Gun violence and gun control are highly divisive issues that often appear at the forefront of presidential elections. This year, however, recent incidents such as the shooting of 9 people at an Oregon Community College has brought a greater sense of urgency to both issues. It has also highlighted stark differences of opinion on gun violence between Republicans and Democrats, and among the leading presidential candidates of each party. As has been the case for several decades, Democrats predictably favor increased regulations on firearm sales and ownership, while Republicans staunchly oppose any such laws. This trend holds for this presidential election, with all Democratic candidates favoring some form of increased gun regulation, and Republicans advocating for either no change or for looser gun laws. National public opinion on gun control has been trending in favor of the Republicans since the early 2000s. While Americans previously have prioritized gun control over gun rights by a double-digit margin, support for the two is now roughly even, both around 50 percent, according to data from the Pew Research Center . Support for each falls on predictable lines of urban versus rural populations, as well as age, gender and partisanship. While the recent spate of shootings has highlighted the gulf of opinion between political parties, it has also shed light on how opinion differs between candidates and constituencies within each party. In the Democratic party, all remaining presidential candidates support gun control in some measure, but have prioritized it to different degrees. The only anti-gun control Democratic candidate, Jim Webb, promptly dropped out of the nomination race, finding himself out of step with the mood of the party. The two leading candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have shown pronounced differences on gun regulation. While Sanders is not necessarily an opponent of gun control, he has a mixed voting record on gun legislation, and has attempted to characterize gun violence as a narrow urban issue rather than a national one . He tends to avoid highlighting gun-related issues, as they distract from the primarily economic messages of his campaign. Clinton, on the other hand, has exploited gun control as an issue where she is noticeably more liberal than Sanders. She has sharply contradicted his framing of gun violence as an exclusively urban problem, and has stated that gun control should be as much a voting issue for Democrats as gun rights are for Republicans . Republicans are fairly monolithic in their opposition to new gun measures, although some are more outspoken than others. The only major form of gun regulation that some Republican candidates will endorse is background checks, which is also supported by 79 percent of Republican voters . That said, some have derided background checks as ineffective, citing illegal gun sales and several mass shooters who have been able to pass background checks. Candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson have attempted to distinguish themselves with their unwavering support for 2nd amendment rights. Both have touted increased gun ownership as a way to combat gun violence. Carson has stated that the 2nd amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms without registration , while Trump has suggested creating a federal system for issuing concealed-carry permits . While gun control may make small sways in opinion among primary voters, it is likely to be relegated to the background of the 2016 campaign, as voters will prioritize foreign policy and the economy.
While liberals often perceive the anti-gun control movement as a combination of the NRA and rural property owners shouting about the second amendment, there is a solid philosophical and empirical underpinning to the argument of why there should be limited government interference when it comes to guns. There are three particular arguments that stand out.
First and perhaps most importantly, there is a reason the founding fathers included the right to bear arms as a universal natural right bestowed on all of us at birth. This way of thinking is not necessarily because we have the right to use guns recreationally, but it is instead due to what those guns mean in terms of broader rights. America was founded on a Lockian tradition centered around skepticism of government and a fear government might become too big for citizens to protect their rights. In order to protect ourselves from tyrannical government, the founding fathers gave us the second amendment to give citizens the ability to overthrow a government they deem tyrannical. The Lockian tradition, unlike the philosophical tradition of many European democracies, does not view government as a necessity to human life but rather sees it as a way to protect certain rights. If government no longer protects those rights but instead infringes upon them, one should, according to this tradition, be able to reject life under that particular social contract .
Second, the idea that the U.S. government should limit access to guns means that the only people who would have access to them would be those who use them for the wrong reasons. According to the ATF, only 8% of gun related crimes are committed with legally obtained guns . In principle, as owning guns becomes more difficult, the people deterred from obtaining them would not be criminals but rather those who would use guns to defend themselves from criminals. Crime becomes easier for armed felons if it is harder to obtain guns for the everyday Americans. Logically, the government should make gun ownership as easy as possible, since criminals would find ways to secure firearms regardless. Just as drugs still get into the hands of those who want them, prohibition of any kind does not remove things like guns or drugs from the streets. The best solution to this harsh reality is to prepare for this threat by making guns as easy to obtain as possible. Restricting access to guns is unfair to the very individuals using guns legally (e.g. defense and hunting). While in theory it might make sense to limit access to guns to prevent violent gun crime, in practical terms, crime rates would remain not only unchanged but rendered more effective, while legal gun owners are punished.
Americans across the nation are up in arms about, well, too many arms. According to a Gallup poll published on October 19, 2015, Americans’ desire for stricter gun laws has sharply increased. Fifty-five percent of Americans now say they want stricter laws covering the sale of firearms, a rise of eight percent from 2014 . Where there are more guns, there is more homicide. A review done by the Harvard School of Public Health found that countries with more guns have a higher risk for homicide . When people have easy access to guns, they are more likely to kill fellow citizens than if they do not have access. This claim held up for the 26 developed countries that Harvard analyzed. The trend was also present on the state level. Continuing on the relationship between guns and death, access to guns begets suicide . Easy access to guns makes death by suicide an unfortunate possibility for many at-risk Americans. It is a misconception that all suicides are carefully planned out, as most are categorized as “spur-of-the-moment.” Guns in the hands of at risk Americans make that decision even more deadly.
"While the claim that guns don't kill people is technically true, easy access to guns makes committing murder much more efficient. People armed with guns can kill easily and quickly, and those without guns cannot."
While guns don’t kill people, guns enable people to kill much more easily. According to the Washington Post, the United States has approximately 112 guns per 100 people, the highest ratio of any nation . While it’s difficult to know exactly how many guns we have, most estimates come to a similar conclusion–that there are more guns than people in the United States. While the claim that guns don't kill people is technically true, easy access to guns makes committing murder much more efficient. People armed with guns can kill easily and quickly, and those without guns cannot. A person with a knife and a person with a gun could theoretically kill the same number of people, but the person with a gun can kill swiftly, from a distance, and without room for retaliation. For obvious reasons, guns have become the mass-killer’s weapon of choice. By allowing Americans easy access to guns we are placing in their hands efficient killing-machines. There have been at least 72 mass shootings in America in the last three decades, and a majority of the shootings was completed with legally-obtained weapons . The difference between handguns and assault rifles is vast. Assault weapons aren’t used for “sport.” You do not use an AK-15 to shoot at ducks at your grandpa’s lodge (one would hope). So why are we giving people guns designed to kill the very humans our government is sworn to protect?
Proponents of gun control don’t want to take away everyone’s guns or propose a blanket gun ban. They ask instead for an expansion on the constitutional limits that exist. Here’s the solution: make it harder to buy a gun. We need extensive background checks on buyers, a ban on the public consumption of assault rifles, a limit on the buying power of handguns and rifles, a two-week waiting period from when you buy a gun to when you can pick it up, and a mandatory viewing of a gun violence film before anyone can receive their gun. Let’s limit the spread of weapons before another school, another movie theater, or another church is decimated.
REBUTTAL - AGAINST
Mr. Raguz says that the reasons for guns are twofold: to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government, and to fight off hardened criminals. Yes, some fear the idea of a tyrannical, uncontrollable government that infringes on our civil liberties. However, this skepticism of our government rings of paranoia. Sure, we bemoan Congress’s glacial pace, but underneath that occasional frustration isn’t true fear. We have a built-in system of checks and balances, media and press releases, and aware staffers and citizens, that work to hold our government accountable for its actions. A candidate can’t even send a d*ck pic without someone knowing about it–-how do you think a dystopian, Hunger Games-esque regime will come to pass without anyone noticing? Let’s say that this horrible situation does happen: do you really think that a gun will help you in your fight against a government that has tanks, aircraft carriers, drones, and nuclear weapons?
Mr. Raguz’s second argument revolves around using guns to defend oneself from criminals. The best solution to the harsh reality of crime is not making guns as easy as possible to obtain as possible. Arming everyone won’t help. Like any other defensive weapon, unless you have the object in your hand at the time of a robbery or hold-up, it’s useless. Either people don’t always have a gun on their person and there is only a limited safety benefit to owning one, or guns are carried everywhere by trigger-happy gun-toting conservatives, which is a much more terrifying dystopia. That’s a world where 6-year-olds accidentally pick up their dad’s gun and kill their little brothers during playtime . It’s the world where prepubescents shoot their neighbors with a shotgun after a disagreement . Yet somehow, opponents of gun control believe that the solution to this is even more guns. Such a dangerous, paranoid, and illogical future is not one in which I wish to live.
REBUTTAL - FOR
While Ms. Wong would like you to think that Americans’ agree on the issue of gun-control, the political reality is the exact opposite. In 2012 for instance, a Pew Research poll gun-control was not even in the top 12 issues Americans’ said were important to them . Gun-control is simply not a large issue for voters, despite what is seen in the media. If what my Ms. Wong is saying was true, voters would not have handed republicans massive wins in the house, Senate, and state level due to their opposition to gun-control. Another point my opponent makes is that guns lead to death, whether it be homicide or suicide. When it comes to the latter of the two, the evidence and logic point towards substantially different conclusions. The highest suicide rates come from countries that have no guns at all, such as Sweden, Denmark, and Finland . This makes sense because the choice to kill yourself is often a significant one, and the cause of death is often insignificant. Furthermore, when it comes to homicide, while I will concede that more guns mean more homicide, gun-control will do nothing to reduce those homicide levels. Unless you are somehow able to completely rid America of the illegal trafficking of guns, criminals will always have the ability to use them, and thus gun-control only makes it harder for regular Americans to protect themselves from those committing the homicides. Lastly, while mass shootings are often carried out with assault rifles, banning them will not stop the frequency of these horrific acts. Look to the example of Paris, where attackers in possession of illegally-obtained AK-47s killed more people than years of mass shootings in America . Mass shootings can still happen because those who want guns can still get them illegally. Even those who cannot get guns can still do damage. Look what happening in China when knife-wielding attackers committed a mass atrocity in a subway station without so much as a bullet . To say the world needs less guns to prevent these atrocities is preposterous given the fact that the attackers in these situations can attack no matter what. The only way to defend ourselves from these attacks given this harsh reality is to make it as easy as possible for regular Americans to have access to weaponry capable of stopping an attack like the one in Paris or China before the attackers can turn a homicide into a mass murder.
Sources and Notes
Featured Image Source: “Wall o' Rifles” by Mitch Barrie – Own work. Licensed under CC via Flickr Creative Commons – https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8846/18248388569_222f907d3e_b.jpg