HEAD2HEAD: Gun regulations in the US

For – Emma Rodgers

Nothing will change if gun laws stay the same. Americans deserve to be safe, but bearing arms does more harm than good

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012, everyone hoped that such an event would never happen again, but it did. In fact, those of us between the ages of 18 and 22 have now been alive for four of the five deadliest mass shootings in American history. In all of that time, nothing has changed. If anything, more laws are being proposed which would make shootings easier and deadlier than the Las Vegas shooting; the motion to make silencers more easily obtainable, for instance.

After every shooting, we find the country coming together in shock and horror to ask:  “How can we fix this?” But we are inevitably torn apart when the topic of gun control arises. While many would agree that there needs to be strict gun control laws and regulations, others feel it is a violation of their second amendment rights.

When the US Constitution was written 230 years ago, there were no semi-automatic rifles. There were guns which took 15 minutes to load and could only fire a few rounds at a time. Back then, everyone owned guns because the world was different, the culture was different, the time was different. There had just been a revolutionary war fought by local militias and the common man army. The need to protect oneself was different from what it is today, and would often necessitate the use of guns.

Accordingly, the US Constitution’s second amendment 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.” The key part here is “a well regulated Militia”; most gun owners in the US, with a few exceptions, are not part of an organised militia.

In 2018 there is no need for an organised militia, and therefore no need for American citizens to own semi-automatic rifles in the name of self-protection. Often, when guns are used in response to crimes such as robbery, they escalate what could be a non-lethal situation to one involving fatalities.

Instead of a country in which guns have allowed citizens to protect themselves from threats, the danger posed by firearms is more prevalent than ever. The United States has the highest rate of gun violence compared with other high income countries, and it is the country with the most firearms per 100 people (averaging 89 firearms per 100 people) according to a recent CNN article. It is also the country with the most mass shootings; a person in the US is more likely to be killed in a mass shooting committed by a white male than by an extremist terrorist group.

Compared to other high-income countries, the United States also has the highest rate of gun-related deaths. In the context of global rates, it is not exceedingly far behind countries like El Salvador, which has the highest rate of gun-related homicide in the world at over 90 deaths per 100,000 people, and Honduras at 67. The US rate is estimated at 10.6 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people.

There is no reason why today’s Americans should own guns. The most reasonable step towards tighter gun control laws would be to put heavy regulations on guns. Extensive background checks, serious questioning around the intended use of the gun, and clear rules about when and where the gun may be used.

Stephen Paddock had at least 23 guns in his hotel room before he carried out the massacre in Las Vegas. We need limits on how many guns a person can own, and what kind of guns can be owned. No American needs a silencer or a bump stock. No one needs a semi-automatic rifle or any other kind of assault rifle. There also need to be open- or concealed-carry laws which dictate that no one may carry a gun in public. Unless you are a police officer or another official licensed to carry a gun, you should not be walking around with one.

Unfortunately, many Americans understand the threat of gun control laws to mean that all guns will be taken away. This is an idea perpetuated by the National Rifle Association (NRA) during the Obama administration. Gun control laws would likely not mean taking away every gun, but instead see the government buying back semi-automatic rifles and pulling semi-automatic and self-loading rifles from the shelves at stores. A similar policy, the National Firearms Agreement, was passed in Australia in 1996, banning the use of most semi-automatic rifles and self-loading rifles. According to a FactCheck analysis of Australian gun control, the ban resulted in a constant decline of gun-related homicides in the following years.

Yet there remains a large group of people who do not see the correlation between mass shootings and gun control laws. The enduring argument against gun control is still “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”. But this is exactly why we need gun control: because almost any person who wants to buy a gun can buy a gun. This includes people with undiagnosed mental illnesses, whose conditions are used to explain away shootings.  This age-old “it’s not the gun but the person holding it”defense allows unstable individuals to buy assault weapons and commit acts of disproportionate violence every day. Yes, people kill people. But guns allow people to kill people in a faster and easier way.

We are living in unprecedented times. This problem has not been seen on this enormous, distinctly American scale before. And it is true that we cannot fix what happened in Vegas; what is done is done and we cannot undo it. But we can try everything in our power to prevent it from happening again, because as it stands, there will be another mass shooting next month, and the month after that, and the month after that — unless gun laws change.

Against – Kevin O’Rourke

Are we missing the target? Criticism of lax gun regulations may be misplaced

Your Facebook feed will probably have featured a few videos and infographics about what happened when the Australian government confiscated everyone’s guns. You might have seen an old John Oliver segment about Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. Between 1996 and 1997, the Australian federal government “bought back” and destroyed over 600,000 weapons. You might have heard people say that the rate of murders involving firearms fell sharply once there weren’t as many firearms around. The rate of murders involving firearms fell sharply.

Hopefully that sentence raises a massive red flag in your head. There are eight words in it when there should only be six. Why would someone have to include the words “involving firearms”? Surely the sudden reduction in the number of firearms floating around had to have an effect on the rate of murder in general.

As it turns out, it didn’t. The murder rate in Australia stayed the same. The missing gun murders were replaced on a roughly one-to-one basis with murders using knives or other sharp instruments. Similarly, the rate of suicides using firearms fell. The rate of suicide did not. Tragically, those suicidal Australians who no longer had the means to shoot themselves ended up performing some other act of fatal, self-directed violence. Other violent crimes in Australia became more likely. Robbery immediately skyrocketed, rising almost 50% in the five years after the gun amnesty, before gradually falling back down. Assaults have been going up 5% year-on-year since the early ‘90s.

If I showed you a graph of Australia’s murder rates over time without the years labelled, you would not be able to point out 1996 as the start of a precipitous drop. You wouldn’t be able to do it with suicide rates. You wouldn’t be able to do it with assaults. Ironically, when you look at rates of robbery, 1996 is glaringly obvious. It’s when robbery starts going through the roof. Maybe you’d be slower to rob a random civilian if you thought they might blow your head off.

Handguns were largely banned in the UK in 1997 and the murder rate went up dramatically over the next five years. Other violent crimes became more common as well. The numbers have since come back down, possibly related to a huge increase in the number of police between 2000 and 2010. Why would the editor of John Oliver’s nightly schlock try to mislead viewers so blatantly? Why would Vox, The Atlantic, and the Guardian all have published articles in the last number of days praising Australia’s gun laws and gushing over the reduced rate of “firearm deaths” as if being strangled or stabbed somehow doesn’t count?

The writers of articles like that don’t care about telling the truth. They don’t care about how many people actually get killed. They don’t care about finding ways to reduce the likelihood that the average person will be murdered. Only two things matter. The first is looking virtuous. The second is making America’s conservatives look bad. For some reason, this motivates people on our side of the Atlantic just as much as on the other. Maybe we’re hoping the US will become just like Europe some day, and that’ll prove we were smarter all along.

If you cast the NRA as a cartoon villain and then berate it for its complicity in all forms of American death, you get all the compassion and wisdom points for no real effort. The USA is a vast country. The variation within it, from sea to shining sea, is far beyond that of any other developed nation. It is not good enough to point out that “America”, as one big blob, has a murder rate a lot higher than Ireland, Australia or the UK. It is not good enough to assume it’s just because they have guns.

New Hampshire effectively has no gun laws. New Hampshire has the lowest murder rate in the USA, a tiny bit lower than ours in Ireland. Seriously. I was shocked too. If we take each state as an independent entity (as, I am led to believe, was the original plan) there is a range from New Hampshire’s 1 murder per 100,000 inhabitants per year to Louisiana’s 10 and Washington DC’s 14. When all the states are analysed together, no correlation is found between restrictions on gun ownership and murder rates. No correlation is found between guns per capita and murder rates.

A deeply troubling fact is that the overall murder rate among African-Americans is about eight times higher than for Caucasian and Hispanic Americans. Whites and Hispanics get murdered at about a rate of 2.5 per 100,000. That’s a bit high, about 25% higher than Belgium. Among African-Americans, the rate is over 19. That’s about halfway between Mexico and Brazil. I cannot tell you why that is, but it isn’t because African-Americans have easier access to guns. What I can tell you is that it’s a lot easier for the Democratic Party and left-wing media outlets to demonise the NRA than it is for them to take an honest look at cities that the Democrats have run for the last 60 years and ask why they have fallen to bits. But what about all the mass shootings?

Again, if you treat ‘America’ as just another country like Spain or France, it seems crazy that someone seems to do this kind of thing once a year. The USA is not another country like Spain or France. It contains 320 million people spread over a vast area. If we’re comparing mass casualty events, we have to do so across similar numbers of people. The distance between Sandy Hook and Las Vegas is roughly the same as that between London and Jerusalem. If you take the first 12 countries to join the EU, you get 380 million people. Remove Italy and you have 320 million. Mandalay Bay, Pulse Nightclub, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook together account for fewer deaths than one night in Paris in 2015. San Bernardino, Fort Hood, the New York Immigrant Center, the Washington Navy Yard, Aurora, and Columbine, combined, are overshadowed by one man and a truck in Nice. Then there’s the van in Barcelona, the bomb in Manchester, the Berlin Christmas market, the Brussels bombings, the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the Madrid train bombings, and the 2005 London bombings.

Mass killing is not the same as the average murder. It is not often a crime of passion and requires careful planning. The motivations are totally different and the methods vary wildly. The IRA and UVF traded car bombs. Anders Breivik used a rifle. ISIS use anything and everything. The USA has a murder problem but it isn’t just a matter of guns. The USA has a mass shooting problem in the same way as the original EC12 have a bomb and truck problem.

Why people decide to wreak as much death and destruction on those around them is the question. We won’t get any closer to an answer by blaming inanimate objects.