Sunday, July 22, 2012

It Doesn’t Take Common Sense to Know...that the United States Needs Stricter Gun Control Regulations

I need to start by saying that I did not write this post. It was written by a very good friend of mine who, I consider to be one of if not the smartest person that I know. The tragic and unfortunate massacre that happened in Colorado over the weekend only emphasizes the point, that something needs to get done about gun control in the United States. I am not saying that we need to get rid of guns or take away guns, I am just simply saying that it shouldn't take massacres for this topic to make its way into the public arena. This is not a topic that should be addressed strictly with opinions and there needs to be a high level of common sense and knowledge, so I requested that my friend Paul, write what he thinks about gun control. I dare you to try and argue with him when it comes to this topic. If anyone understands how use common sense to solve real world issues its Paul.

It Doesn’t Take Common Sense to Know...That the United States Needs Stricter Gun Control Regulations

by: Paul DeFranco
It’s one of those issues that nobody wants to touch – a taboo topic for politicians and one that is quietly regarded as “bad politics” by our representatives on both sides of the aisle. Attempts to broach the topic by politically-minded individuals, regardless of the forum, quickly devolve into fundamental arguments concerning our second amendment rights and personal freedom. However, at least once every few years, the issue explodes into the national spotlight in horrifically tragic form – most recently, through the actions of a lone gunman in Aurora, Colorado at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises.

The process of crafting and implementing gun control regulations is often viewed as an extremely difficult undertaking due to the power of competing interests within our society. In dealing with regulations on a national level, our representatives have attempted to balance the demands of conservatively minded citizens in the rural geographic regions of the United States with the more socially liberal populations of urban centers. Furthermore, one of the most powerful lobbying groups on Capitol Hill, the National Rifle Association (NRA)[1], has repeatedly launched campaigns against critical gun control measures in Congress (such as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994) and regularly pressures elected representatives to vote favorably for their platform. State regulations are also wildly varied and add a layer of complexity to the national debate; many jurisdictions have established laws that are even more lax than federal regulations, and while this does not prevent citizens of those states from being prosecuted under federal law, state and local authorities have no obligation to uphold those laws.[2]
James Brady, shot after an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan
Federal gun control regulations have taken a number of forms over the course of the past few decades – the most modern and pertinent of these being the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act (1993) and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994). The Brady Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, established a mandatory federal background check for all citizens attempting to purchase a firearm through a federally licensed firearms dealer or manufacturer. The mandatory background check prevented individuals with certain risk factors from obtaining firearms – primarily those with a criminal record, outstanding arrest warrant, or history of mental illness or drug abuse. However, perhaps partially due to the decision in Printz v. United States (1997) which stated that the federal government could not compel state or local authorities to perform the mandatory background checks, individuals have rarely been prosecuted for violations of the Act’s provisions.[3]

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994), also passed during the Clinton Administration, aimed at restricting the distribution and sale of certain semi-automatic weapons (fully automatic weapons have been effectively “banned” since the passage of the Hughes Amendment in 1986). In particular, the AWB regulated those weapons which featured “large capacity ammunition feeding devices,” and any combination of bayonet mounts, telescoping stocks, pistol grips, muzzle devices, barrel shrouds, or flash suppressors. However, the bill was widely perceived as ineffective because these standards could be met by cosmetic alterations that do not change the core functionality of the weapons. Under pressure from the NRA and a general unwillingness to offend supporters in rural areas, Congress allowed the AWB to expire in 2004. Although numerous attempts have been made to renew the AWB, such measures have failed without extensive debate. 

Unfortunately, even with a less polarized and more effective Congress, it would be difficult to remedy the plague of gun violence with action solely on the national level. According to two recent court cases, District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the Second Amendment firmly establishes an individual right to bear arms and applies that right to the states under the due process clause. While this is important in that it resolves a long-standing debate concerning the meaning of the “right to bear arms,” gun control regulations do not necessarily prevent law-abiding citizens from owning or bearing arms. As with any potentially dangerous or destructive activity, the government has a responsibility to protect the public from avoidable harm. The enforcement of certain measures, such as more stringent background investigations, mandatory waiting periods, and carefully maintained state firearm registries, could take place without infringing upon an individual’s right to gun ownership while still protecting the public from reasonable harm. Furthermore, the regulation and monitoring of certain firearms and related materials, such as the semi-automatic weapons and ballistic gear that was used by James Holmes in Aurora, could have granted the authorities enough time to recognize a pattern of suspicious and potentially violent behavior. 

The loose regulation of firearms in many states has also rendered stricter regulations in states such as New York less effective due to black market interstate gun trade. It has been clearly shown that lax government regulation of firearms in certain states has resulted in increased violence in those states with more restrictive gun regulations due to the trafficking of firearms purchased legally in other states. In a recent Newsday article, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota claimed that “We have great laws in New York State… but if the guns are coming from other states into the hands of people illegally, we can't do anything about that.”[4] In response to Suffolk’s active black market, the police force has commissioned a special team of officers to take these weapons off the street one case at a time. In many cases, it is shown that these guns were purchased legally and then sold for criminal use in more restrictive jurisdictions.

Many individuals who support looser gun control regulations also claim that firearm possession is a strong deterrent against those who would commit crimes. At first review, this argument does seem to make sense – if guns will be obtained by criminals regardless of state regulations, then why should law-abiding citizens be prevented from carrying weapons? However, gun control regulations rarely infringe upon this right – even highly restrictive states, such as New York, allow concealed carry of pistols with a permit in most jurisdictions.[5] Furthermore, few studies have been published to support the argument that lawful gun ownership by peaceful citizens is a deterrent to crime. While an often cited 1993 study conducted by Gary Kleck claimed that approximately 2.5 million crimes are thwarted each year by the use of a gun in self defense, equally reputable studies have claimed a much lower rate – perhaps up to ten times lower, according to Dr. David Hemenway of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center – and have questioned the methodology that Kleck employed.[6] With such questionable studies to back their arguments, “guns for self-defense” advocates have little hard data to back their claims. 

It doesn’t take common sense to know that this country needs more restrictive gun control regulations. These regulations may not be implemented overnight or with complete uniformity, but so long as firearms are loosely regulated in a large number of U.S. jurisdictions, the illegal interstate traffic of weapons and the purchase of dangerous firearms for criminal purposes will remain steady or gradually increase. However, even in light of the recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado and similar incidents which have caught the public’s attention, it may come to pass that not even a series of horrendous tragedies will be enough to sway the public’s opinion or that of our elected representatives. It’s a disheartening fact to recognize, when just a few common sense solutions could start us on the road to safer streets. 

[2] Printz v. United States (1997) 
[3] Implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act," Report to the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, and the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives, GAO/GGD-96-22 Gun Control, January 1996, pp. 8, 45 
[5] New York Pistol Permit Bureau. July 2012.
[6] Do guns save lives? Ed Magnuson. Time. (June 24, 2001),9171,152446,00.html
The incidence of defensive firearm use by US crime victims, 1987 through 1990. D McDowall and B Wiersema. (December, 1994)
Gun use in the United States: results from two national surveys. D Hemenway, D Azrael, and M Miller. (December, 2000)

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