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The Gun Control Debate

Posted by Elizabeth Ullrich on

Elizabeth Ullrich

Elizabeth Ullrich

There has been a lot of debate between well-intentioned and well-informed Americans on the topic of gun rights, gun control, background checks, high-capacity magazines, and assault weapons.

Many headlines can be found from news agencies on these topics today due to the sentencing of T.J. Lane to three life sentences for killing three classmates at his high school cafeteria last year.

Other mass shootings bring the same discussion: how many more shootings… like what happened at Sandy Hook (27 dead), or Aurora, CO (12 dead, 58 wounded), or Oikos University (7 dead), or Tucson, AZ (that disabled Gabby Giffords), or Fort Hood (13 dead, 29 wounded), or Binghamton, NY (13 dead), or Northern Illinois University (6 dead, 21 wounded), or Virginia Tech (32 dead, 34 wounded), or Lancaster, PA (5 Amish girls dead, 6 wounded), or Red Lake Senior High School (9 dead, 5 wounded), or Lockheed Martin (7 dead, 7 wounded), or Columbine High School (13 dead, 21 wounded)… will it take until the United States adopts tougher gun laws?

The rate of people killed by guns in the U.S. is 19.5 times higher than similar high-income countries in the world, and one of the reasons that may account for this is our more lenient gun laws (lenient when compared to other Western countries).

Are those that oppose tougher gun control laws attributing our higher rate of gun violence to something else? Or are they simply saying the higher rate is the consequence we must pay for being a country that prioritizes individual liberty—no matter the cost? I tend to agree with both sides.

I agree with the gun control activists that the presence of dangerous guns that are relatively easy to legally own tends to increase the number of people that are killed or wounded by guns. I also agree with the assumption that creating stricter gun ownership laws—through the establishment of a more elaborate background check system, the elimination of high-capacity magazines, and banning assault weapons—will reduce gun violence in this country.

But I also find myself agreeing with gun rights activists that creating stricter gun laws doesn't eliminate the presence of guns. The laws simply change how people come about to acquiring them, which in turn creates more crime through the black market. It also ignores the human element of gun violence and how there are millions of gun owners who are responsible with how they use firearms and would never dream of using them for reasons other than self-defense and sport.

What percentage of gun owners who own high-capacity magazines and assault weapons actually use them in a criminal way towards others? Its hard to come up with a hard number because we have no tracking system to know how many people legally own these things, but I would assume the criminal element is less than 10 percent (maybe less than 5 percent).

If my assumption is true, is it fair for the federal and state governments to create stricter gun laws—that not only make it harder to own a gun, but forbid gun owners from having any access to certain guns and magazines—because of the actions of a few, rather than the many?

The liberty to own what you want (as long as you are not causing injury to others) is a core, bedrock principle to the definition of liberty and privacy. Are we willing to sacrifice the liberty and privacy of 90-95 percent of responsible gun owners because 5-10 percent of gun owners are using their guns to hurt others? It is a moral dilemma; one that cannot be answered easily.

Personally, I am more supportive of more thorough background checks and a national registry of gun ownership, than I am of banning high-capacity magazines and assault rifles. Though I believe that the presence of guns heightens gun violence, we have more reasons why our gun violence is high, other than the presence of easy-to-obtain guns.

The U.S. have the highest poverty rate and the smallest welfare state when compared to any Western nation. I think this can better explain our high crime rate in general, more so than anything else. Sociologists, political scientists, psychologists and law enforcement personnel will all tell you that poverty has a direct influence on crime and violence.

Gun control laws are Band-Aids—not solutions—when it comes to gun violence and crime in general. If there is one thing gun rights activists get right, it is: guns don't kill people, people kill people. And the reason why they kill has a lot to do with the poor environment they live in.

Until we change these environments and significantly reduce poverty, gun control laws will never stop the ways in which people kill others and themselves with guns.

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.


Currently Speaking host Andy Rapp

Veteran journalist Andy Rapp has been hosting Currently Speaking since 1999.

Each week, he's joined live in the studio by journalists, academics, and experts. Along with viewers at home, they tackle the local, national, and global issues that matter most.