A Farewell to Arms

“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,” thus reads the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Advocates for gun rights have pointed to this amendment time and time again, and they have a point. This essential component of the Bill of Rights has guaranteed U.S. citizens the right to keep and bear arms, and fears of a totalitarian takeover arise whenever the government threatens to restrict that right. However, amid recent tragedies like the Sandy Hook Massacre or fears of terrorist threats like ISIS, the debate on stricter gun control laws have returned to the forefront of public discourse. In a nation with more firearms than people, the United States suffers more violence from guns than any other developed country in the world, and proponents of gun control argue that stricter measures on the flow of firearms is essential to reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by these weapons (Beauchamp). Although opponents of stricter gun control argue that the right ot bear arms should not be infringed and that the people should have the right to protect themselves, the United States government should tighten gun control laws because firearms cause far more harm than they prevent, comparisons between the United States and other nations reveal a very disparate situation, and the open interpretation of the U.S. Constitution allows for restrictions.

Supporters of gun rights will note that the sheer prevalence of firearms in the United States have led to the deterrence of attacks. This sentiment is best encapsulated in a quotation by Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. “You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.” Yamamoto was not exaggerating by much. The United States has more guns than any other nation in the world; in fact, there are so many guns in the United States that there are more guns in this country than people. As of 2013 there were 357 million civilian firearms in the nation compared to the total U.S. population of 317 million, which results in a rate of 112.6 guns per 100 residents, the highest rate of gun ownership in the world (Ingraham). Those who believe in as little restrictions on guns as possible will probably find this information comforting. As the old adage goes, “an armed society is a polite society.” The famous More Guns, Less Crime hypothesis by John Lott proposes that rates of violent crime decrease when guns are more available to the public. However, the data and the facts reveal a much more bleak reality.

Guns cause far more harm than they prevent. For starters, Professor Goldstein at the University of Pittsburgh revealed that the quotation attributed to Isoroku Yamamoto is fake. “No one had ever seen it or cited it from where they got it. Some people say that it came from our work, but I never said it. … As of today it is bogus until someone can cite when and where (qtd. in Jackson).” Furthermore, firearms are rarely used in self-defense. Police reported 84,495,500 property crimes from the years 2007 to 2011, but only 0.12% of victims used a gun to protect themselves (Planty and Truman). In those same years, over 29,618,300 violent crimes had been committed, and only 0.79% of victims used a firearm or the threat of a firearm to protect themselves (Planty and Truman). In 2010 there were only 230 instances in which a private citizen killed a felon in the process of protecting himself with a firearm, otherwise known as “justifiable homicide,” which is a stark contrast to the 8,275 criminal homicides caused by guns in the same period of time (“Firearm Justifiable”). For every “justifiable homicide” there are 36 criminal homicides caused by firearms. This means that a U.S. citizen is 3,600% more likely to be murdered with a gun than to protect himself with a gun. 3,600% is a very unnerving figure, especially when considering that less than 1% of victims of violent crimes protect themselves with a firearm. Clearly guns do far more harm than good.

Still, there are those who would say that guns are an effective means of protecting oneself, especially when police response times can reach terrifying lengths. In New Orleans it took the police 79 minutes on average to respond to emergency 911 calls in 2015, and in Detroit police response times have been recorded to be as long as four hours (“In New Orleans”). A multitude of egregious atrocities and crimes could occur in the span of 79 minutes, never mind four hours. This is a powerful argument for why guns should be made more available to the average citizen. Many who agree with this line of thinking believe that restrictions on firearms only prevent citizens who want to protect themselves from doing so. However, a June 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine found that “almost all guns used in criminal acts enter circulation via initial legal transaction (“Priorities for Research”).” An average of 232,400 firearms are stolen in U.S. property crimes annually, totaling over 1.4 million stolen guns from 2005 to 2010 (Langton). One would believe that gun ownership would be a deterrent of crime, but Professor of Law at Yale Law School, Ian Ayres, JD, PhD, and Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, John J. Donohue III, JD, PhD, explain how the opposite is true in their paper, Shooting Down the More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis:

With guns being a product that can be easily carried away and quickly sold at a relatively high fraction of the initial cost, the presence of more guns can actually serve as a stimulus to burglary and theft. Even if the gun owner had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and would never use it in furtherance of a crime, is it likely that the same can be said for the burglar who steals the gun? (Ayres and Donohue)

It is clear that guns, even if legally purchased, will frequently be stolen for criminal use. The most important part is for the United States government to enact gun control at the federal level because in certain states such as Vermont, citizens are not required to have a permit to purchase or carry a weapon, regardless of whether that weapon is concealed or open. Furthermore, to purchase a gun in Vermont, one does not even need to be a Vermont resident. The notion of people with no training whatsoever having legal access to deadly firearms is a very unsettling one. With that information in mind, it is imperative that the United States enact strict laws that would reduce the number of available firearms because the more firearms there are in circulation, the greater the likelihood of a gun being used to perpetrate a violent crime or homicide.

As of now, there is an unimaginable number of firearms in circulation, and the likelihood of a gun being used to perpetrate a violent crime or homicide is stratospheric. The current laws regarding gun control are in need of a serious overhaul, especially in order to protect women. Every day in the United States, five women die in murders caused by firearms (Gerney and Parsons). Not only do five women die every day in the United States due to guns, but the likelihood of a woman to be murdered rises by 500% if a firearm is nearby during a domestic conflict (“The Connection”). From 2001 to 2015 there were 5,364 US servicemen and women who were killed in action while participating in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan; however, in that same period of time, there were 6,410 women in the United States who were murdered by an intimate partner using a firearm (Gerney and Parsons; Fischer). American women are more likely to be shot and killed at home than soldiers are while fighting terrorists in the Middle-East. That statistic alone speaks volumes. The sheer prevalence of firearms in the United States has led to tragic outliers in firearm fatalities. Homicide rates in the United States are 6.9 times the rate of other industrialized, developed nations, and the rate of homicides by firearm were 19.5 times the rate of other industrialized, developed nations (Richardson and Hemenway). Amongst adolescents and young adults, the rate of homicides caused by firearms in the U.S. were 42.7 times the rate of other nations (Richardson and Hemenway). Four out of every five deaths caused by firearms occur in the United States (Richardson and Hemenway). 86% of all women who are murdered by guns are American women, and 87% of all children who die due to firearms are American children (Richardson and Hemenway). This paints a bleak picture that cannot be ignored. The United States suffers more violence from firearms than any other nation in the world, and the fact that the United States also has more firearms than any other nation in the world cannot be a mere coincidence. There is a clear, evident correlation.

Not only does the United States have a gratuitous number of firearms, the United States does a terrible job of controlling that gratuitous number of firearms. 31 states do not prohibit convicted stalkers from gun ownership, and 41 states do not mandate domestic abusers from giving up firearms they already own (Gerney and Parsons; “Guns and Violence”). When considering that 76% of murdered women and 85% of female survivors of attempted murder had been stalked in the year before the killing or attempted killing, there needs to be far more checks in place to prevent guns from falling into dangerous hands (Gerney and Parsons; “Guns and Violence”). Opponents of these checks, however, will argue that measures like micro-stamping cartridges or performing background checks before purchases would be an invasion of privacy, but a vast majority of U.S. citizens, including owners of firearms, agree with implementing common gun control measures like bans on high-capacity magazines or assault weapons, as well as introducing background checks for private sales and gun shows. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that 83% of all Americans surveyed, which includes 79% of gun owners, wanted to institute background checks for private sales and gun shows, and 90% of Americans who own a gun agreed with measures to prohibit the sale of firearms to the mentally ill (“In Gun Control”).

To see these measures in practice reveals promising results. Nations with tighter laws on gun control have lower rates of homicides and suicides caused by firearms than the United States. For example, Switzerland has the third highest rate of gun ownership in the world at 45.7 firearms per 100 citizens while Finland has the fourth highest rate of gun ownership in the world at 45.3 firearms per 100 citizens (Alpers, Rossetti, and Salinas). Both these nations demand potential gun owners to obtain licenses and clear background checks that look through both criminal and mental health records, along with a series of other requirements and restrictions (Alpers, Rossetti, and Salinas). These tight gun laws have resulted in measurable effects. In 2009 there were only 24 gun-related homicides in Switzerland while there were only 23 gun-related homicides in Finland, but in contrast there were 12,632 gun-related homicides in the United States that same year (Alpers, Rossetti, and Salinas). David Hemenway, a professor at Harvard University had this to say on the matter. “We analyzed the relationship between homicide and gun availability using data from 26 developed countries from the early 1990s. We found that across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides (Hepburn and Hemenway).”

The most challenging argument against stricter gun control measures arises from the Constitution of the United States. Many citizens fear that enacting tighter laws on gun control would hand the federal government too much power, power that could result in abuse and tyranny as the government attempts to force citizens to relinquish their guns. However, it should be noted that the Second Amendment was not written with the intention of protecting the right of the individual to own guns, but with the intention of protecting the right of the militia to own guns. Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens believed that “the Framer’s single minded focus in crafting the constitutional guarantee ‘to keep and bear arms’ was on military use of firearms, which they viewed in the context of service in state militias,” which is why the amendment included the phrase, “well regulated militia (District of Columbia).” According to Michael Waldman, the President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law, there were never any notes regarding an individual’s right to bear arms during the drafting, discussion, or ratification of the second amendment, and between 1876 to 1939, the United States Supreme Court has ruled against the individual’s right to bear arms on four separate occasions (Waldman). Every article of law that references the Second Amendment between 1888 and 1959 has maintained that the Constitution does not guarantee an individual’s right to bear arms (Waldman).

In conclusion, although the United States prides itself on its civil liberties and its resistance to tyranny, the overwhelming abundance of firearms and the resulting tragically high rates of violence have made it indisputably clear that this nation is in need of stricter laws on gun control. The number of cases in which a gun is used to protect is appallingly lower than the number of cases in which a gun is used to harm. The current situation in the United States allows for far too many firearms. taking a look at the incidents of gun violence in the United States and comparing it to other developed nations reveals that the United States has frighteningly low standards of regulating these firearms and who has access to them, and although the Second Amendment states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” opponents of gun control have misinterpreted it to mean that the civil liberties secured in the Second Amendment are unlimited. However, precedents in law and court cases all the way to the Supreme Court have proven otherwise. And so, in a nation where tens of thousands of people are dying annually from firearms, it is time that the government introduce measures to tighten regulations on gun control to save lives and prevent injury. It is time that the United States reduce its number of weapons. It is time for a farewell to arms.

 

Works Cited

Alpers, Philip, Amélie Rossetti and Daniel Salinas. 2016. Guns in the United States: Gun Homicides. Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney. GunPolicy.org, 11 April. Accessed 12 April 2016.

 

Ayres, Ian and Donohue, John J. III, “Shooting Down the More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis” (2003). Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 1241.

 

Beauchamp, Zack. “One Map That Puts America’s Gun Violence Epidemic in Perspective.” Vox.Vox Media, 02 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

 

District of Columbia, Et Al. v. Heller. US Supreme Court. 26 June 2008. Supreme Court of the United States. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Fischer, Hannah. “A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Freedom’s Sentinel,Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, andOperation Enduring Freedom.” Congressional Research Service (2015): 1-7. Fas.org.Federation of American Scientists, 7 Aug. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

 

Gerney, Arkadi, and Chelsea Parsons. Women Under the Gun: How Gun Violence Affects Women and 4 Policy Solutions to Better Protect Them. Rep. Center for American Progress, 1 June 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

“Guns and Violence Against Women.” Everytown. Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, 16 June 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Hepburn, Lisa M., and David Hemenway. “Firearm Availability and Homicide: A Review of the Literature.” Ed. Vincent B. Van Hasselt and Michel Hersen. Aggression and Violent Behavior 9.4 (2004): 417-40. NCJRS. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Ingraham, Christopher. “There Are Now More Guns than People in the United States.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

 

“In Gun Control Debate, Several Options Draw Majority Support.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press RSS. Pew Research Center, 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

 

Jackson, Brooks. “Misquoting Yamamoto.” FactCheck. The Wire, 11 May 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

“Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence.”  Rep. Ed. Alan I. Leshner, Bruce M. Altevogt, Arlene F. Lee, Margaret A. McCoy, and Patrick W. Kelley. Washington D.C.: National Academic, 2013. Nap.edu. The National Academic Press. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Richardson, Erin G., and David Hemenway. “Homicide, Suicide, and Unintentional Firearm Fatality: Comparing the United States With Other High-Income Countries, 2003.” The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care 70.1 (2011): 238-43. Pubmed.gov. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Shear, Michael D. “Obama Pleads for Stricter Gun Laws and Faces Tough Questioning.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Jan. 2016. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

 

“The Connection between Domestic Violence and Weak Gun Laws.” Mayors Against Illegal Guns (2013): 1-6. National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

 

United States. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Firearms Stolen During Household Burglaries and Other Property Crimes, 2005-2010. By Lynn Langton. Washington D.C.: US Department of Justice, 2012. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

United States. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Firearm Violence, 1993-2011. By Michael Planty and Jennifer L. Truman. Washington D.C.: US Department of Justice, 2013. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Violence Policy Center. “Firearm Justifiable Homocides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use.” Violence Policy Center 27.03 (2015): 1-9. Violence Policy Center. The Joyce Foundation, 1 June 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

 

Waldman, Michael. “How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment.” Politico Magazine. Politico, 19 May 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

 

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