America’s Debate on Gun Control

All Americans, from whatever walks of life and of whatever political or philosophical convictions, hate the death of innocent human beings and have had a reaction of shock and pain due to the killing of 20 schoolchildren and six staff members in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. Since the shooting at sandy hook elementary, Americans have had to consider with great thought and caution how best to proceed to protect innocent families and people.

First we had to think about and address a few of the problems in society involving school safety, mental illness, the cultural climate, and the misuse of firearms.

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Then we had to explore potential solutions to the issues listed, thinking through the facts and taking into account the costs and benefits of each of the potential solutions to ensure that sound judgment governs the emotions attached to the subject.

In conclusion Americans had to implement appropriate solutions in a manner that agreed with the Constitution, including the Second Amendment right that guarantees the ability to keep and bear arms, the traditional role of the states in our federal system, and the central significance of family.

Making public policy is especially challenging in these circumstances. In the case of responding to tragedies such as Newtown, Parkland, and other shootings concern must be channeled by individuals, families, civil society, and possibly government into effective precautions and laws that agree with the Constitution. Policy makers should not just do something to ease our sense of urgent help and responsibility without really considering all of its effects. Careful exploration of all of the effects of each problem is essential. Complex cultural factors must be taken into consideration, and sober judgment about human nature is essential. Constitutional principles and constraints, which are so important in preserving the liberties known to all Americans, must be taken into consideration. Not all problems can be solved with government action, and in the case when government action is required, any federal action, including executive orders, should be in line with our federal system of government, respect for state sovereignty, and the separation of powers.

Our Constitution was framed for a self-governing people, and effective constitutional responses will therefore transcend federal policy procedures. Policy makers today avoid rushing to judgment on prescriptions that fail to respect constitutional principle or to locate the root of the problems, some of which lie in complex cultural issues that are best addressed at the state and local levels or that lie beyond the reach of policy altogether”best addressed by families, religious parties, and other groups of a civil society.

When addressing the topic of gun laws, school safety, mental health, and cultural issues, Americans focus on the following principles:

Continuing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms: The constitutional 2nd amendment right to keep and bear arms is an individual right that is fundamental to a free society and is known to all Americans, which depends, ultimately, on personal responsibility. The Second Amendment continues to be an important factor in many American citizens belief of security. Gun control laws do not correlate with decreased in violence.

Ensuring School Safety: Since a number of shootings have occurred on public school grounds in recent years, the safety of students on campus is a hot topic and concern of almost all Americans today. Decisions of school security are policies that are the responsibility of state and local governments. However, Community-level identification of and response to risks is essential in these matters.

Addressing Mental Illness: While there is no statistical evidences that people with extreme cases of mental illnesses who are being treated are more dangerous than the average human, it is clear that many with severe illnesses who are not being treated are more dangerous. Decisions about policies regarding the risks of school violence being caused from mental illnesses are state and local responsibilities. States can reduce the risk of both school violence and address mental illness humanely.

Addressing Cultural Issues: Citizens, parents, and cultural norms are very important factors in working to prevent the recurrence of tragedies such as Newtown and Parkland. Family plays an essential role in the successful development of thriving children and adolescents, and its role must be honored in policy and supported in communities. Civil society institutions offer a first line of defense in building and maintaining safe and thriving communities. The First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech means that it is up to individuals, families, and communities to make responsible choices when broadcasting media production and consumption.

Violent acts much like those in Newtown and Parkland shatter the well-being of a community and disturb the peace of mind that Americans typically hold and enjoy. Responses must seek to bring back the protection afforded by the rule of law and a thriving civil society of individuals exercising their responsibilities as citizens and community members.

The Second Amendment continues to be an important safeguard of Americans’ security. The Second Amendment stating 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.” In 2008 this statement was challenged, in [District of Columbia] v. Heller, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, not just the right to arms only in the service of a government-organized militia such as the National Guard. In 2010, in McDonald v. Chicago, the court held that this is a fundamental right that also applies against state and local governments.

The founding generation did not trust standing armies. As Justice Antonin Scalia noted in his majority opinion in Heller, English history is filled with examples in which monarchs “succeeded in using select militias loyal to them to suppress political dissidents, in part by disarming their opponents,” just as King George III tried to do with the colonists in areas he considered rebellious. This caused a reaction by the colonists, who turned to their well-established rights as Englishmen to keep their firearms.

The Revolutionary War, however, made it stand out that militia forces alone could not be depended upon to provide a sufficient national defense they may need help, causing the founders to give power to the federal government to have authority to establish standing armies, including in peacetime. They recognized, though, that this created a threat to liberty, especially in light of the fact that the proposed Constitution also prohibited the states from keeping troops without the consent of Congress. While both parties,federalists and the anti-federalists, debated whether federal control of the militia would take away from the states powers, their principal of defense against federal oppression, both sides agreed that the federal government did not and should not have any authority to disarm the states just like it should not have the power to abridge the freedom of speech or prohibit the free exercise of religion.

The Second Amendment’s role in discouraging government oppression is very important, however, the right to keep and bear arms has another motive that is just as important and urgent today as it was at the time the Constitution was put into place:most importantly, to enable American citizens to defend themselves against violent criminals making them feel a sense of security. In the case of police forces they cannot be everywhere at all times, and response times for many police departments leave citizens vulnerable for long periods so without the second amendment rates of crime would likely be much higher. The founders of the constitution accepted the individual right of self-defense as the natural right for the right to arms. They were definitely influenced by many natural law theorists much like William Blackstone who said, “Self-defence therefore, as it is justly called the primary law of nature, so it is not, neither can it be in fact, taken away by the law of society.” Because of this, the people who gave us the Second Amendment saw no basic difference between an individual’s right to defend himself against a robber or attacker and the individual’s right to join together with others in a state-regulated militia.

Clearly the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to privately keep and bear their own firearms that are suitable as individual weapons for hunting, sport shooting, self-protection, and other lawful purposes. In the Heller court case , the court made it clear that while “some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem[,…] it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

A few thing that are super important as a matter of first principles and now settled constitutional law is first that the Second Amendment guarantees fundamental, individual rights of all law following adults and second in the case of trying to apply the Second Amendment, lawmakers and judges must be faithful to the original public meaning of the Second Amendment as understood at the time of its passage by Congress and ratification by the states. Specifically to the understanding of the natural right of self-defense given to all American citizens, rather than some businesslike argument about what legislators and ratifiers would want it to mean today if they were redrafting the Constitution in modern times because the constitution was made to stand and remain the law of the US for centuries.

In addition to the constitutional and philosophical limitations involved in regulating a basic right, any laws should be carefully examined with historical evidence and with a thorough examination of data about their effectiveness.The chart below shows the amount of homicides after Great Britain banned handguns in 1997.The graph shows that when Britain enforced stricter gun control there was no real effectiveness.

Statistics show that gun ownership does not correlate with increased violence. For example, the rate of gun ownership is higher in rural areas than in urban areas, but the murder rate is higher in urban areas.Another example is according to one study, blacks are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than whites, but gun ownership among blacks is significantly lower than gun ownership among whites. In local cities where right-to-carry laws were enacted, all communities saw a decline in murder rates and instances of other violent crimes.

Cross-national and cross-cultural comparisons of gun ownership and violence are very problematic for many reasons, but it is important to note that the correlations do not run in only one direction, as some gun control advocates imply by referencing only a few examples that support their biased beliefs. Gun ownership is roughly three times as high in Switzerland as it is in Germany, yet the Swiss have had lower murder rates. Many other countries with high rates of gun ownership and low murder rates include Israel, New Zealand, and Finland.

Between 1940 and the early 1960s, when the use of firearms by dangerous criminals was less common, people could buy guns, ammunition, and dynamite from hardware stores; the Sears Christmas catalog had page upon page of rifles and shotguns that could be ordered through the mail; and some high schools and scout groups had shooting teams. Many high school students on those teams kept their rifles in their school lockers which in todays time this sounds very scary to many Americans. All of this was before the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 was enacted and before background checks and waiting periods were implemented in the 1990s.

Gun control laws do not correlate with decreased violence. If gun control were a universal cure, then Washington, D.C., Oakland, and Chicago, which have very strict gun control laws, would be among the safest places to live rather than the most dangerous. While some countries with strict gun control laws, such as Japan, experience very little violence as a result of criminal use of firearms, other countries, such as Russia, Brazil, and Mexico, have stricter gun control laws but higher rates of violence involving guns than the United States does. In the United States during the decade that the assault weapons ban was in place, our nation’s public schools were subjected to over two dozen incidents of violence through the criminal use of guns”including the Columbine High School massacre, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher and then continuing by shooting themselves. Instead of benefiting people, gun bans cause many people to be vulnerable in a crisis by disarming innocent trust worthy citizens. Professor of criminology Gary Kleck of Florida State University found that the number of defensive gun uses may be as high as 2.1 million to 2.5 million times per year. Not only that but there have also been numerous occasions where mass shooters have been stopped before they could continue their horrible acts by ordinary citizens with lawfully possessed firearms. The Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms is crucial to a free society, which depends mainly on personal responsibility. The debate over gun laws must be figured out in a larger discussion about the character of our civil order. It should not be used to avoid addressing the personal responsibility of all Americans for their own and their neighbors’ good.

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