Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Guns, Guns, Guns: Gun Ownership and Gun Control in America

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guns, pistols, rifle, revolvers, and ammunition

Guns! They keep us warm at night

Is there any more polarizing or controversial topic than gun ownership in America? I suppose Trump/Hillary, but I can’t think of anything else, and the gun ownership debate is clearly present in each of our current Presidential candidates’ campaigns as well. Some folks are no doubt basing their vote on this issue alone. Gun ownership and gun control is what I mean to discuss. My tone will be one which I think is largely being lost in the shuffle these days:  respect and honest debate.

There seem to be, broadly speaking, three schools of thought on gun ownership. One says that due to the Second Amendment to the Constitution everyone has a right to almost any weapon or explosive made or available in the US. Another is that the Second Amendment was drafted at a time when the most advanced weapons available were muskets, and the founding fathers did not intend private citizens to own fully or semi-automatic weapons or explosives, these ought not be publicly available but other guns are fine. The third school of thought is that firearms of any sort are too dangerous to be owned by private citizens, and ought not to be owned or used by any but the military or police forces.

A Little History

second_amendment

We can’t proceed further without directly quoting the Second Amendment to the Constitution:  “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.” It’s very brief, and different interpretations of this Amendment have caused a lot of debate. This Amendment came about due to eventual Congressional agreement that the US will have a standing army, and that citizens will not be deprived of their right to own guns just because we do.

Currently US gun laws allow a legal right for private possession of firearms to any citizen, permanent resident alien, and even “non-immigrant aliens” under specific circumstances. They must be over age 18 (Edit: or 21 to possess a handgun, thanks for a friend’s correction), and are allowed to own firearms unless they are under indictment or convicted of a felony, have been adjudicated ‘mentally defective’, have been discharged dishonorably from military service, or have renounced their citizenship. This right was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, which overturned a Washington DC ban on handguns. The Court found “the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home…Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws and not just federal laws. The Supreme Court has never ruled on whether the Second Amendment protects the right to carry guns in public for self defense.

Mass Shootings

Columbine

Columbine

What’s a mass shooting? The short answer is, nobody really agrees. The narrowest definition I’ve found is “indiscriminate rampages occurring in public places involving the deaths of at least 4 victims” by Mother Jones. According to this definition, there were four mass shootings in 2015. The Gun Violence Archive has a slightly different definition: “Four or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location not including the shooter.” They say there were 331 mass shootings in 2015. That’s a heckuva large range. For brevity’s sake, let’s just cover a few of the landmark shootings.

The first significant mass shooting I’ll include occurred in 1989 and is known as the Cleveland School massacre. A gunman shot and killed 5 school children and wounded 32 others before killing himself. The weapon involved was a Type 56 assault rifle.

The next significant mass shooting was the 101 California Street Shooting of 1993 which involved a man shooting and killing 9 people (including himself) and injuring six more in the offices of a law firm in San Francisco. The weapons involved were two TEC-DC9 semi-automatic pistols which he had outfitted with hollow-point ammunition and Hellfire trigger systems.

Following this was the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, in which two students murdered 13 people and injured another 21 before killing themselves. The weapons involved included an Intratec TEC-DC9 Semi-automatic pistol, Hi-Point 995 Carbine, Savage 67H pump-action shotgun and a Stevens 311D double barreled sawed-off shotgun. Columbine was hardly the first school shooting; reports of shootings that took place at schools go back to the 1800’s. However this was the case that seemed to ignite debate across America, and it’s clear that mass-murder shootings have accelerated in the US since Columbine.

Then we had the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the deadliest up until this year. A senior at Virginia Tech diagnosed with a “serious anxiety disorder” shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks that day. The weapons involved were a Walther P22 semi-automatic handgun and a semi-automatic Glock 19. This shooting didn’t just involve us–because the student was born in South Korea, the entire nation of South Korea responded with sympathy and a sense of national shame. Read about it here.

Another influential mass shooting was the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which 28 deaths occurred, including the perpetrator. The weapon used was a Bushmaster XM15-E2S assault rifle. This shooting reignited gun control debates across the country, as well as the effects of violent video games.

Most recently at the time of this writing is the Orlando nightclub shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in US history, which claimed the lives of 50 people (including the shooter), and has made world-wide headlines. The weapons involved included a SIG Sauer MCX assault rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol. Why all these shootings? The reason for this is beyond the scope of my article, and honestly I don’t know anyway. I don’t think anyone knows for sure, though some speculation about American culture is out there.

Gun Control Laws

assaultweapon

Various gun control laws have been enacted over the years. The first major one I’ll mention was the Gun Control Law of 1968, which came about due to President Kennedy’s assassination, and the subsequent assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F Kennedy. The President was shot and killed with a rifle purchased by mail-order, so a law banning mail order sales of rifles and shotguns (and prohibiting most felons, drug users and people found mentally incompetent) from buying guns was passed. It’s interesting that the Vice President of the NRA at the time said, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.”

In 1993 the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was passed. This bill created a background check system which required those who sold guns to conduct a background check of prospective gun purchasers, and created a list of categories of individuals to whom the sale of firearms is prohibited.

In 1994 ex-Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan wrote Congress asking that semi-automatic assault guns be banned in the wake of the Cleveland School Massacre in ’89 and the 101 California Street Shooting. This resulted in the Federal Assault Weapons Ban on the manufacture or use of assault weapons for 10 years.

After Columbine there were increased calls for gun control measures, as well as a radical change in security at schools. Days after the shooting, in a move that drew almost universal criticism the NRA decided to move its national convention to nearby Denver. At this convention the NRA CEO said something I completely agree with: “First, we believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools, period … with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel.”

The Sandy Hook shooting again resulted in multiple proposals for gun laws, including background checks on all firearm sales and a renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban, but it failed. Nothing at the Federal level passed, but states began enacting their own bans. Currently 8 states in the US have some form of assault weapons ban. Following Sandy Hook, the same NRA CEO said: “Politicians pass laws for Gun-Free School Zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”

What Do I Think?

gdr-vs-gunlaws

I think there have been a lot of mass shootings in the past 20+ years in the US, and a notable acceleration since 2011-2012. For a statistical analysis by a guy who knows more about statistics than I do, click here. Gun sales have reached record highs in 2010, 2011 and 2012. This can be a little misleading though, because it makes you think that more Americans are buying guns than ever before. In reality, that’s not the case. In 1973 about half of us had a gun in our homes; that’s down to 37% in 2013 according to Pew Research. Depending on where you check the number varies from 34 -41%, but it’s clearly gone down. Gun sales are going to people that already have guns, not to Americans that don’t. So what do I think about where our gun control laws should land? In general I agree with Ronald Reagan’s sentiments made February 6, 1989:

I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe than AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.

The Supreme Court itself, as cited above, supports the Second Amendment but states it is not unlimited. We have the right to own weapons for the defense of the home, and in other common uses such as hunting. As much as I support the Second Amendment, it does not give us the right to own “any weapon whatsoever.” I haven’t yet heard someone demanding that they need their assault rifle in order to hunt deer any more than I’ve heard we need to have the right to own weapons-grade plutonium. According to Ronald Reagan and many others, we don’t need it for defense of the home either.

We didn’t used to be so frightened about losing our guns. Let me be clear: Nobody is coming for your guns. This is a lie perpetuated in large part by the NRA to keep their organization thriving. As much as I want to like an organization that is supposedly there to lobby for defense of the Second Amendment, the typical magazine issue has articles that are clearly fear-mongering. To make it clear again, I am totally in favor of civilian private ownership of guns such as handguns, hunting rifles and shotguns. There are no laws on the books that will rob a citizen of their right to own these. It would never make it past Congress, and even if it did the Supreme Court would shoot it down (heh). If any laws were to come up, I will be voting against it just as much as I urge my reader to.

To those who say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, I say I agree! However, automatic and semi-automatic weapons help kill a lot of people a lot quicker. Orlando just could not have happened on the scale that it did without an assault rifle. Assault rifles have one purpose:  to kill people. It is a weapon of war, intended for soldiers who fight in war–not civilians. As cool as it can be to shoot one, that is not a sufficient justification for owning one. A recent study looking at 30 years of homicide data found that for every one percent increase in a state’s gun ownership rate, there is a nearly one percent increase in its firearm homicide rate.

Some will say, if you take guns out of the hands of civilians then only the criminals will have guns, look what happened in England! In England the Firearm Act of 1997 was passed after the Dunblane School Massacre, where a gunman killed 16 children and a teacher with Browning and Smith & Wesson pistols before killing himself. This act went further than banning assault rifles, it banned virtually all handguns. A recent analysis shows that violent crimes had increased, as some have pointed out, but after 2004 it has decreased every year. The violent crime rate now is comparable to the rate before it was first enacted.

Then there’s Australia, where they enacted the National Firearms Agreement in 1996 after the Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people were killed and 23 wounded. The weapon involved was an AR-15 assault rifle, so they banned semi-automatic and pump-action weapons and forced civilians to sell them back to the government. There had been 13 mass shootings previously; none have been recorded since. Here is a news article on it.

(Edit: this paragraph was added recently) Finally, some believe the 2nd Amendment gives us the right, whether implicitly or explicity, to ‘fight back’ against our government if we need to. I’m not sure I agree with this interpretation, or even in which circumstances this would justifiably apply. First of all, most Americans do not fear the armed forces, and virtually no one thinks that an armed populace could defeat those forces in battle. This is not the age of the flintlock rifle. If “the government” decides you are dangerous to the public, owning any kind of gun will not allow you to win against highly trained tactical teams or military forces, I don’t care who you are. Justifying owning fully-automatic weapons, for example, for some hypothetical doomsday scenario is not enough of a reason. I’m a Christian. If I died defending my innocent family, we’d go to heaven and our Lord would take any necessary vengeance. So that’s not a good enough reason for me, not when actual mass shootings continue to happen so frequently.

My Conclusion

The NRA CEO has said that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Do you know how many mass shootings have been stopped by armed civilians? As far as decades of records show, 0. None. Whether it’s a disgruntled employee, a mentally deranged person, a gang member or a terrorist, it doesn’t matter. A good civilian with a gun did not stop Orlando, anymore than he stopped 9/11. I have no problem with gun ownership for home defense, hunting or sporting. I support and will defend the Second Amendment, as I would the entire Bill of Rights. But I do not believe people have the ‘right’ to own military and paramilitary weapons or explosives. (Edit: I recently inserted this next sentence to clarify my position) I don’t think civilians should be able to own fully automatic weapons, or semi-automatic ones with larger magazine capacities–say, over 15 rounds–and no detachable magazines. These guns do not save lives, and the fun of shooting them does not justify owning them.

I don’t consider myself a liberal any more than I consider myself a conservative. I hunted with my dad throughout my entire growing up years, and had a good time. While I believe some gun control would help, ultimately the shootings and massacres aren’t about guns. I like to think this is not an extremist view on one side or the other, and I hope that mainstream America shares my view. Why do we have to many mass shootings in America? As I stated earlier, I don’t know. If I were to hazard a guess, in large part I think it’s due to the break down of the family in so many societies around the world, and the hyper-individualism in the US. But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong. 🙂

yeah

Too far?

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8 thoughts on “Guns, Guns, Guns: Gun Ownership and Gun Control in America

  1. I say this to your article.
    I agree with some of your week placed well researched points you have made. HOWEVER. I disagree with the fact you say the government is not trying to take our guns.
    I also say that perhaps your right and no documented cases of an armed citizen has stopped a mass shooting after it had begun. But how many documented cases are that a armed citizen may have stopped a mass shooting or stopped a citizen that may have had something of that nature planned.
    I for one think the sales of weapons has increased because of the serious problem we have with police in this country. It’s not just because of Muslims, or mass shooting or even home protection. I truly feel if cops weren’t out there acting like Cowboys and if they respected and new our rights as citizens then we would have more citizens that actually felt protected by them.

    • Mike, thanks for responding to my article! I’m perfectly fine if we disagree on some points, I’m just glad no one has attacked mer personally on here. I don’t really thing the government is coming for your guns, but I could be wrong. That’s why it’s the last sentence in my article.

      To your point about never stopping a mass shooting, another comment pointed to a news article where that exact thing happened, so I was off about that.

      As far as police…I guess I think that police are like people in any other profession. There are good officers and bad officers. There are knowledgeable ones and there are ignorant ones. I haven’t had bad experiences with cops, but I know people who certainly have. That’s all I really know for sure.

  2. I have seen these arguments used in favor of gun control many times, and I have seen them all refuted. The statistical evidence is always skewed in favor of the sources opinion no matter what side they fall on. I work in a world of numbers and know just how easy it is to massage a report to say what I want it to say. What this argument comes down to is what is the greater good, where is freedom most likely to thrive and win out. Freedom comes with risk always. I will take my freedom with risk, over chains and safety any day, and if you think that is a fatalistic view point let’s take the history lesson further to every single mass genocide committed through history. Tyranny is only possible when you have an unarmed population, we are not immune to this even in our country. Does everyone need an Ar-15, no, but every person who is comfortable training to use one and be ready to take up arms against anyone who would deny us freedom should be able to. And any law abiding citizen should be able to carry a weapon to defend themselves in public, crimes are more often committed when a criminal feels they will not face opposition, that is why they are criminals. Anyway this is way longer than I intended but, I want to close by saying I consider myself more Pro-freedom than pro-gun, but an attack on lawful gun ownership is an attack on freedom, and opens the gate to limit more of our freedoms.

    • Rob, thanks for reading my article, even if you did disagree with several of my points. I’m hopeful you agree with at least some of what I wrote. And you’re right, anyone who writes an article on anything controversial can be refuted. This is true whether the issue is gun control, abortion, gay rights, the war on drugs, you name it. I decided to take a stand for what I believe. I also agree with you in principle, I’d generally rather have greater freedom with greater risk, than less freedom with a more perceived feeling of safety (feeling safe as opposed to actually being safe). This is why I was opposed to the Patriot Act, which was something that preyed upon the fear of Americans to do things that I think are frankly wrong. I’ve been greatly opposed to losing our freedoms in the name of ‘fighting terrorism’, and I’m disturbed by the entire idea of the Dept of Homeland Security. I also agree that an unarmed population is not in the public best interest, and I strongly believe the 2nd Amendment is there to preserve a vital interest.

      I think we both might agree that there are some weapons that civilians can own, and other weapons that they shouldn’t. I used the example of an RPG in a previous reply. The question is, where does that line get drawn? I think it gets drawn where I (and to an extent Ronald Reagan) drew it. You’re certainly free to disagree, but it has to be drawn somewhere, and right now a lot of people are dying. I’ve tried to be objective and look at solid research, not just slanted articles on both sides. I could be wrong, which is why it’s the last sentence of this article. I don’t think the 2nd Amendment was intended to protect the right of people to own any kind of weapon they want, because the writers couldn’t imagine the kinds of weapons available today. I am also perfectly fine with folks who want to carry a gun to defend themselves in public, that’s why I never spoke against it. I certainly didn’t mean to give that impression.

      I don’t think guns laws are the whole solution, because I think other forces are at work today. It’s certinaly not a perfect solution. But some laws are appropriate.

  3. Not too bad. For the most part I completely agree with you. It is cool that you show a lot of facts and the progression of the debate. However you keep referring to the rifles used as assault rifles. The early ones I have no ideas but the last ones were not assault rifles by definition only by appearance. Assault rifle is a media hype trigger word used to install fear. I did notice you didn’t mention that automatic weapons were allowed to be owned by civilians until the 1930’s or so. The government outlawed them when the citizens used them against the establishment during the prohibition. And last I seen a meme that was awesome. When the second amendment was written the average citizen was able to have military grade weapons. Aka the musket. The 2nd amendment was written in part to protect us from the government. Correct. How can we do that if we are only able to have single shot hunting rifles and they get automatic .50 calibers rifles. And why have we not heard about mass shooting stopped by a gunman. Because if it was stopped its not a mass shooting now right. Also the media likes to promote and tell us the bad stories not the good ones. Every mass shooting mentioned I believe all happened in a gun free zone. It’s not by accident these shooters have committed mass shootings in a zone without guns. It’s so no one with a gun can stop them until the police arrive. I’ll link the mass shooting hat was stopped below. But really I agree with the tone of what you are saying. I know I don’t need an assault rifle. I also don’t need a ar-15 since it’s not even legal to hunt deer with. When those small caliber .223 rifles are outlawed I pity the people in any other mass shooting. A .223 is nothing compared to a hunting rifle 30-30 30-06 .308 mine is a .35. Those bullets will kill without hitting vital organs.
    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/04/20/concealed-permit-holder-stops-attempted-mass-shooting-in-chicago/

    • Tim, thanks for reading my article, glad to hear that you do generally agree with many of the points here. And you’re right, people used to be able to use machine guns. As I recall, the Tommy Guns and such used back then were mostly used by gangsters like Al Capone & Machine Gun Kelly against their enemies & the police during the Prohibition and Depression era, and there was no law against private citizens owning them until the mid-30s.

      To your point about the term ‘assault rifle,’ I do use terms like semi-automatic as well (I use this term 9 times, and the term ‘assault rifle’ 9 times) , and it’s mostly to differentiate it from the reader thinking I’m referring to a hunting rifle. It’s not just a media term though, it’s a common-use term by most people as well as the government in the Assault Weapons Ban, which defined the term assault weapon as a semi-automatic firearm. I could’ve referred to a Chinese Norinco Type 56 as the weapon in the Cleveland School Massacre, but I don’t think most people know what that means. I couldn’t just call it a rifle, it’s a variant of an AK-47. When I refer to an AR-15, most folks knowledgeable about gun types and models know what that means, but I can’t assume the average reader knows what I’m talking about. As far as being able to protect ourselves from the gov’t, I just don’t think that’s possible anymore. Even if you’re Rambo, if you start shooting at the police or other law enforcement, you are going to lose. That’s all there is to it.

      I also agree with you, muskets were military-grade hardware back then. They were hardly great weapons though, and I don’t think it’s fair to compare the term with terms now. Nowadays an RPG is also military-grade hardware, should civilians be able to own them? Part of my main point is there has to be a line drawn somewhere between a knife and plutonium where we say to civilians ‘ok you can own this, but not this.’ Everyone has their own idea of where that should be. I don’t think, for example, that most handguns should be outlawed. The Walther P22 and the Glock 19 used at Virginia Tech, I don’t think they should outlawed. I think the Tec-DC9 and AR-15 should, though. There has to be a line somewhere, and this is where I’ve drawn mine–can they be realistically used to hunt, or for home defense. Thanks also for the news article, I stand corrected!

      • So the question is who gets to draw this line. The assault ban didn’t cover the ar-15 because it wasn’t automatic. But there is a gun that is very similar. Read about it here https://www.gunsamerica.com/blog/ruger-mini-thirty-alternative-ak/. So this gun doesn’t appear to look like a ar-15 but is pretty similar. We can’t ban semi-autos since that is 99 percent of all guns pistols included. So what should we ban. In China last year someone with a knife killed 30 and wounded 100. With a knife. So maybe we need to be better at raising our kids as a nation since if someone wants to kill a lot of people they don’t need a ar-15. They don’t even need a gun.

        • I agree, IMO it’s more of a problem with the breakdown of families and a lack of love for each other as part of the human family. That’s the point I make at the end of my article, there is something causing people to do these things that didn’t happen in the past. For the purposes of this article about guns, I think the question is where does the line get drawn. If on one hand you have a handgun, shotgun or hunting rifle (which I’m for) and the other hand you have an Uzi or an AK-47 (which I’m against), where along that continuum is it ok to say civilians can own this but not that. I think to justify civilian ownership of a weapon, you have to justify it in terms of using it for home defense or hunting. As you said earlier, we’re in agreement about most things I think.

          I took a shot here at where I would draw the line: full autos, and semi-autos with large magazines–anything that can hold more than 15 rounds let’s say. The intricate details I’m not in charge of. If someone puts me in charge, then I’ll develop a more detailed opinion. It’s not a perfect solution, but I think it’s helpful. And hey, this is my blog, I can say whatever I want. (heh)

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