Gun control is one of the most controversial issues in the United States today. The topic of gun control is a debate between the gun rights lobby and a variety of gun control activists. The stance of these two groups is usually diametrically opposed. The pro-gun lobby refuses to compromise and those in favor of control and regulation of firearms have different agendas leading to a wide variety of proposed laws and policies (DeGrazia, 2014).
The proponents of gun control often argue that the widespread possession and use of firearms increases the danger of suicides and homicides. High levels of gun related mortality and injury have been cited as the primary impetus for gun control. Opponents of restrictions on firearms believe that gun control laws do not decrease the chances of murder, suicide, or gun-related injuries. Pro-gun activists view any gun control regulation as an infringement on the rights of people and society (Soraghan, 2000; Wohlers, 2013).
The question of whether or not gun control policies are a viable threat to gun ownership is yet unanswered. Despite the several research studies carried out over a lengthy time period conclude that data on the subject is still problematic. However, a recent study of more than twenty-one nations found that there is a definite correlation between gun ownership and gun-related injuries (Moorhouse et al, 2006).
Gun control policies vary dramatically between countries with some nations enforcing many laws and regulations regarding the ownership, manufacturing, sale, and use of firearms. In Europe, for example, guns are tightly regulated where as in the United States there are few restrictions and guns are widely available (D’Agostino, 2000; Esposito et al 2014).
The ideas and framework for policy evaluation as delineated by Deborah Stone in Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making is useful in analyzing gun control policies (Stone, 2002). Four constructs are used in this framework. These constructs are used to explain how political policy reasoning is often quite different from what scholars and others consider rational, logical reasoning.
When examing using the first construct of policy paradox, gun control laws, and regulations in the United States are revealed as largely motivated by politics rather than rational reasoning. This is one reason that gun control is such a controversial topic in America, because the National Rifle Association (NRA), a political lobby group with great power and little logic offers pro-gun reason that promote their goal using fear and innuendo in order to achieve the impractical goal of unlimited guns for everyone (Levs 2013).
Model of Reasoning
Opposing the NRA and other pro-gun lobbyists is an amorphous group of people and organizations that point up the devastation caused by the lax gun laws in the United States. These groups suffer from a lack of cohesion and systematically defined goals. They all arrive at similar conclusions in regards to the need to regulation firearms in the United States, however the multiplicity of their perspectives results in little or convoluted policy proposals.
Josh Levs discussion in “Loaded Language Poisons Gun Debate” points up how both sides in the gun control debate resort to such emotional appeals and appear to have no middle ground whatsoever. Because neither side in the policy debate is using rational arguments or even speaking the same language, the debates storms along via the media with little being accomplished in terms of policy-making. As David DeGrazia points out in his article, “The case for moderate gun control” the pro-gun lobby in the United States reacts with illogical and unfounded arguments against any sort of gun ownership regulations, even moderate ones (DeGrazia 2014).
The NRA for example does not want limits placed on gun use and ownership even as it relates to children, mentality ill person, or people with criminal records. Furthermore, the NRA and other gun enthusiasts see no reason that people, including children, should not be allowed to own and operate machine guns. This stance was made clear after a 9-year-old girl in the United States lost control of her Uzi submachine gun during a shooting lesson and sprayed the area with bullets, killing, of all people, her shooting instructor.
Another tragic incident of a child attempting to control an automatic weapon in the United States involved an 8-year old boy. The boy died when he lost control of a 9-millimeter Uzi, sprayed bullets, and shot himself in the head (McGee & Santosaug, 2014). After both incidents, the pro-gun lobby loudly proclaimed that there should not be regulations against children using firearms simply because of a couple of instances in which children mishandled the weapons. For gun aficionados, freedom of gun ownership overrides public wellbeing and safety concerns.
Model of Society
The second construct as it plays out in the gun control debate, particularly in the United States, is one that demonstrates how self-interested NRA and pro-gun lobbyists design their arguments. Pro-gun supporters exploit the idea that gun control would circumvent and eventually eliminate personal freedom and individual rights. These self-styled gun rights supporters maintain that gun control would lead to the installation of a fascist and/or totalitarian regime takeover of the country (Goss, 2004).
The NRA invokes the demons of Hitler and Nazis, claiming that gun control supporters would force citizens to wear nametags. Even the most minor legislation proposed in regards to gun control is portrayed as a means by which authorities would confiscate all privately owned weapons (Goss, 2004). The NRA tends to be populated by men and women who adhere to a hyper-masculinized version of American culture, they detest groups, and individuals who propose gun control, inhering that those groups are filled with sissified males and weak females.
Women’s groups that advocate for gun ownership regulations and ownership requirements are referred to as “Commie Mommies” who favor totalitarian measures and are unpatriotic (Goss, 2004, p. 682). Contrasted with the individual rights adherents are groups such as is are women’s coalitions who subscribe to the “polis model of society is defined by community, in which collective groups act both in public and self-interest” (Stone, 2002). The lobby group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was one of many women’s organizations that flew into action after the 2012 Newton school massacre in the United States, which left 27 children and teachers dead.
The paradox of the policy stance of Moms Demand Action, for example, is that the group declares it will fight the NRA using common sense (Follman, 2014). This is another example of how the opposing sides of the gun debate are not speaking the same language, the NRA Is not promoting common sense.
The NRA is promoting fear. Many NRA members are motivated to support pro-gun collective action and rhetoric simply out of loyalty to the group, enthusiasm for their guns, or because they are someway making a profit off the sale of weapons. Groups like Moms Demand Action are motivated to accomplish social change through enlightenment and education after which they believe common sense will prevail. However, what these women’s coalitions have failed to comprehend is signified by the pro-gun lobbyists who label them “Commie Mommies” (Goss, 2004, p. 682).
Model of Policy Making
One viewpoint regarding gun control policy-making is that the regulations should be based on rational and logical decisions. Gun control advocates issue a stream of data demonstrating that where there is less gun control there are more gun-related crimes, injuries, and deaths. To them then the conclusion is obvious, increased gun control is a positive step. This type of reasoning assumes that politicians and lawmakers create public policy using “a fairly orderly sequence of stages” (Stone, 2002, p.10).
If gun controls laws were indeed based on a rational analysis of the harm done by guns then the debate would be almost over. If gun controls laws and gun control advocates had clear and consistent goals, then the political debate would be more coherent. However, pro-gun lobbyists do not view increased more gun-related crimes, injuries, and deaths as being more important than the right to own firearms. Gun control advocates do not all have the same goals.
The result of these different valuations is that policy-making debates degenerate to a battle of philosophies, values, ideas, categories, and minutia. The end result is a disorganized and ineffective process, which for all intents and purposes leave the status quo unchanged. One element that compounds the problem is the many different categories of guns and firearms as well as the wide variety of proposals for gun control. When opinions are so diverse, it is difficult if not impossible to develop shared objectives and move forward with collective action.
According to Moms in Arms, after the Newton shootings legislators in the states of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and New York all passed legislation designed to stop gun sellers from avoiding customer background checks. Within weeks of making background checks mandatory in Colorado, over 160 convicted felons, domestic abusers, and others who are automatically banned from purchasing firearms were denied sales. The states of Washington and Wisconsin, policy-makers and lawmakers joined together with citizen groups to pass laws that prohibit persons convicted of domestic violence from purchasing and owning weapons (Follman, 2014).
While preventing persons known to have a predilection for violence and unlawful behaviors seems like a positive result to groups such as Moms in Arms, it is viewed in the negative by the NRA. To the NRA, whether a person is law-abiding or not does not matter, everyone has the right to be a gun owner. This demonstrates how complicated a debate without common definitions, objectives, and solutions can become.
The fact that right and wrong are contextual, even dynamic concepts leads to an argument between gun enthusiast and pro-control advocates that breaks down because the groups are not speaking the same language and have dramatically diverse and inimical perspectives. The policy paradox that results is one typified by incompatible interpretations and contradictions. On one side is a plethora of gun control proposals and on the other side is a rigid stance against any gun control whatsoever.
Objective and Neutral Standards
The criteria by which lawmakers establish criteria for evaluating gun control policy-making is erroneously assumed to be based on considerations other than political self-interests (Stone, 2002, p.12). Nothing could be more naive or farther from the truth. The groups in favor of policies that restrict and regulate guns see the issue as one of public safety and security. The pro-gun lobby sees the issue as one of personal liberty. Thus, the policy debates are bot about regulations, they are about morality and democratic freedom. This explains why there are no solid solutions to the problem of gun control being discussed in the United States.
The United States gun control debate is not the only debate about firearms regulations in the world. It may, however, be the loudest because of the NRA. Because the gun debate is so polarized in the United States, scholars have looked to other countries in order to evaluate the firearms issues elsewhere. The 2007 mass shooting at the Virginia Tech college campus caught the attention of people around the world (Wohlers, 2013). However, in the United States, the only result was a burst of hysterical rhetoric from the pro-gun lobby that the incident would be used to circumvent constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
A situation much like the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting had occurred in Montreal Canada in 1989 resulting in a complete revamping and creation of a nationwide firearms policy. The Montreal Massacre, as it was dubbed by the press, occurred in the School of Engineering at the University of Montreal. A mentally deranged gunman killed 14 female college students. The gunman entered a campus classroom and separated the men from the women at gunpoint. Then he ordered the women to stand in a line against the wall, firing squad style, and opened fire on them with his semi-automatic rifle (Wohlers, 2013).
The tragedy in Canada caused people there to put ethnic, cultural, and even generational differences aside in order to develop meaningful gun control policies. The United States supplies violent gun-riddled movies, television shows, and video games to countries around the world. Those countries have their share of mentally ill and criminals, but no countries have as high a rate as mass murder by gun as the United States. The reason other countries do not have as much gun-related crime is because they have stricter gun control policies and laws. By comparing the policies of a few other countries, researchers have developed a profile by which to better understand why policy in the United States is so stunted.
Historically Australia has had a lot of guns, almost 3.5 million as of recent reports. Statistics from Australia indicate that that country suffered 30 murders in which the killer used a gun in 2010. Australia has made great strides in passing coherent gun control laws and regulations. However, this change did not occur until after many mass shooting sprees finally wore the pro-gun lobby down to the point of compromise. In fact, it was the 1996 shooting of 58 people at an Australian tourist spot that finally tipped the scale of public opinion and therefore political opinion in favor of gun control (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
In 1996, a gunman who was a mentally ill and filled with rage went on a rampage. He first killing an elderly couple who were on vacation. Then he went and had lunch at a cafe. After lunch he started shooting people in the cafe After shooting multiple cafe diners, he went into a gift shop where he continued to shoot and kill tourists. He moved about freely with his weapon when outside because some people assumed he was simply rabbit hunting. Firearms were so loosely regulated by the Australian authorities at the time that the gun did not register with some people as a potential threat (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
The shooter in fact had multiple guns. The gunman carried ample ammunition, ammunition also not being well regulated in Australia at the time, allowing the gunman to reload. He shot people in a parking lot, in tour buses, and in passing cars. He shot and killed a mother and her two small children. This shooter was well armed and he was relentless. As the day progressed, he went to a gas station and took a hostage whom he later shot to death. Before the gunman was finally stopped, he had shot 58 people, men, women and children, killing 35 of them (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
The 1996 incident was the final straw in the gun control debate in Australia. Politicians and lawmakers bowed to public pressure to pass legislation and regulations on purchasing guns. Even the pro-gun lobby there decided to become agreeable to stricter gun control laws. New regulations in Australia bar private citizens from buying and owning automatic and semi-automatic weapons. In order to purchase a gun there a person must apply, go through a waiting period, and obtain a license. The government instituted a buyback program to encourage people to turn in their automatic and semi-automatic weapons. In order to obtain a license the purchaser must show just cause for owning a weapon. The death by gun rate in Australia has steadily declined and now sits at about 0.13 gun deaths every year per every 100,000 people there (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
In Japan, civilians are barred from owning automatic and semi-automatic weapons, machine guns, handguns, rifles, and swords without a license. The penalties of caught with one of these weapons is severe, up to 10 years in jail. The rate of gun homicides in Japan is one or two deaths per year. The application process to buy a firearm in Japan is extensive. In order to handle someone else’s gun, a person must possess a license. Besides the coursework, there are written tests. An in person mental health interview is conducted at a medical facility and drug tests are administered (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
In Japan, the background check takes the form of a police investigation. Inquiries are made of the applicant’s relatives and any organizations that the applicant may be long to. If the organization is deemed to be too political or too prone to activism, the gun application will be denied. The investigation includes an inspection of the location where the gun is to be stored and where the ammunition is to be stores. If a permit is issued, these storage locations, along with the gun, are inspected yearly. The gun owner is required to maintain their permit by taking classes and tests tri-annually (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
The United Kingdom suffers approximately 0.07 gun homicides per 100,000 people per year. The United States rate of gun-related homicides is 42 times that rate. The United Kingdom has strict gun control policies that are vigorously enforced. For example, there is a prohibition against people owning high-powered guns for personal use including machine guns, pump-action rifles, and semi-automatic weapons. There are also gun size restrictions (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
Another example of successfully negotiated gun policy in the United Kingdom is the requirement that all British citizens who want to buy a firearm must pass a background check. Additionally, all gun owners must possess a valid Firearm Certificate. Requirements to obtain a Firearms Certificate include being at least 15-years of age, having a place to store the firearm that is secure and safe from tampering, and they must have a reason to own a firearm. Additionally, applicants must have two letters of reference. The Firearms Certificate is good for 5 years. Most importantly, anyone who wants to buy a gun must pass a criminal background check. Persons who have been convicted of a crime cannot buy or handle a gun a five-year period. Persons convicted of a crime that resulted in a prison sentence of three years or more are barred for life from owning a gun (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
In Canada, there are approximately 0.5 gun homicides per 100,000 people per year. That rate is much higher than the rate in the United Kingdom; however, it is still 6 times lower that of the United States. The higher rate of gun deaths in Canada compared to the United Kingdom correlates to the more widespread gun ownership in Canada. While there is a debate in Canada about whether people have a legal right to own a firearm, there is not the feverish rhetoric found there that typifies the NRA’s propaganda campaign in the United States (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
There is a six-day waiting period in Canada to buy a gun. There is also compulsory licensing. Canadians must have references and complete a gun training and safety course. In Canada, the sixty-day waiting period is used to notify the gun applicants spouse or next-of-kin that the person has applied to buy a gun. The background check in Canada is extensive and includes a criminal records, mental health records, and addiction treatment records. Automatic denials for gun ownership apply to persons with domestic violence histories. The types of weapons banned from civilian ownership include all automatic and most semi-automatic weapons, snub-nosed handguns, handguns, rifles, and shotguns. Most semi-automatic assault weapons are also banned (Leigh and Neill, 2010).
Pressure on regional politicians results in less than rational policymaking decisions. For example, in response to the Newton Connecticut massacre of schoolchildren and teachers at an elementary school the New York Times published a survey article about how easily automatic weapons were obtainable in the state of Connecticut. The response by local gun enthusiasts was typical of their uncompromising stance. In a letter to the editor John T. Wilson complained that the gun laws in Connecticut were already too strict in regards to the ownership of automatic weapons. Wilson cited what he considered the onerous process by which someone in that state must endure to have and own a machine gun (Wilson 1993).
According to Wilson after purchasing, the desired machine gun the store clerk hands the new owner and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Form and fingerprint cards. The writer than goes on to make the illogical connection between machine gun ownership and Porsche ownership, declaring that no one is lobbying to outlaw Porsches even though they can accelerate up to speeds in excess of 55 mile per hour (Wilson 1993). The fact that no one ever went on a mass killing spree seems to elude the write. Additionally the writer does not even mention the tragic deaths associated with gun shooting sprees, despite the fact that many people across the United States are doomed to a life of grief and mourning because of gun violence. This is an example of how pro-gun enthusiasts are completely blind when it comes to their guns. It is also an example of why there is not rational discourse in the United States about gun control laws; this irrational rhetoric has proven extremely effective for the NRA and pro-gun lobbyists.
A 1994 New York Times article offered an overview of legislation passed by the United States Congress in response to public pressure for stricter gun laws after the Newton School Massacre. One of the issues that changed public opinion and therefore political opinion about the NRA was a campaign in which the NRA issued statements in response to a group called Handgun Control. The NRA claimed that this group was demanding a ban on the sale and wearing of camouflage clothing and the closure of all shooting ranges in the United States. Investigators discovered that the group Handgun Control was a fake organization created on the internet by the NRA specifically designed to discredit the gun control lobby (Opinion, 1994).
Because of the disgust at these maneuvers by the NRA, public opinion shifted in favor of gun laws. However, the vote on the regulations against assault weapons was passed under protest of many members in Congress from states where the politics are definitely pro-gun. The goal of the pro-gun law lobby in this case was to build on the requirements of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which built on the weak Gun Control Act of 1968. The Brady Law enacted a 5 day waiting period before a person can buy a firearm. Police and others have complained that this is much too short a time in which to provide a report on the safety of an individual (Opinion, 1994). Additionally, the Brady Law is not universally enforced across the United States. Many of the provisions in the Brady Law became null in 1998.
Discussions in Congress and in the political arena have discussed the sale of firearms by non-traditional and private vendors. Some groups lobbied to control the sale of firearms at swap meets, from the trunks of cars, and from private homes and garages. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms funding was eviscerated by former President Bush in an effort to appeal to his pro-gun constitutions and political supporters. Many senators have pointed out that it is not expedient for them and others to be in favor of gun laws; it therefore makes the passage of new laws less than realistic in the irrational debate over gun control in the United States (Opinion, 1994).
Such irrational demands have been associated with gun control legislation, such as demanding that the legislation be approved by committees irrelevant to the issues such as the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been chaired by board members from the NRA (Opinion, 1994). Political considerations in the United States continue to outweigh the need for a consensus on gun control regulations. Every regulation that is proposed it nit-picked into oblivion by NRA lobbyists and NRA supported politicians.
The Newtown Connecticut Massacre increased the volume of the gun control debate in the United States, but the actual changes in gun policy did not change in a way that was commensurate with the tragic death of schoolchildren and teachers. Conflicting definitions, principles, and perspectives about what is important have resulted in a policy dilemma. Many articles and books point out that the United States pro-gun culture has encourage a political culture that is also pro-gun.
Esposito and Finley (2014) describe the United States as a country of people who accept, “the dangers of ‘big government,’ the virtues of ‘rugged individualism’ and self-reliance, and gun violence as a personal problem involving evil, sick, or irresponsible individuals” (p. 74). United States males are described as hyper-masculine and the pro-gun stance is a direct result of “ideological forces and social structures that, among other things, erode social bonds, encourage hyper-individualism, and normalize a survival of the fittest ethic (Esposito and Finley, 2014, p. 74).
American gun culture is tied to the idea of individual freedom and liberty. The beliefs and values of the pro-gun lobby and pro-gun politics are supported because it is associated with the notion that individuals and individual rights are the most important factor in political decisions. This has resulted in a culture in which self-interest is tantamount and social justice is largely irrelevant. Culture in the United States has come to associate gun rights as being akin to freedom of religion, therefore causing guns and gun ownership to take on a sacred aspect (Esposito and Finley, 2014). Once the sacred enters the discussion rational reasoning falls by the wayside.
A discussion about gun control does not proceed in the United States without the pro-gun lobby invoking the Second Amendment. In the United States Constitution, the Second Amendment 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.” Various interpretations of this short statement by the pro-gun lobby include the idea that guns are a personal liberty and a right. However, scholars such as Esposito and Finley (2014) point out that the Second Amendment was designed to empower white males so that they could take up arms against a tyrannical government and defend themselves against uprising by non-whites (for example, Indian tribes and African slaves).
In the 1970s, the NRA evolved from “being primarily a sports organization to a far right pro-gun lobby” involving the Second Amendment aspect (Esposito and Finley, 2014, p. 80). Esposito and Finley (2014) credit former President Ronald Reagan with paving the way for the pro-gun lobby and the empowerment of the white male hyper-masculine perspective by terminating many welfare programs and emphasizing self-reliance and personal freedom that evolved into “hedonistic materialism, rabid individualism, extreme competition, and narcissism (p. 80). This political rhetoric and the consequent cultural changes resulted in the problem faced by groups that propose even moderate gun control measures because the United States has become characterized by hyper-masculine ideas about liberty.
In conclusion, the conflicting viewpoints on gun control in the United States are irreconcilable because on one hand the pro-gun lobby sees guns rights as more important that social justice. On the other hand , the gun control lobby keeps offering up statistics on the continued shooting deaths of innocent people in the United States, evidence and data that prove gun control reduces gun deaths, and additional information about how lives could be save if gun control laws were passed. The pro-gun gun lobby does not care how many people are shot to death, those deaths are not as important as the right to have guns. Gun control advocates argue that there is no right to own guns and so the debate devolves into irrationality.
Changes to Policy-Making
Suggestion to policy makers on how they should approach decisions with regard to gun control include basic changes in the current decision-making approaches. Gun control regulation should not be left to the Federal government and Congress only. This has proved to be a dilemma without resolution.
By addressing the issue at the state and local level, politicians and lawmakers can pass regulations that reduce gun ownership and therefore reduce gun violence. By responding to the needs of the community policy makers can keep their constituents safer. This approach has proved effective in places such as Connecticut and Colorado, but unfortunately, this very reasonable approach to gun regulation was not even attempted until after mass shootings resulted in enormous public pressure.
Policy-Making at State and Local Levels
Addressing the issue at the state and local level does not mean that efforts at the national level should be abandoned. Lobbyists need to continue to pressure Congress and the Executive Branch into passing legislation that will support the efforts made to reduce gun violence at the local and state level. This may mean conducting more research or having on-going research projects at the national level.
However, ample evidence and data is available worldwide that proves a reduction in the number of guns and gun owners correlates to a reduction in gun violence. Because the federal government has continually cut the budget of the agencies that enforce gun control, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives need to be rebuilt.
A campaign that functions on multiple levels will be most effective when trade local and state policymakers to take action. This may mean that gun control lobbies continue to collect regionally specific data about gun sales, gun related crimes and arrests, the records of persons who commit gun related crimes prior to their purchase of a weapon or weapons, and violations of background check policies. By building up this type of a data bank, lobbyists will be better able to present their cases and demand that lawmakers pass the appropriate policies.
Activists need to work to strengthen existing laws and passing new restrictions against the practice of carry-concealed weapons. Concealed carry laws are already on the books. These laws need to be more vigorously enforced. Additionally, persons who have concealed carry permits need to have those permits reviewed regularly to ensure that there is just cause for carrying a concealed weapon.
Background checks for concealed carry permits need to require a longer waiting period so that law enforcement and assigned agencies have ample time to complete an investigation. The computer information systems that provide information about arrest records, felony convictions, and violent crimes need to be consolidated and modernized to facilitate the background checks. Lobbyists need to address the issue of adding juvenile crime records and medical records to the background checks in order to stop persons with a violent past from obtaining a concealed carry permit and possibly a gun at all.
By beginning with smaller more precise goals at local and state levels, meaningful change is more likely to occur. The national debate about gun control has reached such levels of irrationality and hysteria, that by regrouping and presenting sound, conclusive data to a smaller audience rational policymaking may occur. Gun control groups need to attempt to collaborate with each other to develop and more well-defined and cohesive list of goals and strategy. It is pointless for gun control lobbyists to attempt to persuade pro-gun activists. Gun control lobbyists are more likely to succeed in actual policymaking if they work to pursued each other to collaborate. The wishes of individuals, groups, and communities who have experienced gun violence or who want to prevent gun violence are extensive and multifaceted. That is why groups need to come together and compromise on their goals so that they can articulately and judiciously promote policymaking.
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