Table of Contents
- Table of contents
- Definition of key terms
- Arguments for freedom to own arms
- Arguments against freedom to own arms
- Pros and cons on the issue
As a presidential candidate, the issue of gun control was checked. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution allows citizens to own guns in order to protect the country and the society. But it does not allow these weapons to be used as a means of threat or criminal intent. While the laws are liberal in most states, illegal arms sales does exist which provides sources for obtaining unlicensed guns. The disturbing thing is that guns (whether legal or illegal) is being used to create problems in the society. The long-term policy is to educate the citizens of values and caring. In the short-term, a highly controlled licensing statute should be implemented in an effective manner. Review of literature shows that a total ban on gun ownership is not practical in the short-term.
In most organized societies, there exists some form of law and order in order to protect its citizens from both internal and external threats. In the modern context of what can be defined as a society, a set of statutes and laws which is administered by the legal department and controlled by the government exists. Apart from the legal angle, the military is formed to protect the country from external threats. There is normally an internal security force, namely the police department to protect individuals from crimes and threats within the country and society. But the extent to which citizens can take law and protection into their own hands can be questionable and even controversial. Some societies (and countries) have liberal laws regarding self-protection. The United States is one country which has such liberal laws. While the law does allow citizens to own guns and firearms, there has been a negative aspect to this stand. Misuse of owning arms which has resulted in wanton killings and attacks have been reported in the media over the years.
As a presidential candidate and taking the above factors into consideration, this presentation reviews both sides of the argument – one that allows easy ownership of guns and the other that restricts its sales. Ownership of firearms, if it is not misused, could be a means of self-protection and could even ease the burden of law enforcement agencies. But on the other hand, emotional outbursts, personal vendetta, and criminal intents could result in unwanted violence that could create unrest and lack of security in the society.
It is hoped that no personal bias and opinions will appear in this presentation. The intention is to present an unbiased review of literature before coming to a conclusion regarding the topic. Before moving on to the main topic under study, a definition of key terms will be provided so that the reader will be informed about the different aspects that influence this debate.
Definition of key terms
The Second Amendment
It is assumed that one of the most important factors that allows citizens to own arms is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The wordings are as follows – “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” (Scaros, 2010, 390).
Militia does not mean owning arms for offense. According to one definition, militia comprises “of all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense” (Pollock, 2009, 379).
This indicates that owning licensed arms is legal, but only for protection and not for offense. Hence any hostile or violent act against another individual can be considered to be a legal offense.
Guns or firearms
“Any weapon that will or, that may be readily converted to, to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and that has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter (Thomas, 2006, 16). So any firearm that exceeds the above measurements can be considered to be a dangerous weapon and classified as a gun or firearm. Air pistols may not be considered to be a lethal gun or firearm.
According to section 18 of the Gun Control Act, the law prohibits “firearms dealers should not transfer handguns to any person under 21, to those who are not residents in the state in which the dealer operates, or in case local and state laws prevent specific instances which prevents purchase of firearms. Other restrictions include convicted felons, mentally unstable persons, fugitives, illegal substance addicts, illegal immigrants, and those dishonorably discharged from the armed forces. (Spitzer, 2009, 154).
This indicates that obtaining guns and firearms is relatively easy in the United States. If a person is a legal resident of a state and is not subject to the other conditions mentions above, can purchase a gun from a licensed dealer. The fact that there are many unlicensed dealers who make use of loopholes in the law will be discussed later in the paper.
According to the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms is a part of the militia in the country. According to Scaros, mentioned above, individuals have the right to bear arms. But it is apparently a part of a well regulated militia. But the apparent argument here is that the right to bear firearms is only related to protections from external threat. But over the years guns have been used for various purposes like individual protection, protection of property, sports/entertainment, and protection of crops. At a more serious level, guns have been used by criminals and emotionally disturbed people that includes even children and teenagers. I will now look at the pros and cons of gun control. First the arguments for gun ownership will be discussed, and later the cons. .
Arguments for Freedom to Own Arms
A review of literature shows that proponents against gun control laws often state the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Another argument is that guns are necessary as a form of self-defense. Proponents argue that criminals can obtain guns illegally and will be used on innocent citizens. It could be for robbery or some form of retribution. “There is and will continue to be a market demand for handguns. Criminals will be able to obtain guns whether or not regulations are passed or not. It is the ordinary citizen who will unfairly have his or her rights restricted if handgun regulations are passed” (Hemenway, 2010, 180). The two basic arguments are the Second Amendment to the Constitution along with the right to self protection. So, force can be used against the aggressor if the victim believes that he or she is in immediate danger of unlawful bodily harm and only use of force can prevent it. Deadly force is justifiable if the victim reasonably believes that he or she will be killed or be subject to serious bodily harm (Raymond, 2010, 293). If the victim can prove the aggressor’s harmful intentions, use of deadly force can be justified. Reasonableness can vary depending on the circumstances of case and how the court views whether the argument is reasonable or not. Another view is that there is a general mistrust among certain sections of the population for the police and the courts (Wilson, 2007, 119)..
So, it can be argued that any person holding any licensed weapon, to protect their own life (or prevention of serious bodily harm) can use any means even if it means killing the assailant. Hence the right to use a handgun or rifle does not mean that and individual is violating the law. Proponents of gun ownership also state that the large farming community in the United States needs to have some form of firearm to kill pests that could bring ruin to the destruction of crops (Mennell, 2007, 141). The author also states that guns are used for sport and entertainment like hunting and target shooting. The first argument is of great importance to the farming community and the society in general. It is my opinion that, crop destruction is an economic loss and a threat to the society as per the Second Amendment. Hence, proponents of gun ownership could make use of this argument in order to obtain licensed guns. With regard to the second argument regarding entertainment and sport, proponents argue that any restriction to own licensed arms is an infringement of their freedom according to the Fundamental Rights. There is no apparent reference to US statutes with regard to the right of ownership of guns for sport and entertainment in the Bill of Rights. But proponents can make use of the 1st Amendment which reads as follows – “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion; or abbreviating the freedom of speech or the freedom of the press; or the right of the people to assemble peacefully and ask the government to address grievances “(Carper, West & McKinsey, 2007, 71). The right for people to assemble peacefully is one area whether for freedom of speech, religion, or sport/entertainment can be construed as a part of this statute. As long as any assembly which involves use of guns is done peacefully, the restriction of ownership of legal firearms can be construed as an infringement of the First Amendment.
One of the most ardent supporters of gun control is apparently the National Rifle Association, according to the reports sent to me and my own review of literature. It is only fair that the arguments on the part of the association and other supporters of gun rights be taken seriously before coming to a conclusion. What is interesting is that the NRA was primarily formed for improving the marksmanship of Union Troops in 1871. Their agenda turned to making shooting as a sport especially for the youth by 1903. According to the official NRA website the organization has now more than 3 million licensed members who own firearms for various reasons like protection and sport. The NRA also champions the right to own guns. The lobbying power of the organization can be illustrated by the following observation – when the NRA stands and fights, anti-gun legislation dies – and the nation’s gun owners wins. When the NRA folds, the nation’s gun owners lose” (Knox, 2009, 295).
The argument here is that the power of any organization stems from the size and support provided by individual members. So, if an organization has the power to influence government policies, it means that the right to own guns should taken seriously before passing on any stringent gun control laws. Two aspects can be assessed from the above sentence. While the association promotes training and responsible use of guns and firearms, it is a powerful association with strong lobbying power. Moreover, they strongly support the Second Amendment in promoting gun rights and ownership among citizens. Proponents of gun ownership often refer to the support they receive from the government regarding gun rights. The views of former Clinton government support their stand as can be seen from the following words – “let me make one small vote for the NRA. They’re good citizens. They call their Congressmen. They write. They vote. They contribute. And they get what they want over time” (Cheng, 2008, 237). So it can be said that the basic intention of the NRA is good even though they apparently have been unable to stop violence in the society through use of guns. Moreover, according to Dorsey (2010, 33), gun ownership is an entrenched part of the American society starting from the time of colonization.
But gun rights proponents generally agree on one thing. Unless tougher gun laws are enacted and more importantly, enforced, the lives and property of common law abiding citizens are at risk. It can be said that this is a case of a Catch 22 situation here. Liberal gun laws will allow all sorts of elements in the society to own firearms. If criminals own guns at will, then the right for protection of individuals in the society also allows them the right to own guns for self protection. But if strict enforcement by law agencies are implemented, then the citizens will feel safer and would be willing to give up their firearms or stop purchasing them in the future.
But the overall argument of supporters of gun rights is that it is okay to make tougher laws on sale of guns through licensing and registration of arms. This will keep criminals and those without proper background from obtaining firearms to a certain extent. The Modern Penal Code could justify the use of guns according to Section 3.04. A citizen, in this instance, the defendant, could be exonerated of murder or homicide charges under the following conditions. The person should prove that he or she reasonably believed that such an act was done to protect oneself from bodily harm (Brody & Acker, 2009, 134). Again, gun owners can make use of this argument if it can be proved in court for justifiable ownership and use of firearms. Even though the statement does not specify the type of weapon or instrument used in harming the trespasser, it can be assumed that a licensed gun can be considered to be a part of the weopon used in defending oneself and their property
It can be seen that the two major arguments regarding the cons against gun control is the use of the Second Amendment and also the right to protection of lives and property. As long as the military and other law enforcement agencies are unable to do this, the right to own arms is a fundamental one according to the Constitution of the United States.
Arguments Against Freedom to Own Arms
There are several valid arguments for gun control as per the reports provided and also my review of literature. I am presenting this as a counter argument against the proponents of gun rights and easy ownership. First of all, an example could be taken by the US authorities on the stand taken by the English Church. According to an article by the English Church, it is the social disorder and addiction to drugs that causes violence (Aldred, Hebden & Hebden, 2008, 17). The article goes on to explain that the Church or religion has a great role to play in controlling such problems. In effect, a gun control law will result in violent citizens to use other forms of weapons like knives and illegal firearms. People of any race or not inclined towards violence by nature. It is the lack of understanding by the society that leads to such situations. The Church can play a role in nurturing such individuals to try and bring such violent individuals back into the mainstream society. The apparent argument here is that if there is gun control, criminals and violently inclined persons will use other means to achieve their aims. So, a deeper study of the situation and long-term solutions will provide solution to the problem. The American religious institutions could play a vital part in educating the youth and those with violent dispositions to reduce the menace to irrational acts against the individuals, whether they form part of the family or the society.
The one major argument for gun control is that they are too easy to purchase and own. John Horowitz, the Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Guns Violence, in 2008, states that only sixty percent of the guns sold in the United States are though licensed vendors. The other forty percent of vendors are unlicensed and can provide arms to people who do not have the documents and rights to own guns (Magoon, 2008, 55). Most proponents of gun ownership state that it is people and not guns that cause deaths. But the author goes on to state that increased ownership does result in increased deaths. What is of concern is that it is not just criminals that are involved. Recently, the suicide rates have gone up five times. Attacks against family members and friends have also increased over the years. One of the strongest movements in support of gun control in the United States in recent times was James Brady who was a chance victim on the attack of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. He was hit with a bullet in the head which left him partially paralyzed for life. With support from his wife, he initiated a movement to prevent stringent gun control laws which finally resulted in the passing of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993. The major requirement was to have a five day waiting period before guns were sold to potential customers. The basic directive was that it could lead to a have a maximum of a five day waiting period before a firearm could be sole to an individual. The purpose is to allow reasonable time to verify the background of the purchaser and also to provide ‘a cooling off period so that an impulsive act on the part of the prospective buyer could be eliminated (Carter, 2009, 145). The author adds that the five year old waiting period was later replaced by a only a background check by licensed gun vendors. It should be noted that background checks on each and every prospective customer could be an impractical proposition.
In the United States, the gun shows also cause problems for the authorities. “Guns shows are held in communities across the United States, where dealers and individuals are able to hawk their wares without regulation” (Cukier & Sidel, 2006, 86). Sales include unlicensed and second hand firearms. The estimates of the number of such shows vary widely. The BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) estimate the number to be around 2,000 per year while the National Association of Arms Shows approximates the figure to be around 5,000.
While many people purchase firearms for personal protection, there may be many who are emotionally unstable. So criminals and such emotionally unstable elements in the society are at liberty to obtain illegal firearms which poses potential harm to individuals in the society. The article goes on illustrate government figures which shows that that nearly half of the vendors are unlicensed, while other estimates show that the figure may be up to seventy percent. This shows the ease of owning arms in the United States. Several specific instances of gun related violence has also been provided. The Columbine killing is an example of how even teenagers can have access to guns. It can be assumed that they could be prone to emotional outbursts. What could once be resolved by a mediated settlement or more importantly, counseling could have prevented such an incident. Two teenagers went on a shooting spree killing several students, a teacher. This incident also resulted in twenty four people being injured. The teenagers shot themselves after the carnage (Bardes, Shelley & Schmidt, 2010, 488).. The basic reason as to what prompted them to resort to such acts could not be determined because they were dead by the time authorities could do something about it. What is more disconcerting is that such incidents influence other young persons to imitate similar acts. More such incidents can be provided to illustrate the seriousness of children and teenagers having access to guns. A South Korean student from the Virginia Polytechnic in a similar vein went on a shooting spree in 2007 killing thirty two and wounding a further twenty nine. Here again, the perpetuator killed himself.
The apparent general public opinion on the topic is in favor of stricter gun control laws. Another view is that the public is not relatively informed about the issue. While proponents of gun ownership are focused on one issue which is ownership of firearms, there are no (apparently) strong and focused groups to oppose this stand (Goss, 2006, 19)..The citizens who go about their daily lives do not really know whether gun control will help to bring down crime in the country (Carter, 2006, 42).
Another study shows that “people who keep weapons at home are much more likely to kill or harm another member of their family. Another potentially dangerous consequence of children and adolescents is gaining access to licensed weapons without the knowledge of their parents. Possessing a gun almost automatically makes any fight potentially more dangerous and that the risks of having a gun outweigh the benefits.
This could be an area of concern regarding free and unrestricted ownership of firearms by individuals. As mentioned in the Brady Act above, an impulsive action could cause deaths within the family. A mentally unstable person could resort to using firearms in a fit of anger against their own family members, colleagues or even strangers. Several instances have already been mentioned earlier in the paper. Even if they are licensed firearms, the owner of the weapon or any other person should take extreme care to keep the gun in a safe place where children and adolescents do not have access to it. The argument here is that if weapons are not available, the emotional outburst may not have such violent consequences.
The Constitution of the United States is the highest law in the United States. In this regard, the Second Amendment should be respected by taking into consideration its wording. While Americans have always had a gun culture, the two aspects should not be mixed. Owning a gun does not mean its misuse for criminal purposes or emotional outbursts. The Second Amendment only states that owning of arms is for the protection of the individual, society and the country. But if this law is misused, it is high time that the government tales strong steps in this direction. It is apparent from the above section that this is not happening. On the one hand strong background checks are impossible by even the licensed gun vendors. On the other hand, the numerous gun shows that occur around the country provide a market for unlicensed vendors to provide arms to people with criminal backgrounds and also those who are emotionally unstable. In the latter case, it could even be impossible for gun vendors to check the emotional stability of the purchaser. The only option is to bring in stricter laws regarding gun control. Otherwise, the issue will only escalate and more and more innocent people will fall victim to gun violence. The sale of illicit firearms is another area of concern. Unless this is stopped or restricted to a large extent, the support for gun rights will remain weak, even though a majority of citizens are proponents of gun control. Another factor to be considered is that if gun control should become a major issue in the country, the influence of the NRA should be reduced. Licensing of guns and other firearms should be heavily restricted, and more detailed background checking on the individual be conducted.
Pros and Cons on the Issue
Pros of gun control
- Reduced violence in the society
- Reduced killings and wounding of family members, colleagues and citizens
- Reduced suicides
- Feeling if safety for those who do not own firears and proponents of gun control
Pros against gun control
- Self protection of life and property
- Second Amendment of the US Constitution
- Deterrence of crime
- Rights of citizens to use licensed firearms for sport, entertainment
- Protection of crops by farmers
A discussion of the pros and cons of gun licensing has been discussed here. Many have voted against unrestricted licensing of firearms to its citizens because of adolescence violence. There are countless instances whereby such persons have resorted to using handguns probably due to emotional imbalance. The fact that they have access to such firearms could be one of the problems. They could also be influenced by other similar incidences in the past. Another factor is that criminals have access to legal and illegal source of arms. This could encourage law abiding citizens to take recourse to ownership of guns. Deterrence of crime is also a factor here. Hence it is no surprise that citizens opt for owning some form of protection in these troubled times.
It is not practical to bring in a blanket ban on the issue of gun licensees. Moreover, a gun culture has become a part of the American society. But unrestricted, and even more seriously, unlicensed sale of arms is an alarming issue. The paradox here is that even licensed owners can misuse their weapons for criminal purposes or due to emotional imbalances. But the most important thing to be considered is the loss of value and social cohesiveness within the society. A government, in any society should strive for this value creation in the long term. In the short term gun licensing should be allowed. But it should be subject to strong back-ground checks. Most citizens only use of guns in extreme situations like self protection or to scare of predators and birds from their farmlands. To conclude, the government should keep a close watch the arms industry and see that guns do not land in the hands of individuals with criminal intents or people with psychological problems. It is a delicate issue with strong lobbying by certain interested groups, rising violence in the society, external threats and support for gun restriction. A total ban on gun ownership is impractical especially in a country like the United States taking into consideration, the pros and cons of the issue. My final argument is that licensing should be heavily restricted in the long-run in the United States. In the short-term, strong back ground checks should be done on potential purchasers.
- Aldred, J, Hebden, S & Hebden, K (2008). Who is my neighbor, Churches together in England, retrieved 14 May 17, 2011 from, http://www.cte.org.uk/Publisher/File.aspx?ID=28251
- Bardes, B.A., Shelley & Schmidt, S.W. (2010). American Government and Politics Today, Cengage Learning
- Brody, D.C., Acker & J.R. &. (2009). Criminal Law, Jones & Bartlett.
- Carter, G.L. (2009). Guns in American society, ABC-CLIO.
- Carter, G.L. (2006). Gun control in the United States, ABC-CLIO.
- Carper, D.L., West, B.W. & McKinsey, J.A. (2008). Understanding the law, Thomson Higher Education.
- Cheng, D (2008). Communicating science in social contexts: new models, new practices. Springer.
- Cukier, W & Sidel, V.W (2006). The global gun epidemic: from Saturday night specials to AK-47s, Greenwood Publishing
- Dorsey, T.A (2010). Statutory Construction and Interpretation, TheCapitolNet Government Series,
- Goss, K.A. (2006). Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America, Princeton University Press.
- Hemenway, D (2010). Private guns, public health, University of Michigan Press
- Knox, N (2009). Neal Knox – the Gun Rights War, Greenwood Publishing.
- Magoon, K (2008). Gun Control, ABDO Publishing.
- Mennell, S (2007). The American civilizing process, Polity Press.
- NRA Insights (2011). A brief history of the NRA, National Rifle Association, retrieved 18 May 2011 from, http://www.nrainsights.org/history_nra.php
- Pollock, E.E. (2009). The Supreme Court and American democracy, Greenwood Publishing.
- Raymond, M (2010). Looking for Trouble: Framing and the Dignitary Interest in the Law of Self-Defense, Ohio State Law Journal, 71(2). 287 – 339.
- Scaros, C.E. (2010). Understanding the constitution, Jones & Bartlett Learning.
- Spitzer, R.J. (2009). Spitzer, R.J. (2009). Gun control: a documentary and reference guide, Greenwood Publishing.
- Thomas, R.M. (2006). Violence in America’s schools, Greenwood Publishing.
- Wilson, H.L. (2007). Guns, gun control, and elections: the politics and policy of firearms, Rowman & Littlefield