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Essay: Debate Over Gun Control: Pros & Con of Current Regulations

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  • Published: 1 January 2021*
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The debate over gun control has become a major problem as of recently in America. Many questions come up as to who should be the ones that are able to own and carry guns, as well as how these guns should be obtained. People enjoy the freedom to do what they want, especially when they can possess something that makes them feel superior, like owning a gun. People own guns for a plethora of reasons, like to hunt, to protect themselves and their families, and to simply satisfy the desire of owning a gun. Unfortunately, in recent years, the issue over guns has become a huge problem. The biggest debate when it comes to gun control is over our Constitutional right to own guns. The introduction of the Second Amendment opened the doors to controversy. It states that “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” ("The 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution", 2018). Even though the Second Amendment clearly states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”, the Constitution also states that it is the governments job to promote general welfare of its citizens ("General Welfare Clause – Dictionary definition of General Welfare Clause | Encyclopedia.com: FREE online dictionary", 2018). There is clearly an obvious conflict between the two. In recent years the issue over guns has become a huge problem. These days, gun violence is constantly making headline news, and because of the consistent violence that has been occurring, gun control has become a topic of great debate within the United States. Since 1966 there have been 151 mass shootings in which four or more people were killed by a lone shooter, and of those 151 shootings, 1,081 people have been killed. In 2018 alone, there have been 25 deaths as a result of mass shootings and 4,395 gun-related deaths in general ("Analysis | More than 50 years of U.S. mass shootings: The victims, sites, killers and weapons", 2018). These statistics are not just the only way to prove that guns have had harmful effects on our society. The many stories we hear on a regular basis after these said tragedies from those grieving from the loss of their loved ones hit home. So the question remains what will be done to fix these issues and is there anything that can truly be done without violating our basic human rights.

The problem with gun control is not just simply about the like or dislike of guns or control. It is about the effectiveness of the control and how the government will go about regulation. The government has been apart of the regulation of guns for many years. In 1938 the Federal Firearms Act was created and it stated that anyone involved in selling firearms required to obtain a Federal Firearms License from the Secretary of Commerce. They were required to record addresses and names of those they sold guns to and prohibited sale of firearms to those convicted of certain crimes or lacked a permit. In 1968 came to Gun Control Act, and this act expanded previous regulation in response to both John F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination by further restricting sales to drug dealers and those mentally incompetent. The most known act, the 1994 Brady Handgun and Violent Crime Control act, were put in place following the wounding of President Reagan and Jim Brady. This imposed waiting periods and background checks before licensed gun sellers could sell to an unlicensed individual. The Violent Crime Control Act banned semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines ("Here’s a Timeline of the Major Gun Control Laws in America", 2018).

In today’s society, federal laws have been in place to prohibit certain people from owning firearms. Those people include those with certain kinds of criminal records or mental illness, drug addicts, immigrants without legal status, veterans who left the military with a dishonorable discharge, and those with a permanent restraining order ("Identify Prohibited Persons | Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives", 2018). Federal laws are in place that requires licensed gun sellers to conduct a background check, through a database run by the FBI to see if the customer is among those prohibited from owning a gun ("Buying and Selling a Firearm: What is an FFL? | OutdoorHub", 2018). Even though these regulations are in place, there are still issues. There are incomplete listings of criminal cases and smaller scale sellers are not required to do background checks (Pérez-Peña, 2018). Federal laws forbid people who have been involuntarily committees to a psychiatric hospital and people found to be a danger to themselves or others from having guns. Even though that is a law set in place by the federal government, the federal government relies on states to report such cases so they can be added to the national background check system. The reports of these cases vary dramatically between states, Florida has entered 141,042 mental health records into the national background check system, while Wyoming, on the other hand, has only entered four ("Limiting Access to Guns for Mentally Ill will be Complicated | Rejuvenation Media", 2018). In the past years many of the highly publicized mass shootings have been carried out by people who have been described as being deeply mentally disturbed, but yet they still were able to own the guns used in these shooting legally.

Currently, the control over guns is at the state level. California, Connecticut, Colorado, Washington D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are the states with the most restrictive guns laws (Phillips, 2018). Some states also have a lot more strict background check systems when it comes to gun ownership in comparison to the federal one. These states are also the only states that prohibit open carry of guns in public ("Gun laws vary state by state", 2018). On the other hand, there are states that allow anyone who legally owns a gun to carry it openly without a license or permit. Here lies a major issues when it comes to gun control, the laws on obtaining and carrying guns vary tremendously from state to state.

When it comes to enforcing gun control, there are many obstacles that are hard to maneuver through, and this is where public policy plays a role. Public policy is defined as an attempt by the government to address a public issue by instituting laws and regulations pertinent to the problem at hand ("What is Public Policy? – Definition, Types, Process & Examples – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com", 2018). The debate behind guns control very much so relates to the group theory method of public policy. Group theory begins with the proposition that interaction and struggle among groups is the central facts of political life (Dye, n.d.). Individuals with common interests band together formally or informally to press their demands to the government (Dye, n.d.). One of the main concepts in the group theory model is access. To make an impact and shape government decisions, a group must have the access to express its viewpoints to decision makers. If a group does not have access and can’t communicate with the government, and if the government is not open to listening, getting the result of policies being fixed or changed is less likely to happen.

An example of group theory method in the policymaking process was the creation and implementation of The Brady Bill. The Brady Bill was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. The purpose behind the bill was to reduce gun violence by requiring background checks and waiting periods for the purchase of a firearm ("Here’s a Timeline of the Major Gun Control Laws in America", 2018). The bill passed even with numerous lobbying efforts against it by The National Rifle Association and opposition from influential leaders. The signing of this bill was looked at as a victory for gun control advocates and a sign that public opinion can, in fact, push forward legislation over the objections of powerful interest groups. Even though the public prevailed with the signing of this bill into law, The NRA and other influential leaders still had a say in the bill and they were able to take measures to eliminate key factors of the bill. The bill did little to prevent black market purchases and sales of handguns ("Brief History of the NRA: Brady Act & Gun Control", 2018). This goes hand in hand with the meaning behind having to have access when it comes to this model. The public does not have the same type of access that the NRA and other political leaders have. So while the bill was passed and was seen as a victory and step in the right direction when it comes to gun control, the result was a policy that was destined to fail because of the contradictory provisions.

A large majority of Americans are in favor of increasing background checks to limit the ability of the wrong individuals to obtain guns. Even with such a large majority of America has a similar stance on gun control, they get pushed to the side by well organized funded interest groups, such as the NRA. After the Orlando mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub, 92% of Americans said they want expanded background checks, 87% supported a ban for felons or people with mental health problems and 85% said they would ban people on federal watch lists from buying guns (Agenda, 2018). Even though public opinion clearly shows that the majority of Americans support gun control measures, public officials are influenced by these interest groups that oppose them. With this occurring, public participation and engagement are crucial when it comes to gun control, as Will Friedman from Public Agenda states, “A passive majority often cannot prevail against an active and organized minority” (Agenda, 2018). People are now taking a stand on getting tighter controls on guns. Recently hundreds of thousands of people protested across the country during the “March for Our Lives” rallies, following the Florida mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Protestors demanded protection from gun violence, including a ban on assault weapons, a prohibition on high capacity magazines that let shooters shoot long bursts without reloading, and more effective background checks for gun purchases ("Students Demand Stricter Gun Laws at March for Our Lives Rallies", 2018).

In light of the recent tragedies, it would seem that a change in regards to gun control would be obvious. Yet with each incident involving guns, little attempt is made to change these laws. If guns are not going to be banned, then gun laws need to be at least changed. For change to occur and for the change to actually have an impact, gun laws must be enforced at the federal level, rather than being varied by state. There are too many loopholes and the laws vary too much from state to state for there to be any impact on gun control. As much as Americans may want and need for a change in gun control laws, the likelihood of it happening is slim for a few reasons. A huge reason as to why gun control in The United States won’t happen is because of the NRA. The NRA is one of the most influential interest groups in the United States. It has millions of members and they spend large amounts of money on lobbying politicians. They are a major political force and they lay a huge role in politics and have a major influence on politicians. Another reason as to why gun control will not happen is because of the Constitution. It is clearly written in the Constitution that people have the right to own personal weapons such as handguns. The Second Amendment also clearly states the right to own firearms and it should not be regulated. I don’t believe the courts will looking to overturn the Second Amendment and the Constitution anytime soon.

Despite the issues with gun control in the United States, other countries have somewhat successfully regulated guns. Australia for example, had its own incidents involving gun violence and they were able to quickly pass legislation to ensure that guns stay out of the hands of people who should not have access to them, and this method has been proven to work for them. The gun control debate is still ongoing and amongst citizens as well as those in Congress. Gun ownership and use should be controlled and by limiting that access to guns, lives are being saved. But only time will tell when it comes to gun control, we just have to wait and see what the future holds when it comes to gun control.

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