Friday, November 30, 2012

Guns in America

Guns in America:

The Vital Importance of Strengthening Gun Control in the United States

by Lady Rhiannon

 Gun laws and gun controls are far too weak in the Unites States, and the federal government needs to instill and enforce federal regulations to make gun purchases and ownership safer.  Gun control is not a threat to our freedom, and no reasonable group is calling for guns to be taken away from sane, responsible citizens, but logical changes need to be made. The United States has the highest per capita rate and the highest sheer number of gun deaths and murders in the world, but better laws can change that (Violence Policy Center 2010).  Many people are not aware of how weak gun control laws are in the United States. Over 60% of all murders in the Unites states are committed with firearms. Research shows that the implementation of stronger gun control laws leads to restricted availability to criminals and would-be criminals, and reduces the number of gun deaths, murders, and other felony use (National Criminal Justice Reference Service 1994).  Unfortunately, propaganda and misinformation has been presented to the public by the NRA and weapons manufactures, and their congressional lobbying keeps the pressure on politicians to avoid implementing new federal or state weapons restrictions and regulations (Marty and Sugarmann 2012).
From a global perspective our gun laws are extremely sparse and  loose. Finland has relatively relaxed gun laws in comparison with the rest of Europe; even a fifteen year old can get a gun with parental consent (Associated Press 2008). However, Unlike the United States, Finland has federal regulations requiring gun licensing for owners, as well as gun registration requirements. In Finland approximately 50% of households have guns, while in the United States in 2002, only 41% of household had guns. In spite of that, Finland’s per capita death rate (6.65 per 100,000 people) was less than half that of the country that came in first place for the highest gun death rate in the world with 13.47, which was the United States of America (Public Broadcasting Station 2002).

The United States of America has more guns than any other country in the world. Even though the percentage of known gun owners and households with guns has fallen by about ten percent in the last decade, many gun owners hoard and collect a huge number of guns. A 2004 National Firearms Survey study found that 20% of gun owners own about 65% of the nation's guns. Also, in 2007 the U.N's Office on Drugs and Crime found that the United States owns 50% of the world's guns, despite being only 5% of the world’s population (Brennan, 2012). So fewer people now own a greater number of guns.

In 2007, 3,007 children died as a result of a firearm. 2,186 of those deaths were deemed homicides, while most of the others were deemed either accidents or suicides (National MCH Center for Child Death Review 2007). There were 127,521 known cases of robbery with a firearm reported in 2010 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That number is approximately six times the number of robberies committed with a knife or by “other means” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2011). Also in 2010, there were 12,996 convicted cases of murder in the United States and 8,775 of them were committed with a firearm (FBI 2010).

  The number of murders committed with a gun dwarfs in comparison to the number for all known cases of gun deaths, including accidents, suicides, murders, and homicides not legally considered murder. In 2009 there were 31,347 people in total in the United States who died as a result of a firearm. That is a per capita rate of 10.2 people out of every 100,000 in the population, which is coming close to the motor vehicle death rate of 11.2 (Center for Disease Control 2012).  One argument against gun control has been that cars kill more people each year than guns do, but stronger traffic laws, car safety regulations, and continued testing and licensing requirements account for a steady decline in highway fatalities. Now gun deaths outnumber car fatalities in ten states including Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Michigan (Sugermann 2012).  

Cars are usually necessary for daily adult functioning, while guns are not. A gun’s sole purpose is to maim and kill, while a car’s primary purpose is for transportation. More cars are used on a more constant basis than guns, so the ratio of gun fatalities to gun owners is significantly higher than the ratio of car fatalities to car owners. About 90% of Americans have a car, leading the world in car ownership (Auckland, 2007), while only 32% of households own guns, according to a 2011 study  done by The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center (Brennan, 2012). Still the number of people who die in car wrecks is almost equal to those who die from gunshots. 

We license people to drive through safety tests, road tests, eye exams, and a background check. To drive a car you need insurance and your car has to be registered with a visible serial number and license plates. We also have traffic laws for every situation faced on the streets and highways. Yet we do not bear the same legal or socially cautious regard for deadly weapons. Thirty-four states in this country do not require a state license to buy, own, or use a firearm. Only Sixteen states require state licensing, including Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and California. These states experience a significantly lower per capita gun death rate than the states with the fewest gun laws (Violence Policy Center 2010). The only states that require a permit to purchase all firearms are Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, and New York (“Brady Campaign 2011 Scorecards”, 2011). Arkansas, Wyoming, and Arizona do not even require a permit to carry a concealed weapon in public (“Gun Laws”, 2012).

Most states, including Florida, Texas, Ohio, Montana, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Arizona do not have any laws regarding record keeping, theft report mandates, purchase limits, storage security requirements, store inspections, background checks, safety training, or licensing; of these things Mississippi only has record keeping requirements for store owners, but that does not apply to independent sellers online or at gun shows. Only California, Maryland, and New Jersey have and enforce all of the laws just mentioned. Rhode Island, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, and California are the only states with safety training or testing requirements of any kind. Florida is unique in that it is the only state which currently has a gag law placed on doctors. This law forbids doctors from asking patients if they own a firearm, or to educate their patients on proper gun safety or the possible dangers of owning and using a gun (“Brady Campaign 2011 Scorecards”, 2011).

One common misconception is that gun laws will not have an impact on crime, as criminals will always find access to weapons, but this is not the case. According to an academic study performed by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “In the five year period before enactment of the Federal Assault Weapons Act (1990-1994), assault weapons named in the Act constituted 4.82% of the crime gun traces ATF conducted nationwide. Since the law’s enactment, however, these assault weapons have made up only 1.61% of the guns ATF has traced to crime—a drop of 66% from the pre-ban rate. Moreover, ATF trace data show a steady year-by-year decline in the percentage of assault weapons traced, suggesting that the longer the statute has been in effect, the less available these guns have become for criminal misuse." (Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence 2004)

The states that have the most gun laws in the Unites States, such as licensing requirements, consistently experience a lower rate of gun deaths within that state. In 2009, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut had the lowest per capita gun death rates in the United States. Massachusetts was lowest in the country at 3.14 and Connecticut was highest among these five at 4.92. All the aforementioned states are some of the few states with enforced gun laws including permit and licensing requirements (“Brady Campaign 2011 Scorecards”, 2011). Louisiana, Wyoming, Alabama, Montana, and Mississippi have very few gun laws and have the highest per capita gun death rates in the country. According to 2009 numbers, Louisiana rated highest in the country at 18.03 and Mississippi rated 16.5 deaths per 100,000 people (Violence Policy Center 2010).

Mourners visit memorials for Aurora victims.
Also, many fatal gun crimes are committed by those who purchased the weapons in a legal manner, or acquired them from friends or relatives who did. James Holmes, the shooter from Aurora, CO, purchased all of his weapons legally without a background check, purchase registration, or permit. He bought an assault rifle, a shotgun, two handguns, 6,000 rounds of ammunition, and a 100 round magazine. He was wearing a bullet proof vest, and he had smoke grenades, 350 shells for his 12-gauge shotgun, and a gas mask (Healy, July 2012). He killed 12 people and injured 58 others, he could have killed many others but his clip jammed and he had to switch to a slower weapon. Ammunition is especially easy to acquire in large amounts online. There are no laws requiring records to be kept for ammunition sales except in New Jersey and Washington D.C. (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence 2012). Only a few states like Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey, and a few cities, enforce limitations on ammunition purchases, and at least require permits for buyers or licenses for sellers (Healy 2012).

The Second Amendment is an important right, but even the First Amendment does not give a person rights to spread libel and slander about others, and you are not allowed to enter into a crowded theater and shout fire either. With all rights there are responsibilities and exceptions to those rights. The second amendment also does not exclude the premise of regulation as the amendment precisely states, “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 qualifier of militia is “well-regulated” (Cornell Law School, 2012). The founding fathers could also never have predicted the advances in technology that have produced exponentially deadly weapons capable of killing dozens and even hundreds of people at one time.

We need licensing requirements for owning and using any type of fire arm. Getting that license should take at least as much effort as earning a driver’s license. Getting a license should require safety training, range tests, eye exams, a mental health analysis, and background checks.  Background checks should be required for dealers as well, and all gun sales need to be registered as all car sales are. Registration would make it easier to track guns back to the original owner, and even if the gun was stolen, investigators would get one step closer to apprehending the real offender. We also need to reinstate the assault weapons ban because that has already been shown to reduce the number of deaths and crimes involving assault weapons (BCPGV 2004). Laws such as these are part of the reason countries in Europe and Canada enjoy a lower rate of gun deaths and gun violence, but still a great portion of households in these countries are secure gun owners (PBS 2002).

Even gun owning Americans, when asked about specific gun control issues, agree with basic, common sense gun control laws. According to a poll of 945 gun owners, including NRA members, 87% of gun owners are in favor of criminal background checks for buyers and owners, and 80% are in favor for background checks for shop employees as well. Seventy-one Percent of gun owners polled and 64 percent of NRA members would be in favor of a mandate for people to report when their gun is stolen. Eighty-four percent of gun owners support permits and safety requirements for carrying concealed weapons, and most of them support a 21 year age minimum as well (Beauchamp 2012). Yet many people still have a generally negative visceral reaction to the general, abstract concept of gun control and gun laws.

The main reason that we don’t have stricter gun control laws, like most of the rest of the first world countries do, is because of a concerted effort on part of the gun manufacturers and retailers to prevent such things from happening. Since 2005, corporations have contributed up to 52.6 million dollars to the NRA and up to 38.9 million of that came directly from the firearms industry. Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre promised at the time that his new Corporate Partners Program was designed to suit and appease corporate interests in order to create a strong alliance. Many weapons manufacturers hold powerful places of authority within the NRA itself, and both the National Rifle Association's investors and board members are committed to an uncompromising resistance to even the most conservative gun control laws (Marty and Sugarmann 2012).

NRA Board Member Pete Brownell, and owner of Brownells, “the world’s largest supplier of firearms accessories and gun-smithing tools,” said this on his website after making it on that board committee of the NRA: "Having [NRA] directors who intimately understand and work in leadership positions within the firearms industry ensures the NRA's focus is honed on the overall mission of the organization. These individuals bring a keen sense of the industry and of the bigger fight to the table". MidwayUSA founder Larry Potterfield, created what is called the NRA Round-Up program, which allows buyers to “round-up” their purchase to the nearest dollar with the difference going to the NRA. This amounted to over five million dollars that went to the NRA legal branch for lobbying costs. MidwayUSA, a very lucrative ammunition, gun, and weapons supply company, also served as “the Official Sponsor of the NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits” for two years in a row. There are 22 corporate "partners" in what is known as the "Ring of Freedom" including,  Arsenal, Inc., Benelli, Beretta USA Corporation, Browning, DPMS Panther Arms, Doug Turnbull Restoration, Inc., and many others including 12 who make assault weapons (Marty and Sugarmann 2012).

The National Rifle Association represents itself as a representative for the average American gun owner, but in reality they receive most of their funding from large scale weapons manufacturers and companies involved with the sale of firearms, and their interests are in corporate profit. These contributors seek to make the biggest profit possible by selling as many weapons and as much ammunition as possible. They have a deep incentive to make sure that weapon accessibility remains easy and legal. So these corporations align themselves with the NRA by funding almost their entire organization so that the NRA can better fight any impending legislation against weapons, both in the courts and in the media (Marty and Sugarmann 2012).

There is an inordinately high amount of gun deaths and violence in the United States. It is shocking how few laws exist in this country in most states, and it is irresponsible for such deadly weapons to go so unregulated. Gun laws are a logical, affective method of reducing gun deaths and gun crimes without violating the rights of responsible American people to bear arms if they so choose. Unfortunately, misinformation and corporate lobbying prevent most gun regulations from passing into laws. Therefore, it is imperative that the public be educated with the facts, in hopes that the informed masses can put pressure on the legislators to pass laws in spite of corporate opposition; ultimately it is up to the people to make a difference. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has (Lutkehaus 2008)”. It is our safety and security, and the security of our civilization that is at stake.

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Works Cited

“America’s Ammunition Crisis: Few Laws Exist to Prevent Purchases by Dangerous People Online and in Stores.” Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 30 July. 2012.  Retrieved 9-10-2012 from <>

Associated Press. “Facts and Figures about Finland’s Gun Culture”. 2008. 23 Sept. Retrieved 10-27-2012 from <>

Auckland. “Americans Leads the World in Car Ownership”. 2007. May 27.  Retrieved 10-27-2012 from <>

Beauchamp, Zack. “NRA Members Agree: More Gun Regulation Makes Sense”. Think Progress. 24 July. 2012. Retrieved 10-1-2012 from <> 

 “Brady Campaign 2011 Scorecards.” Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. (2011). Retrieved 10-1-2012 from <>

Brennan, A. “Analysis: Fewer U.S. Gun Owners Own More Guns”. 2012. 31 July. Retrieved 10-27-2012 from <>

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“Gun Laws”. NRA Institute for Legislative Action. (2012). Retrieved 10-4-2012 from <> 

Healy, Jack. “Suspect Bought Large Stockpile of Rounds Online.” New York Times. 22 July. 2012. Retrieved 9-30-2012 from <>

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Lutkehaus, Nancy C. “Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon”. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (2008). p. 261.

Marty, L., and Sugarmann, J. “Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA.”  Violence Policy Center. (2011). Retrieved 10-4-2012 from <>

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Sugermann, Josh. “Gun Deaths Exceed Motor Vehicle Deaths in 10 States. “ Huffington Post. 22 May. 2012. Retrieved 10-4-2012 <>

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