Is it sensible to allow citizens ‘the right to bear arms’ with little more than a cursory background check? Does an armed populace increase or decrease the murder rate? Do stricter gun-control laws simply prevent dutiful citizens from protecting themselves against potential assailants?
On Friday 20th July, James Holmes, a 24 year old former neuroscience graduate student at the University of Colorado, Denver, walked in to a midnight screening of the new Batman Film The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora. Holmes casually took his place in the audience, his bright orange hair barely standing out in the theatre full of excited fans. Shortly thereafter, he slipped out the side door and returned a few minutes later dressed for battle. He was armed to the teeth with an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 870 shotgun and a 40 caliber glock handgun. He wore a ballistic helmet, gas mask, throat-protector, tactical vest and pants. Holmes proceeded to lob gas canisters into the crowd before opening fire and unleashing a hail of bullets, killing twelve and wounding 58. Holmes was arrested in the cinema car park at 12:45 am, approximately 7 minutes after opening fire, apparently without resistance. He had donned such complete protective gear that responding police officers almost mistook him for a SWAT team member.
Just over two weeks later, on the 5th August, Wade Michael Page, a 40 year old former US Army Sergeant with links to the white power movement, stormed into a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, shooting dead six and injuring three. He was eventually shot dead outside by armed police officers. He was armed with a Springfield 9mm XDM, a 20 round capacity handgun he had purchased just 6 days previously.
These two incidents have understandably re-ignited the gun control debate in America and world-wide. Should citizens have the right to bear arms?
YESI greatly admire the pro-control crowd; their views come not from a desire to restrict liberties, but to save lives. This is the greatest motivation one can possess, and at first glance their reasoning is concrete: guns are designed only to kill and hold no other purpose, if you prevent more people from having guns, then less people die.This concept however, fails to take into account three important points that I will now address:
1.) The vast majority of gun violence worldwide is committed using illegally obtained firearms.
Do not fool yourself in to thinking that any law on earth can or will stop the appalling amounts of deaths, assaults and suicides we see every day – these simply aren’t committed with the legally obtained guns that gun control would restrict. By their very nature, illegally obtained firearms cannot be prevented by the creation of laws; such laws only restrict those who choose to obey them and who use guns safely. Illegal gun trafficking is a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry and will continue regardless of what anyone says or does. Where there is a profit, someone will find a way.
2.) Gun-control has absolutely nothing to do with crime rates as a whole.
United Nation studies show that the most important factors that cause high homicide rates rest in the society itself; low levels of development, civil unrest, poverty & crime rates. Restricting people’s access to firearms does not stop them from killing each other; it just stops them doing it with guns. Surely our concern should not be the means of a murder, but the fact a murder has occurred in the first place.
Take Switzerland, otherwise known as the country with a machine gun in every home (see Wiki’s summary here). Despite the breathtaking amount of legally obtained automatic weapons in Switzerland, their homicide rates are less than here in Britain, where most firearms were banned in ’97 (and incidentally, since then gun crime has increased according to Home Office statistics).
To use the recent massacre in Aurora as an example, guns might have played a vital part in the killing, but if someone is truly hell-bent on killing a large group of people, they’re going to find a way regardless of gun-control: black market firearms, homemade explosives, high-jacked planes or mass poisonings. The true tragedy is that the cinema chain where the shooting took place does not allow people to carry their lawful, concealed firearms. If they had, then it’s possible that an individual in the audience (one trained in gun usage and safety like most legal carriers) would have returned fire and prevented many innocent deaths.
3.) Firearms are not just pointless “killing machines”.
Right now firearms are being used to hunt for food. They are used to control pests and protect the livelihood of farmers; as a small majority of the population will desperately attest, and a great deal will automatically and arrogantly disregard. Firearms have featured in the Olympic Games as a sport, bringing pleasure to millions of amateurs and professionals world-wide, never mind the comfort legally-obtained firearms bring to families everywhere as tools of self-defence. This is not something to take away lightly. Guns exist and no governmental policies will deny that fact. Gun-control will not save lives; it will only restrict the personal liberties of innocent people who have a right to bear arms.
NOSome have found it somewhat incongruous that as a self-confessed ‘gun-fan’ and ‘weekend warrior’ with the Territorial Army, I should take the side of pro-control in this debate. So, before I get my teeth into this debate I’d like to make one thing clear – I am not taking an anti-firearm stance, merely a pro-control stance. Guns are fun. They are used in all sorts of legitimate sporting and cultural pursuits, however, this does not change the fact that they are ultimately an instrument of warfare – a tool designed to make killing easy.
This leads me on to my first point. Some may argue that as an inanimate object, murder is hardly the guns fault. It is, after all, the person who pulls the trigger. While this is a fair observation, it misses the critical fact that I just mentioned – namely, that guns are practically the most dangerous ‘inanimate objects’ in existence. Imagine for one moment that you wanted to kill. What method would you choose? Battery? Stabbing? Arson? In reality what could possibly be easier than standing distant from a target and squeezing the trigger, perhaps without them ever even knowing? This is the fundamental reason why guns should be subject to strict control laws – they make killing too easy.
The second argument made against control is that if someone really wants to kill (like James Homes) control measures won’t stop them. They may make things harder, weapons and ammunition more difficult to obtain for instance, but if they really want to kill they will find a way to do it. All you’re really doing is taking weapons out of the hands of responsible citizens who might otherwise constitute a deterrent threat – right?
Although I can see the logic in this argument – overall, allowing the populace to arm itself without restriction makes little sense in the context of modern democratic societies like Britain or America. While you may not be able to eliminate psychopathic killings such as one described above, or the Dunblane massacre in the UK (1996), increased control measures will reduce far more common ‘spur of the moment’ murders. An informative FBI data set shows that in 2010 41.8% of firearm homicide victims were murdered during arguments, and a further 23.1% were slain during ‘felony circumstances’ such as rape, robbery, burglary etc. Obviously taking firearms out of the equation during these arguments / felonies would have dramatically increased the victim’s chances of survival. After all, it takes a split-second of emotion to murder someone with a gun, and the above statistics clearly demonstrate that this ‘moment of madness’ is how homicide/manslaughter by firearm most often unfolds. By the way the same data set shows that private citizens ‘justifiably killed’ 232 people by firearm over the course of the year – just 1.8% of the total homicides.
Furthermore, the self-protection/vigilante argument comes unstuck when you realise that the very idea that you can adequately defend yourself with a firearm is suspect in most cases. Suppose the extremely remote chance of someone trying to kill you comes to pass, most often they have the initiative on you and consequently you don’t have time to respond. Even if you do, producing a gun will undoubtedly increase your chances of being shot. In the remaining remote chance that you successfully regain the initiative, there suddenly becomes a high chance that you will end up committing manslaughter. This argument suggests that there should be an extremely high risk to potential murderers in order to protect against the extremely low risk of murder occurring in modern democratic societies. Obviously, this makes little sense. To add official backing to this argument, consult the UNODC’s global study on homicide which acknowledges that the research literature suggests that “firearm availability predominately represents a risk factor rather than a protective factor for homicide.” (p.43)
A third point I’d like to make is that the statistics that are often cited by anti-control pundits are entirely misleading. For example, in the UK gun crime has supposedly gone up since the 1997 Firearms act, anywhere up to 110% depending on which statistics you read. But ‘gun crime’ stats can easily be manipulated depending on definitions – I suggest that this in fact the main reason for such outlandish figures. If we single out the firearms homicide rate, that has remained relatively constant at around 60-70 deaths per year. If anything, there is a trend downwards.
Finally, I’d like to conclude by acknowledging my rivals point about society. In Switzerland there is an extremely low murder-rate, despite high gun ownership. Equally, I could cite the obvious correlation between gun-ownership and violent death in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Society and culture clearly has a big part to play in this delicate issue, but it is one concerning the extent of the control measures, (which is still up for debate on a country by county basis) not the necessity of them. In the US context, the 2nd amendment harps to a bygone era when the risk to individual travellers was far higher, and is simply not relevant today.
What do you think?