of the gun laws being passed today.
Let’s start in New York, a state that has steadily increased its gun laws over the past decade. In 2013, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (SAFE Act), a law that was intended to restrict the types of firearms, ammunition, and magazines, as well as require certain gun owners to register themselves with the government among other acts.
The law was referred to by New York Conservatives as ludicrous because of many of the provisions. Firstly, the SAFE Act makes it illegal to possess a magazine containing more than seven bullets. As anyone who owns a gun will tell you, apart from specialized bolt action rifles and miniature handguns, literally NO guns have a seven round magazine; but the law stated that you could have any size magazine, just so long as only seven rounds were placed in, but no more than that. In fact, this part of the law was so ridiculed for being ignorant of firearms that a month before the law took effect, Governor Cuomo was forced to concede that “There is no such thing as a seven-bullet magazine.” In addition, the law broadened the definition of “assault weapon” to mean, among other things, semi-automatic weapons. Due to this, anyone with a rifle must now register their firearm with the state government. As you can see, that is a wide range of weapon types that are all supposed to now be registered with the government so that they know who owns them, where they live, and what type of guns they have.
Since the bill was signed into law, Governor Cuomo has come out to say that he supports making “technical corrections” that include lifting the ban on high-capacity magazines and redefining the types of firearms that fall under the state’s registration requirements.
This is such a dangerous position because not only does it show the lack of understanding of the laws that were being passed, but also, it sets a dangerous precedent of having gun owners register their firearms with the government, despite the fact that the Second Amendment is in part expressly written so that people can combat potential tyranny of that same government. This means that there is a law in place that forces those who have the ability to stand up to the government should it ever become tyrannical to identify themselves and their capabilities to that very same government.
Another state that is often in the news for its constant slew of gun control measures in California. In May of 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB-880, gun control law that bans any AR-15 in the state. He did this by banning the small button that a person has to use a tool on that releases the magazine. Due to that ban, anyone who has an AR-15 must modify their weapon to comply with Justice Department safety standards… only, those standards don’t exist yet. This means that any of the tens of thousands of gun owners who have an AR variant rifle are caught in a Catch 22, where they can’t own the guns unless they change them, but cannot change them because they don’t know what changes to make.
To compound the issue, the Government of California is refusing to take responsibility for the error in their law, and are not changing it, thusly forcing gun owners to either turn in their guns or be arrested for owning guns that they bought before the law even existed.
Similarly, the California legislature introduced a new bill that the LA Times reports would have allowed Californians to petition a Judge to take away someone ELSE’s guns on the basis that they believed that person should not be in possession of a gun. This law would have allowed the government to take away someone’s guns without they ever having committed a crime, which would have been a huge violation of that person’s rights. Despite having passed the legislature, the bill was finally vetoed only after the ACLU announced strong objections about the Constitutionality and sense of the bill.
The common theme between New York, California, and other states like Oregon, Washington, Missouri, and Colorado is that guns are dangerous and need to be restricted. That is fine, that is their belief, and they are there to represent the people of their states. What is so dangerous is that these laws are often not well researched, leave large loopholes for gun makers, infringe on civil liberties, or only negatively affect legal gun owners. This combination creates a system where law-abiding citizens are having their gun rights chipped away at to the point at which they almost cannot purchase a gun. This is absolutely intolerable and is blatantly unconstitutional.
America was a country founded on the principle of the right to bear arms, not just for hunting or self-defense, but so that we could always, as a population, have the capability to stop tyranny both externally and internally. This belief is compounded in our Second Amendment, the amendment written only just after the right to freedom of thought and freedom of speech.
This was the belief of our founding fathers, and a belief held firmly today in our society is that this should not be infringed. We see this reasoning in a litany of high profile court cases that go all the way up to the Supreme Court.
In Presser v. Illinois for instance, The Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment was applicable to individuals, not militias, and further ruled that the federal government can in no way restrict the right of individuals to own guns unless those guns are sold across state lines.
In District of Columbia vs. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that “the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia”, and that right is not able to be infringed.
Last, but certainly not the only other precedent set for supporting the right to bear arms, Supreme Court case Caetano v. Massachusetts ruled that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding”. This further upholds the right of individuals to own guns, even if they are guns that did not exist at the time of our nation’s founding.
So while you may disagree with me on policy, I do hope that you take the time to read this article and understand that those in power are often not making the right choices with the laws that they make, and it is setting a dangerous precedent that could be our downfall down the road.