Tightening the grip

The government should enact stricter gun control laws in order to keep the country safer

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown. All Americans are familiar with these names — signposts along the tragic path down which the gun-laden United States is traveling. After the latest massacre in an elementary school in Connecticut — my home state — the American people seem to be fed up. The old adage “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” has a bitter ring to it; people are beginning to realize that a more appropriate phrase would go something like “people kill people, but guns make it easy.” However, gun control legislation in the works has uncertain prospects. If the United States wants to start making a dent in a gun homicide rate that is twenty times higher than other developed nations, we need to end our love affair with a murder weapon.

There seems to be two possible explanations for why the United States’ gun homicide rate is so much higher than other countries’: Either Americans are excessively violent compared to our peer nations, or it is our society’s saturation with guns that has contributed to more than 10,000 gun murders per year. The first explanation falls flat both on simple observation — we are not a nation of Vikings — and on statistics that show that the United States has rates of violent crimes — including aggravated assault and rape — roughly comparable to nations such as Canada and Australia, both of which experience far, far fewer gun homicides.

We are left, then, with the second explanation: The 88.9 firearms for every 100 people in the United States have contributed to our grossly inflated gun homicide rate. It is true that the presence or absence of guns will not change man’s violent nature; people in our societies will always harm and kill one another. But guns can drastically change the outcome of these attacks, as proven by the elementary school attack that occurred in China on the same day as the Sandy Hook shooting. In that scenario, the perpetrator only managed to get his hands on a knife and as a result managed to kill no one. The difference in outcomes — namely, the lives of twenty children and six adults — is startling, but the only real difference in the conditions is the fact that the American attacker used a gun.

Many in the gun lobby argue that the solution is in fact more guns, not less. They cite studies that attempt to find a correlation between increased gun ownership and decreased crime. The findings of these studies are dubious and highly controversial. Nevertheless, I think it’s valuable to consider which path we would want to take. Were enacting stricter gun laws and encouraging concealed weapons equally effective at bringing down gun homicide rates, which option would be best for American society? Do we really want to live in a society where citizens have to carry around lethal weapons just to feel safe, our teachers keep semi-automatic rifles locked in their desks, and as Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times notes, it is easier to buy a gun than to adopt a pet? To me, such a society is a failed society, a reversion to the state of nature. The philosophical premise of a society reliant on gun ownership for security is highly unappealing, regardless of any effect it may have on crime rates. Any government that cannot provide basic security for its citizens is a failed government.

We know, however, that enacting stricter gun laws has tangible effects on rates of gun homicide. A mass shooting in Australia during the 1990s resulted in legislation to curb gun sales and ban certain firearms. Before the legislation, Australia suffered thirteen mass shootings in 18 years. It hasn’t experienced a single mass shooting since, and gun homicide rates have dropped 40 percent. The conclusion is clear: Strictly regulating guns saves lives.

Banning all guns, however, is extreme and unnecessary. There are more reasonable steps we can take. High capacity magazines should be banned as a baseline. Although these measures have a marginal effect on crime rates, the possibility of a shooter taking a semi-automatic rifle with high capacity magazines into another school should be reason enough to make their acquisition impossible for the average citizen. Additionally, we should ensure that rapidly stockpiling guns is impossible. We can do so by limiting gun purchases to one every several months. Canada requires gun buyers to have two people to vouch for them — a requirement that would be easy for those who wish to purchase guns for non-violent purchases, but a stumbling block for the secluded and mentally deranged criminals who often acquire their weapons in secret. The United States should also implement ambitious gun buy-back programs to reduce the number of guns already in people’s hands and require training for anyone to own a handgun. We may even consider adopting a policy from Japan that requires a psychological evaluation for any potential gun owners.

There is no fix-all for this problem, and we will never eliminate gun homicide completely. But any significant reduction in our sickeningly high murder rate would be a victory, as would the corresponding increase in our peace of mind. The United States can and should look to other countries that have successfully implemented gun regulations, while coming up with our own original solutions to this problem. The political capital necessary to take action may be high, but the cost of inaction is terrifying to contemplate.

Russell Bogue’s column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at r.bogue@cavalierdaily.com.

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