Nowhere in the world is gun control more controversial than in the U.S. It is the only Higher Income Nation (HIN) in which mass murders committed with guns are so frequent that the vast majority of them never even reach the mainstream media. Those that are horrific enough to ensnare the nation’s attention, including the 2016 murder of 49 people in an Orlando nightclub, and the 2012 slaughter of 20 children and six adults at a Newton, Connecticut elementary school, typically begin a lively but ultimately short and fruitless debate on the need for stricter gun control in the U.S.
In the U.S., you are 25 times more likely to die in a gun-related homicide than in any other wealthy country in the world. Gun deaths occur so frequently that even the mass shootings that capture the national imagination, like the most recent ones in Atlanta and Colorado, account for just half of a percent of the U.S. gun mortality rate annually. In 2017, the Small Arms Survey estimated the amount of firearms owned by Americans to be over 393 million—that is, over 120 guns per 100 people. The U.S., which constitutes 5% of the world’s population, has approximately 50% of the world’s civilian-owned firearms. It is the gun capital of the world with no close competitors in sight.
The U.S. is clearly overdue on the instatement, or reinstatement, of gun control measures. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018 there were 39,740 deaths related to guns. The general trend in the U.S. is that annually, essentially 50% of gun-related deaths are due to suicide, while the other half tends to be a result of violent crime. I would like to focus on violent crime. Restrictions based on mental health and preventing suicides tend to be wildly popular amongst all branches of the debate.
The major talking point amongst those against stricter gun control or the banning of certain guns is that it takes away a mode of defense for law-abiding citizens. The end result, they claim, is that criminals will still have guns; they, after all, don’t obey laws to begin with. Essentially, they argue that the presence of guns, or the ability to own a gun, makes a person safer. Well, according to the Violence Policy Center for every self-defense homicide in 2014—a relatively calm year when it came to mass shootings—guns were used in 34 criminal homicides. A one-to-34 ratio doesn’t exactly stir within me a sense of safety.
The simple fact is that you are more likely to use a gun on yourself or have a gun criminally used on you, than you are likely to ever successfully use a gun defensively. Additionally, a study of 160 active shooting occurrences between 2000 and 2013, published in 2014 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), found that only one was successfully stopped by an individual with a valid firearms permit as opposed to 21 stopped by unarmed citizens.
Moving on to criminals having guns, and therefore the power: contrary to popular belief, today it’s hard to make something disappear. What you can do, though, is shoot up the price. In tandem with my first point of it being difficult to make things difficult to disappear, I believe very few people are actually having discussions on fully banning guns—something I am aware is unconstitutional—however the whole purpose of amendments is to write in change. This was done with prohibition, so it can be done with guns and pretty much anything else noted in the Constitution. What is often discussed is stringent gun control, such as making it more difficult to obtain and maintain certain guns, and banning others.
Stringent control is the way to go. Even a reinstatement of the 1994 Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act would go a long way to help curb gun violence. The Act instituted bans on semi-automatic and automatic weapons, among other things. The Act was in effect from 1994 to 2004, when it was allowed to expire by Congress. During the 10-year period the law was in effect, the country saw a reduction in annual deaths from mass shootings from an average approaching 20 prior to the law’s instatement, to an average around 10, with 1999 being an outlier with over 40 deaths.
Immediately after the end of the act, the next four years saw the average annual deaths from mass shootings push up again to 20, with 2007 having been an outlier, as the death count from mass shootings in that year alone surpassed 50. The trend since then has continued, with the median annual mass shooting deaths increasing annually. 2011 to 2017 saw an annual median of roughly 50, for example, with 2017 being an outlier as it approached 120 deaths due to mass shootings alone.
Stringent requirements clearly work toward reducing mass gun violence; the trends in nations such as Canada, the UK, and Australia are indicative of this. All saw horrific occurrences of mass gun violence, often with death counts lower than our average, and proceeded to institute stringent gun control that saw gun violence decrease over time. As requirements to get a gun tighten, it becomes harder for people to get them. This includes criminals, it’s in fact harder for criminals. It’s harder for them to get approved and harder for them to acquire it from other avenues if they can’t.
The cost of an AR-15 in the US ranges from $500 to upwards of $2000. The same guns in the UK range from $3,000 to $4,500 when it’s known that they’ve been used in a crime. If they haven’t been, they can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. The cost of distributing them increases, legally and illegally, especially illegally. When stringent restrictions are set in place, as a result costs increase. And the simple fact is that for most people, including most criminals, such a cost is outside their budget. A robber that can afford it, has no reason to rob you to begin with. Simply put, guns would become a problem related to organized crime, which they already are, rather than something the everyday criminal could get a hold of. Additionally, as the cost of maintenance surrounding getting and keeping a gun goes up—whether that’s the fees of the bureaucracy, the cost of training or the cost of bullets themselves—fewer people will be able to afford or have the particular desire to go through with acquiring and maintaining a gun. As a result we would live in a society with a reduced presence of guns and their owners. What could be safer than that? I think the US is overdue in cultivating safer communities. This is where we can begin. All we have to do is finally begin taking the steps we’ve somehow been avoiding. Those that use guns for sport can still have their guns and we can build safer communities. It looks like we can make everyone happy. It’s time to feel safer, it’s time to marginalize guns in our society.