In the wake of increasing violent crime in America, especially incidents perpetrated by domestic and international terrorists with automatic assault rifles, the debate over the efficacy and constitutionality of the federal regulation of firearms has taken on new urgency and was a prominent element in the 2016 presidential campaign.
A number of federal, state and local laws and regulations have been enacted that seek to keep gun violence at bay while also enabling U.S. citizens to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms. But people on both sides of the gun control issue remain deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. Questions abound for both opponents of gun control and for those who believe that easy access to guns is at the heart of the violent crime problem in America. These questions include: Are these laws doing what they are designed to do? Are gun owners being targeted unnecessarily? Have Americans tragically died from gun violence because of a lack of political will to stand up to the powerful gun lobby?
The answers to these questions differ depending on which side of the debate you are on, but one thing is sure: As mass shootings have surged in recent years, the debate is more urgent than ever for legislators, law enforcement, lobbyists and the American public.
Opponents of Federal, State and Local Gun Control Contend:
The Second Amendment is clearly written, and gun ownership is an American tradition older than the country itself, a tradition as essential to maintaining liberty as the right to free speech. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” is a common saying among opponents of additional gun regulation. Opponents of gun control also argue:
- Gun control laws do not deter crime, gun ownership does.1
- Gun control laws infringe upon the right to self-defense and deny Americans a sense of safety.2 The National Rifle Association is no stranger to this discussion. It once cited a study that said guns are used for self-defense 2.5 million times a year.3
- In many cases, criminals are able to obtain guns from family and friends; certain studies have looked at the ability of criminals to obtain guns even when stringent laws are in place.
- Gun control is yet one more example of government overreach that leaves citizens powerless and opens up opportunities for tyranny. The fear of expanded government powers is also central to this debate.
Proponents of New or Enhanced Gun Regulation Contend:
Bearing arms is not a fundamental right. Rather, the Second Amendment reflects societal conditions in the U.S. more than two hundred years ago. The nation’s founders mistrusted standing armies and preferred relying on civilian militias whose members provided their own weapons during sudden invasions. Additionally, Americans depended on guns for hunting. Lastly, no automatic weapons existed when America was founded. Proponents also contend:
- More gun control laws would reduce gun deaths, including suicides. Guns were the leading cause of death by homicide and suicide between 1999 and 2013.4
- More gun control would better protect women from abusers and stalkers. A woman’s risk of being murdered increases 500 percent if a gun is present.5
- Guns are rarely used in self-defense. In fact, of the millions of violent crimes committed between 2007 and 2011, less than one percent of victims in nonfatal incidents reported protecting themselves with a firearm.6
Criminologists have conducted studies on the efficacy of gun control measures in preventing violent crime for decades, ever since the issue came to prominence in the 1960s. Their conclusions are often cited by lawmakers on both sides of this emotionally charged debate.
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