The statistics show an overwhelming argument in favor of gun control
When the news of yet another mass shooting came out of Newtown, Connecticut last month, the United States reacted in an emotional way. The country was heartbroken and appalled that such a thing had happened; the loss of 20 young, innocent lives is not something that can be ignored or rationalized. Afterwards, the media was saturated with activists insisting that “now is the time to talk about gun control.” I disagree. The “right” time to talk about gun control passed years ago. Have we forgotten Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, the assault of Gabby Giffords or the movie theatre shooting in Aurora, among many others? We have missed so many opportunities to recognize and address this problem. When 20 children die, frankly, it seems too late.
Nevertheless, I have been anxious to speak about the shooting and to discuss gun control issues. Although the events at Sandy Hook were no doubt tragic and left me with many reflections, I think it would be more productive today to review primarily the facts. What are the notable statistics involving gun ownership and violence, and in our divided government what actions and compromises are going to be necessary in order to pass suitable legislation and ensure gun safety?
Safety, I believe, is the operative word in this discussion. Despite what many political radicals would have the public believe, I do not think that determining appropriate gun control measures is a contest between complete gun freedom and no guns at all. As Adam Cohen pointed out in his Time magazine editorial, good gun control legislation “means a bill that does not demonize guns but instead seeks to build a consensus in favor of prudent gun use”. Compromise is a smart approach, especially considering that when comparing support for gun control and support for gun rights, the Pew Research Center found that the nation’s identity is split, 47 percent for the former and 46 percent for the latter. This is a drastic change from 20 years ago, when only 34 percent of citizens stated they “supported gun rights”. That said, I do favor some significant reforms, and I do think certain allowances in weapons policy are dangerous. My main problem with the “pro-gun” discourse is that many of the fundamental arguments that comprise it can be refuted. I will acknowledge that statistically gun violence is declining in the United States, even while the number of citizens who own guns is consistently increasing. Our rate of gun murder is at its lowest point since at least 1981, and the number of violent crimes committed with guns — including aggravated assault and robbery — have declined for the past three years.
Many gun rights enthusiasts will use these statistics to support their position that guns are not only a right, they are necessary and beneficial. However, it would be premature to assume that we are safer simply because a significant portion of our population — nearly 45 percent of all households — possesses guns.
As evidenced by a 2005 Gallup poll, approximately two-thirds of gun owners cite “protection against crime” as a reason that they own a firearm. Statistically speaking, this logic too is flawed. The simple fact is people very rarely need a firearm to protect themselves. According to the Brady Campaign, there are only about 200 incidences of legally justified self-defense homicides by private citizens every year. That is a virtually irrelevant figure given the 30,000 homicides that the United States experiences overall. Not only are guns very rarely used for their stated purpose — among other purposes, of course — of self-defense, their ownership often turns tragically to cases of suicide or unintentional gun violence or injury for the owner or his or her family. According to the Brady Campaign, a gun in the home is twenty-two times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide and four times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting death or injury than it is to be used in a self-defense shooting. Of course, increased background checking and mental health screening will not solve everything, as the transfer of a gun from its purchaser to another member of the household cannot always be prevented, but I think the strictness of our laws needs to be evaluated when 40 percent of gun sales can be legally carried out without a background check, and the psychological state of the customer is nearly ignored. Background checks involve a history of psychological commitments, treatments, and in some cases diagnoses, but it is very possible that a person could be seriously mentally ill and as yet undiagnosed when he or she attempts to purchase a firearm. More proactive screening measures are necessary.
I hope for increased gun control in the future, including a ban on assault weapons, universal background checking, and a more comprehensive system of permits and gun registration. While responsible and educated gun owners should not be targeted, they should be held accountable for their guns and overall access to guns should be limited. I hope that we begin to realize the dangers of guns, and by extension, the danger of guns in the wrong hands. Maybe, finally, the United States has witnessed enough tragedy to cause us to act and to reform.
Ashley Spinks’s column appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.