Gun control is a difficult, hotly debated and volatile topic that seems to evoke explosive responses from both sides. And with the recent Senate vote (April 18) rejecting effective background checks for firearms, I am not surprised that the issue is still in the foreground of people’s thoughts. There is a great article by Richard Eskow, where he says, “But is that an inalienable right [freedom to buy a gun on a whim with no checks], like the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? And, if so, what happens when those rights are in conflict?”
This is a valid question. One that is handled brilliantly by the British show The Thin Blue Line in the clip at the end of this article. Is delaying a person’s ability to get a gun quickly an infringement on their rights? Possibly. But even if it is, what is more important; the rights of one individual or the rights of the many people who make up a community? To me the answer is simple. However, lets take a step back and go through a series of steps.
The first step involves actually reading the Second Amendment. It states, “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.” This specifically states “a regulated militia”. We no longer have these as such, so therefore it no longer applies. Today we have the police force to protect each community, so in essence they are the militia – with the exception that officers are now trained.
The very important second step to take into consideration is when this Amendment was written. This was adopted, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, on December 15, 1791. This is vital because we had just been at war with England for eight long, hard years (ending 1783) and we did not have a well-established army. It was a time when farmers, shopkeepers, bakers – anybody who was able-bodied- was asked to pick up a gun and fight for our freedom. In fact, our first army – the Continental Army – was quickly thrown together on June 14, 1775 for the purpose of fighting the British in the Revolutionary War, and was made up mainly of former British Army personnel and colonial militias.
But what happened to the Continental Army after the Revolutionary War? It was disbanded. The government did not want a standing army. The troops were given land certificates and dismissed. This left state militias to hold down the fort. The only exception to this was a regiment to guard the Western Frontier and one battery of artillery to guard the arsenal at West Point. Then, with the conflicts with the Native Americans, another army was formed in 1791 – the Legion of the United States – but again the decision was made to disband just five years later. Once again, the government did not want a standing army. So the solution was a “well regulated militia” of ordinary citizens.
The third step is to acknowledge that there is no peaceful reason to want a gun. Its sole purpose and design is to inflict pain, and preferably, death. No one was more aware of this than Mrs. Sarah Winchester, wife of the gun magnate and creator of the Winchester Rifle, William Winchester. She was essentially driven mad by the death and destruction her husband’s invention caused. As a widow, she felt the only way she could appease the angry spirits of those who had died at the hands of his rifles was to build continuously. Her mansion in Northern California was under construction 24 hours a day from 1884 until her death on September 5, 1922. She made staircases that went to the ceiling and doors that led to nowhere in order to confuse the spirits. Prior to the 1906 earthquake the house stood seven stories high. Now it is only four. The house is now an attraction.
The fourth step is to look at countries that already have gun control laws in place. Have they been successful? Harvard School of Public Health has been able to show, using data from 26 developed countries, that wherever you find more guns, you find a higher rate of homicides. And in America with more than 300 million civilian firearms in circulation we have a murder rate that is roughly 15 times more than other wealthy countries.
Australia was one of the first to install gun reform laws that included the banning of assault weapons and shotguns, tightened licensing, and offered buyback programs after a 1996 rampage by a lone gunman that left 35 people dead. John Howard, the prime minister at the time even said, “We do not want the American disease imported into Australia.” So what are the hard-core statistics from these tough reforms? According to the American Journal of Law and Economics in a 2010 report, firearm homicides dropped 59 percent between 1995 and 2006. And according to further Harvard research, in the 18 years before the 1996 laws, there were 13 gun massacres (more than four deaths equals a massacre) resulting in 102 deaths, and zero since.
Great Britain also developed a ban on all private ownership of automatic weapons and virtually all handguns after a gunman killed 16 children and a teacher in Scotland, also in 1996. These new laws give Britain some of the toughest gun laws in the world. They, too, have shown a decline in homicides involving guns.
The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 was a shock to many. Yet the country is still divided about gun regulations. In the 98 days since that disaster there have been 2,244 people that have lost their lives due to firearms. The Huffington Post has been keeping track and mapping these shootings.
With all the evidence at hand, I feel it is in all of our best interest to institute similar laws. Although many people feel that their freedom will be impinged with the institution of gun laws, I ask them to watch the following video. In this video, David Pakman discusses the correlation between gun ownership and freedom by using the latest data from the Small Arms Survey and the Freedom House Index.