America and Guns: All You Need to Know

The recent tragedy in Virginia, where a TV reporter and her cameraman were shot to death, has reignited the debate on American gun control laws. This is a debate which seemingly has gone on for decades and has seen no change. A commonly stated statistic is that in the last fifteen years, there has been no law limiting firearms ownership in America. The Update wishes to inform you on the unique relationship between the USA and guns.

There are now 96 guns for every 100 people in America

It is common knowledge that “the right to bear arms” is the second amendment of the US Constitution, a legal paper which lays down the supposedly most important laws in America. This amendment guarantees that all American citizens have the right to a “civilian militia” which would supposedly be equal in power to the American military. The idea behind this is that if the US were to ever become a tyrannical government, the citizens could overthrow it. Many argue that this gives powerful rights to the American public, rights that they might not need. Others argue its part of a system of checks and balances, to make sure the state stays democratic.

The “Founding Fathers”, writing the American constitution, Image source:

Many point to the wording of the second amendment, which writes that not only may a civilian hold the right to “bear arms” (own a weapon) but that they hold the right to a civilian militia equal to that of the military. In the late 1700s, when these papers were written, a well armed civilian militia would’ve been most citizens owning muskets. Today however, that would mean civilians being able to own Predator Drones and nuclear warheads. Some claim that this would be a ridiculous power to give to the people. Others say that the American public has those rights now, but they still don’t own these weapons. They say that just because you have the right to something, doesn’t mean you’ll do it.

Another common argument used is derived from a soundbite from NRA (National Rifle Association) head Wayne LaPierre. He famously claimed that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. His argument is that guns won’t stop homicidal instincts, that guns are merely a tool. He claims that if guns are taken away, murderers will resort to more violent forms of crime such as stabbing. That taking guns away won’t make criminals better people, just more resourceful people.

NRA head Wayne LaPierre, Image source:
NRA head Wayne LaPierre, Image source:

His opponents point to an article in the New York Times called “The Urge to End It All”. The article covered suicide, and mentioned that in the early 20th century, most stoves in England burnt coal gas, a lethal but quick to kill gas. By the 1950s, using coal gas in England was the most common way to commit suicide, it accounting for over half of all suicides in any given year. However, when these stoves went out of production in the 1970s, many people thought that people would commit suicide in another way. Surprisingly though, the suicide rate actually dropped by nearly a third, and it hasn’t risen since then. Gun control proponents claim that this could be similar to guns, that if less guns were available, people would be less likely to commit mass shootings or suicides (Note: For every gun murder in the USA, there are two gun suicides) saying that violent acts such as these are often split-second decisions, acted upon on impulse.

Gun control opponents tend to either raise the point or counter argue with the example of La Chat’s very own, Switzerland. Switzerland has some of the most laissez-faire gun laws in the world. Another region pointed to is Svalbard, an archipelago north of and belonging to Norway. Svalbard has both the highest gun ownership rating in the world (100% of all adults must own a gun) and simultaneously the lowest crime rate (the last reported crime being operating a snowmobile while under the influence of alcohol in 2013)

Svalbard, during winter, when it experiences very little sunlight, Image source:
Svalbard, during winter, when it experiences very little sunlight, Image source:

Others will point to regions like Iraq, or India, which both have very high crime rates and many gun owners. They also point out that while Switzerland’s gun laws are purposely lax, the male population (most gun owners) is put through mandatory military service, during which they are told how to operate a weapon. Similarly, in Svalbard, gun training is mandatory at age 10, at which point all residents are armed. However, Svalbard’s laws aren’t for protection against criminals, but rather against the local polar bear population (polar bears are known for being aggressive). Gun control supporters point out that America does not have any federally mandated training.

Both sides point to many opposing studies which claim that either more guns will create less crime, or the exact opposite. None of these studies can be reliably trusted, as almost all are funded by a particular interest group which wishes to see its beliefs confirmed.

There are trends in gun ownership in America, one of the most fascinating one is around election time for the new President. Every time a national election occurs, gun ownership rises. It rises even more if a Democratic candidate wins the Presidency. It occurred for both terms for Obama and Clinton. This trend is believed to be predicated on the fear that Democrats (who traditionally support harsher gun control laws) will enact stronger gun laws, or even start taking away guns. This, quite obviously, leads to more shootings several years after a Democrat is elected to office.

Democratic Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Image source:
Democratic Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Image source:

Members of the NRA argue that gun crime could go down if other socio-economic factors associated with crime are fixed instead. Opponents argue that guns are one of those factors that increase crime. While it is true that more guns are linked to a higher likelihood of getting shot, there are no proven links between guns and crime.

Many gun control opponents say that if guns were made illegal, only the hardest of criminals would have access to them. They argue that if gun laws stay the way they do, families will have the ability to defend against crime. Gun control proponents counter by saying that lowly burglars or home invaders won’t have access to guns with harsher gun control laws, and that the only criminals who would hold guns wouldn’t be a threat to the American public, but would only be a threat to the military or police, who are adequately prepared already.

The Update respects the opinions of both sides of this argument, and wishes to remain impartial on this controversial debate. It hopes that it has informed you of the various argument points used on both sides of the debate on this issue adequately, and that we have shown information for you to make an informed decision on which side of this debate you belong.

Sources include The New York Times, Vice News, Guiness, Obama Administration, NRA, Wikipedia and The Discovery Network

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