Armed Obsession

In today’s polarizing political climate, it is difficult to have a legitimate conversation on hot-button issues. How can one discern truth when so many people have different solutions to the same problem? After reading an article by the prominent left leaning newspaper The Washington Post on gun control, I couldn’t help but think there were a few things that needed clarification.

The two major sides of the gun control argument are generally between Republicans (pro gun) and Democrats (anti gun). The debate is centered around whether guns contribute to protection and freedom, or violence and anarchy. School shootings specifically have thrust the conversation of gun control into the media spotlight. One of the issues I have is the misleading use of statistics to further an agenda. For example, there were around 32,000 “gun deaths” in 2013. At face value it looks like we may have a problem. According to the CDC however, nearly 21,000 of these are suicides by gun. When looking at the remaining 11,000 of gun homicides, 80% are gang-related. That leaves us with around 2,000 gun homicides annually in a country with 350 million people. To keep things in perspective, there were almost 33,000 fatalities cause by automobile accidents that same year. If you were to avoid suicide and gang related activities, you are over 15 times more likely to be killed driving your car than be murdered with a gun. Where is the outrage against the automobile industry? In fact, there is no data to support that the removal of guns leads to lower homicide rates. Yes, less guns equals less gun deaths, but why is that important if overall deaths don’t decrease? It’s a statistical and logical fallacy. Nothing improves unless we actually decrease overall violent crime, regardless of method.

When The Washington Post calls to ban “weapons of war”, we quickly run into another problem. The proposal for an “assault weapons” ban. An “assault weapon” is a made up term open to a wide variety of interpretations. Some states define them as having certain cosmetic features or being made by a particular manufacturer. Many people conflate assault weapons with the term “assault rifle”, which is defined by the ability to switch from semi-automatic to fully automatic fire, a feature which has tightly regulated since the 1934 National Firearms Act. I would hope when dealing with such a delicate issue, more care would be taken in properly defining firearms.

Another misuse of semantics is the term “military style”. This is also vague in its description. What makes a weapon “military style”? These scare tactics only lead to a misunderstanding about guns themselves and hurt the conversation. I would rather that we judge a gun by its function, not by its color or its ability to mount a useless bayonet. They lure you into a false sense of safety through ignorance. Another argument they propose is the banning of “large capacity magazines”. What exactly is a large capacity magazine? No definition is given. More importantly, who is given the authority to define what is large capacity and what isn’t? I don’t trust the state to define that.

Enough chit chat about “assault weapons”. Do you know what is used in the vast majority of mass shootings? Handguns. That’s right, handguns were used nearly twice as much as semi-automatic rifles. Why does it feel like we are trying to treat the symptoms and not the cause? Discounting the fact that gun homicide is statistically insignificant, I don’t doubt The Washington Post wants to save lives. They believe easy access to firearms correlates with an increase of gun violence. They want tighter background checks, stricter regulation, and the outright banning of certain “assault weapons”. However there is more here at stake than they realize. In a 2013 study conducted by the CDC, guns were estimated to be used defensively somewhere in between 500,000 and over 3 million times annually. Do we realize the weight of that? A minimum of 500,000 people were kept safe because of firearms. I don’t think it would be right to toss this aside without careful consideration.

The ethics of banning guns are called into question by the constitution itself. The foundation of our unique gun culture in the United States is enshrined in the 2nd amendment —

“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”.

Our constitution is interesting in the fact that the government does not “grant” rights to the people. We are born with god given rights that cannot be taken away, the freedoms of which are to be defended by the government and the individual. The purpose of the right to bear arms is for the defense against a tyrannical government. In a country where people don’t trust the police and race tensions are at an all time high, I don’t see why you would put your complete faith and trust in the government to protect you. After all, our founding fathers knew what it was like to fight for freedom from real tyranny. We shouldn’t take our freedoms for granted, but have the capacity and will to defend them. Lest we forget the horrors of the 20th century.

“To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens” -Adolph Hitler

Now we come to the most difficult part of the process. What do we do about it? The Washington Post argues that guns are the problem. The statistics tell another story. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) the United States of America came in 90th place for the highest homicide rate per capita in the world, despite having the most guns per capita by far. Saying that violence would be curbed by gun restrictions is akin to saying that vehicle fatalities would be curbed by restrictions on fuel tank size. It just doesn’t add up. Besides, guns being illegal doesn’t mean people won’t have them anyways. Look no further than the vast array of “illegal” drugs on the street. This brings me to the absurd use of “gun free zones”. If someone was carrying a gun and wished to do harm, is that sign really going to stop them? Criminals don’t respect the law. However, I do have to give credit where credit is due. We both feel that training and education is the key. They discuss mental health evaluations and background checks, which I agree with. However, we walk a fine line when appointing who determines how “mentally qualified” someone might be.

Can we create policy that would fight gun crime without affecting a law abiding citizen’s right to bear arms? I think it would be a fair middle ground that would appease both sides. I remember reading about a trial policy that set harsh penalties for anyone found possessing an illegally obtained firearm. They discovered that it was a great criminal deterrent and had no negative affect on those following the law. I would love to see the effects of that studied further.

In conclusion, I believe the issue of gun violence is due to a complex array of issues. It is extremely important to not only understand the statistics, but the context that surrounds them. We let ourselves get too riled up by the media to look at things objectively. I think we would benefit by the removal of anecdotal evidence when sincerely looking for a solution. An honest conversation may prove to be more life-saving in the long run.

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