I think you’d be hard pressed to find an American who isn’t horrified by the recent school shooting in Florida. Seventeen children dead, and the sixth school shooting incident in the United States in 2018 that has either wounded or killed students. Many Americans are in agreement that something needs to be done to end gun violence, but the debate regarding how to accomplish that has so far been inconclusive.
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but there’s no avoiding the fact that it’s a lot easier to kill someone with a gun than without one. For most of my life, I have held the belief that the right to bear arms is an important part of the Constitution, a vital protection for the people from the government. However, recent events have made me question whether the Second Amendment is offering the protection it was intended to provide.
Obviously, the vast majority of gun owners use their firearms responsibly and safely. The question is not what proportion of gun owners are violent; the question is whether private gun ownership is worth what now feels like a preventable loss of life. Even if it is a miniscule minority, there are enough people are choosing to use guns for the purpose of mass murder that we need to consider how Americans are accessing guns, what kinds of guns are most dangerous, and whether it is safer to allow such access or prohibit it.
In this article I am not discussing the importance of law enforcement or security services (in schools, for example) having guns; instead, I am addressing everyday citizens privately owning guns. In theory, the right to bear arms protects citizens in important ways. The supposed protections that I most often hear are 1) protection from the U.S. government, 2) personal liberty, and 3) personal safety.
When it comes to the first, I think it is clear that U.S. citizens no longer have the means to win against the U.S. government in war. The advent of nuclear weapons and other military technology have ended that arms race. Regarding the latter two, I am confident that hunters or recreational shooters would rather give up their sport than see human life lost. But many gun owners believe that owning a gun is a matter of personal safety. Anecdotes of citizens using guns to defend themselves against criminals abound. However, a review of empirical data suggests that the theory that the Second Amendment offers more protection than peril to the average American simply isn’t true.
While some Americans claim that gun ownership saves more lives than it costs, empirical studies do not support such an assertion. Since the 2008 Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court ruling (allowing handguns in the home for self-defense), gun deaths in the U.S. have increased by 17 percent. There are approximately 300 million guns owned in the U.S. (nearly one for every citizen), a third of Americans own a gun, and yet the use of guns in self defense is extremely rare (from 2013 to 2015, guns were used in 1.1 percent of violent crimes, and 0.2 percent of property crimes). According to the FBI, in 2014 there were only 224 justifiable homicides by citizens using guns compared to 7,670 criminal gun homicides (a ratio of 1:34). What’s more, guns are quite frequently stolen, putting guns in the hands of criminals (1.2 million in 2015).
Guns are not the only issue; certainly, teaching empathy and providing resources for emotional and mental health are incredibly important. However, such efforts are not enough. Psychiatric illness is not a significant causal factor in mass shootings. In 2016, the American Psychiatric Association reported that “although some mass shooters are found to have a history of psychiatric illness, no reliable research has suggested that a majority of perpetrators are primarily influenced by serious mental illness as opposed to, for example, psychological turmoil flowing from other sources.” While it is true that perpetrators may have been experiencing “psychological turmoil”, it is difficult to imagine a feasible government solution that would identify, treat, and completely eliminate psychological turmoil like loneliness, isolation, or anxiety across the American population.
From my vantage point, we must do all we can both in terms of mental illness and gun laws, keeping semiautomatic and automatic firearms away from citizens whose jobs do not require them, and working towards including and assisting fellow Americans who are struggling to manage their mental health. It is important that every American feel her responsibility to invest in her community and call upon lawmakers to promote responsible limitations on gun ownership.
Latest posts by Rachel Finlayson (see all)
- Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People, And They Use Guns To Do It - March 20, 2018
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