SIEGEL: America needs to update its gun laws

Guns have evolved — so should our laws

op-siegel-courtesywikimediacommons

A majority of Americans support gun control action.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

According to the Pew Research Center, 39,773 people were victims of gun-related deaths in 2017. Nothing justifies such high numbers of gun-related deaths. Milan Bharadwaj, one of my fellow Opinion Columnists, recently wrote a piece arguing that recent insurgencies across the globe justify the current lack of gun regulations in the United States. Furthermore, his argument contends that gun ownership protects Americans and benefits minorities. His contentions that gun ownership promotes protection, especially for minorities and in cases of insurgency, are either wrong or not applicable to the United States.

In his piece, Bharadwaj first argues that gun ownership “is empowering individuals to defend their rights to life, liberty and property.” He cites the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 and the Ferguson riots as examples of when gun ownership was essential, but occurrences like these are rare. For example, many cite the shooting of Latasha Harlins by a local store owner as a large factor in the lead-up to the riots. However, circumstances such as these are infrequent and are often caused by police brutality or gun violence itself. Both of these instances were brought on by gun violence, either from a police officer or the shooting of a minor. Furthermore, protecting property is not nearly as important as protecting the right to life, which is robbed by guns for nearly 40,000 people each year. 

His argument then branches out to international insurgencies and disturbances in countries such as Bolivia and China in order to justify owning guns. However, in such instances, the country’s citizens are engaged in active protest against tyrannical governments — the presence of guns would simply exacerbate violence and cause more unrest. 

Aside from cases of political unrest, the core of Bharadwaj’s argument lies in home and personal protection. Despite that claim, guns simply do not reduce the dangers of home invasion. David Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard University, said that guns “make hostile interactions...more deadly.” He also explains that guns have no more deterring effect than baseball bats or other comparable weapons, making the idea that guns help protect is an inherent fallacy. Furthermore, analyses of FBI and CDC data on gun violence show that assaults with guns were 6.8 times more likely to happen in states with more guns. Similar studies show that Americans who have access to firearms are much more likely to be victims of gun violence and are more likely to commit suicide. The data is clear on this — access to firearms does nothing to protect. 

Bharadwaj also argues that gun ownership is tied to minority rights and protection. Unfortunately, this is another fallacy. For starters, only 24 percent of African Americans own a firearm, compared to 36 percent of whites. Furthermore, African Americans are 10 times as likely to die by firearms than whites. This expands immensely as young black men are 19 times more likely to be shot and killed than young white men. Even more, 10,300 violent hate crimes take place with guns every year. In recent years, white nationalism has taken the spotlight as more and more violent acts of white supremacy take place. None is more ingrained in our minds than the Unite the Right Rally that took place in Charlottesville in August 2017. Hundreds of white supremacists marched through Grounds, armed to the teeth and threatening violence on those who do not share their horrid views. In situations like these, guns present active threats to minorities and their communities, letting domestic terrorists perpetuate violent hate crimes and attacks. 

Arguments that rights to automatic weapons are protected in the Constitution also do not hold up. When the Second Amendment was written, there was no such thing as an automatic weapon — there was no such formalized militaries as there are today. While guns have been evolving rapidly through the years, the laws we use to regulate them have not. The same guns that the American military uses to fight off foreign threats are used in the United States in horrifying attacks against our very citizens. The psychological toll is enormous, as 58 percent of Americans say that they or someone they know have experienced some form of gun violence. John Allen, a veteran and President of the Brookings Institute, wrote that it is “gut wrenching...that Americans today are more likely to experience gun violence than they might in many of the places to which I deployed in the name of defending our nation.”

To say gun violence is a national security threat now is an understatement. Less than one-third of the adult population in our country owns a gun — still, there are over 390 million guns in the hands of Americans. Yet most Americans will experience some form of gun violence. The United States, which has some of the least restrictive firearms regulations among developed nations, also has the highest levels of gun violence. This is not a coincidence. Our guns have changed and the time for more gun laws is overdue.

A majority of Americans support gun control action, wanting far stricter regulations. Raising the minimum age to buy a gun hosts 76 percent support, universal background checks boast 87 percent approval and banning assault weapons is supported by 62 percent of Americans. Our elected officials, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, must act to put the will of the people into law. Even if they don’t care about what the people want, the data on this is clear, and not pursuing gun regulations is shortsighted. 

Jeremy Siegel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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