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In the United States, firearms are linked to about 33,000 deaths per year; that’s roughly 10.5 deaths per a population of 100,000. This is a problem that has an immense effect on the United States on all levels (individual, societal, and international) because numerous civilians are being shot every day in the US, making the country and incredibly, and unnecessarily, dangerous place to be. Everyone in the nation is involved with this issue in some way; however, the national government and governments of individual states are major stakeholders in this issue because they are the entities responsible for what policies are and are not implemented. The main components of this issue that need to be addressed are the fact that people are dying from gun violence, whether purposeful or accidental, but gun owners refuse to give up their guns and related policies because of the right to bare arms. Bodies involved with enacting policies that want to pass constrictive gun laws have their hands tied because this is a question of being unconstitutional. In the end though, this is a serious and life-threatening issue that needs to be fixed without question. A policy needs to be put into place that satisfies both sides of the debate.
Gun violence has been a major problem for generations, since the establishment of the Bill of Rights, really. Since then, there have been numerous measures taken to regulate gun control in some way; however, support for gun ownership has greatly increased since the early ‘90s. In the past two decades, Americans have shifted from supporting gun control measures to supporting the protection of the right to own guns in a surge of recognition for the Second Amendment. In 1999, the murder-suicide shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, which resulted in the death of 12 students and a teacher and 24 wounded renewed the debate on having more restrictive gun control laws. Since then, there have been countless gun violence incidents, not including smaller-scale incidents such as accidental shootings, self-defense, and those involving police. Among many, we have had shooting at Edmond (1986), Virgina Tech (2007), Fort Hood (2009), Sandy Hook (2012), Pulse Nightclub (2016), and the Las Vegas and Texas church shootings (2017). As of as of December 4th, in 2017 alone, there has been a total of 56,837 gun violence incidents.
Very clearly, this is a problem that can affect any U.S. citizen, no one is safe when it comes to gun violence in our nation. This issue is so important because thousands of people are needlessly dying each year, and people have to fear being shot in their everyday lives, due to gun violence and it doesn’t need to be this way as exhibited by other countries with more strict gun policies.
Previously, there have been quite a few measures taken to make gun laws in the United States tighter. In 1968, the Gun control act of 1968 was passed to keep firearms out of the hands of those who do not have legal clearance to posses them; this could be due to age, criminal background, or incompetence. In 1968, the Armed Career Criminal act increased penalties for those who possessed firearms by those not qualified to own them as a result of the act of 1968. In that same year, the Firearms Owners Protection Act relaxed some of the restrictions on gun and ammunition sales, but established penalties for those using firearms to commit crimes. In 1994, The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act put a 5-day waiting period on the purchase of a handgun; it also required that local law enforcement conduct background checks on buyers of handguns. Unfortunately, in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court, declared the background check requirement unconstitutional. Also established in 1994 was The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act forbid the sale, manufacture, importation, or possession of several specific types of assault type weapons for 10 years; however, the law expired on September 13, 2004, after Congress failed to reauthorize it. Most recently, in 2017 U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the Background Check Completion Act, saying it would close a loophole in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that allows a continued transaction if the required background check is not completed after 72 hours, even if the gun buyer is not legally allowed to purchase a gun. The major problem with all of these acts is that getting a gun in the United States is still too easy, even with the laws in place, because they mostly just require a background check and a clean background check doesn’t predict someone’s present or future actions.
Most of the policies in the U.S. are only focused on getting completed background checks and banning the purchase of semi-automatic and fully automatic rifles (as well as bump stocks that turn a semi-automated into fully-automated). This isn’t going to stop people from killing. If someone has any type of gun, they can kill. These policies only stop mass shootings from happening frequently when we want all shootings to stop. Also, policies vary from state to state, so if someone in California really wanted an assault weapon but don’t want to register with the DoA’s Automated Firearms System, they could just go to Colorado where no permit or registration is required and there’s no ban on assault weapons.
Currently this problem is being driven by both economic and socio-political factors. The gun and ammunition manufacturing industry in the United States earns collective annual revenues of approximately $13 billion, and this is a number that could easily rise in the coming years. Politically, the issue of gun control creates a divide between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are typically in favor of more controlling policies like having gun free zones, more extensive background checks, bans on military-style weapons and a National Gun Registry. To them, less guns can lead to less gun-related crime. Republicans (and many gun owners), on the other hand see these as threats to the Second Amendment. They also feel that these measures are ineffective at keeping criminals from obtaining guns. And so, they argue to increase gun ownership and training by reducing restrictions to buying and carrying firearms. They have a fight fire-with-fire approach; to them, more gun owners means a preventive measure against criminal activity.
There are plenty of countries with successful gun control laws that restrict the carrying of said weapons. Japan, in particular, is one of the most successful. According to Iain Overton, executive director of Action on Armed Violence, Japan is “are the first nation to impose gun laws in the whole world.” First of all, handguns are banned complete and one is only allowed a shotgun or air rifle. Second, the process for purchasing a gun is Japan is very tedious. One has to take an all-day class, take a written exam, and pass a shooting-range test with a 95% or higher. Mental health and drug tests and criminal background checks (on the purchaser and their relatives and co-workers) are also administered. Police also have the authority to deny licenses and to search and seize weapons; they must also be told where the weapon and ammunition are stored. There is also a restriction on the number of gun shops allowed in the country and new cartridges can only be bought by returning used ones. When your license runs out after three years, the entire course and test must be taken again. Police are also restricted and are expect to become black belts in judo. These policies have done extremely well to minimize gun related deaths to about 5 per year. Unfortunately, despite it being tedious, the Yakuza still find ways to smuggle them into the country. This is not a major issue though because gun crime from them has sharply decreased in the last 15 years. These laws are supported by the majority of Japanese citizens as a lot of pacifism comes from the sentiment that the war was horrible and they never want to have something like that happen again.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Germany where there are a lot of guns; however, they don’t kill a lot of people at all. This is because of the country’s policy on arms possession. Anyone under 25 who applies for their first license must undergo a psychiatric evaluation with a trained counsellor, involving personality and anger management tests. Hunters or sports shooters over 25 may be called in for psychiatric tests if they display certain kinds of behavior, like driving under the influence. A change to the law in 2008 calls for the fitting of family relic guns with a blocking mechanism that makes them unusable. After a shooting in 2009, where a teen obtained his weapon from his dad’s arsenal, it is harder for individuals to own multiple weapons. A national gun registry was established in 2013 and police cab visit registered gun owners’ homes for checks without warning. As a result of these laws, the gun homicide rate is one of the lowest in Europe: 0.05 deaths per 1,000 people, compared to the U.S.’s 3.34. Incidents of gun crime have declined by nearly a 25% since 2010. But, like anywhere, there are ways to smuggle weapons and when a suggestion to completely ban the storage of firearms in private homes came from some politicians, it was rejected at the protest of hunters. There will always going to be opposition from parties, but the laws in Germany stand firm and continue to work.
My policy suggestion for the United States is to adopt one of the aforementioned policies, particularly the majority of those in Japan. Japan has what may be the closest any country comes to “zero-tolerance” of gun ownership and this ideal contributes to the country’s low rates of gun crime. As of 2011, legal gun ownership stood at 271,000, in a country of 127 million people. We will continue the ban of automatic rifles, as well as any other high-grade firearms, and implement the extensive process that goes into purchasing a gun in Japan. Those that already possess guns will have to go through the process as well. This policy will solve the problem in the same way that it does in Japan. The hard work that goes into obtaining a gun will mean less people purchase them, but it wouldn’t interfere with the right to bare arms because we wouldn’t have complete banning of civilian ownership. In short, there is no law against owning a gun, so the policy wouldn’t interfere with the Second Amendment, one would just have to want the gun enough to go through the entire, tedious process of obtaining it. Japan is a shining example of how well their policy works. There were only six reported gun deaths in Japan in 2014, as opposed to the U.S.’s 12, 564.
Of course, this anticipated change in gun sales could affect the gun industry, but there are plenty of other industries that would pick up the economic slack. Pro-gun parties will protest this, but again, we’re not taking away their right to own a gun, just making it a lot harder to purchase one and more tedious to own it. In the long run, less guns, means less gun crimes in the future. Police related shootings will also decrease on both sides. “If you have too many police pulling out guns at the first instance of crime,” Overton says, “you lead to a miniature arms race between police and criminals.” Ideally, the U.S. will be able to be on the same level as other countries world-wide that have only a fraction of the number of gun-related deaths as we do. Overall, things would be a lot safer for civilians in their daily lives with a tighter grip on gun control.
On average, there is more than one mass-shooting a day in the United States; just in the last 12 hours, there have been seven smaller incidents around the nation. This is because gun control laws in the States are too lax as they focus more on protecting the right to bare arms that the actual matter of keeping citizens safe. The best policy for dealing with this, without getting rid of guns completely, is to put further restrictions on the purchase and carry of firearms. As a nation, we should adopt to policies in Japan that require an all-day course, exam, and extensive background check for anyone who wishes to buy a gun. There should also be a registry kept and police should be able to deny licenses and to search and seize. They should be told where the weapon and ammunition are stored and when one’s license runs out after three years, the entire course and test must be taken again. Giving these same restrictions to police, along with alternatives to guns, will also be beneficial. In the end, possession of a gun should be based in genuine need for one, a thing that everyday citizens just do not have.
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