A forgotten Crises: Pro-gun arguments and the evidence against them

By Emily Withers

Following the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, the world is yet again talking about gun control. 17 people lost their lives to a single shooter on Wednesday 14th February 2018, at Douglas High School, which is not as shocking of a sentence as it should be. Debates in the following weeks have, understandably, been emotionally driven, and can sometimes be lost beneath tears and shouting. This blog post will highlight some of the key arguments against gun control and how they are often disproved by simply looking at the evidence.

Claim 1: Mental illness is the main reason for mass shootings, not gun ownership

This argument is a popular one for conservative lobbyists and NRA members alike. In particular, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch likes to deflect serious questions about controls and new laws by suggesting that mental illness is the only reason why people commit mass shootings. In fact, using this argument merely dismisses the need for further debate. A study in 2015 found that in the decade ending in 2010, less than 5% of all mass shooting events in America were committed by someone with a diagnosed mental illness, despite 1 in 5 Americans living with one. While it is important that mental health services are improved in America, this is not what is being suggested, with conservative commentators instead using lexis which indirectly labels all mentally ill people as ‘crazy’. If indeed this was a mental health problem, which evidence suggests it is not, then should the President be calling the Parkland shooter a “Sicko”? We should instead be debating for more detailed background checks and mental health assessments for prospective gun owners. This argument, then, is not a genuine one. The facts speak for themselves; most mass shootings are not committed by mentally ill individuals, and when they are, the debate is never about how to control their access to weapons.

Claim 2: If guns were banned, only criminals would own them, and more deaths would occur

This claim runs on the assumption that civilian ownership can be helpful in the event of a mass shooting. In the thirty years leading up to 2009, not a single mass shooting was stopped or prevented by intervention from an armed civilian. In one instance, a civilian pursued, shot and killed a shooter, but this was only after the shooting had ceased. Now that we know this assumption is based on no factual evidence, why can’t the US ban guns? Conservative arguments often suggest that if gun ownership became illegal, only law-abiding citizens would hand their guns into the government during a gun amnesty. This would leave only criminals with guns, leading to an increase in mass-shooting events and no way to defend yourself in an attack. To approach this argument, we must look at case studies where other countries have imposed similar systems.

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In the UK in 1996, 16 primary school children and their teacher were killed when a single man used his legally owned handguns to shoot at five and six-year-old children in Dunblane, Scotland. Immediately, there was a debate on new legislation and, ultimately, a ban on guns implemented in 1997. Since then, there has not been a single school shooting, and only one mass shooting event, in 2010. Every year since 1997, there have been fewer than 10 gun deaths in Scotland, where the Dunblane shooting took place, indicating that fears about an increase in use after a ban are unfounded in this case.

Australia’s situation is more similar to the US in terms of attitudes towards gun ownership. For many, having a gun was an essential part of life in the bush, but this did not stop changes in legislation after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996. 35 people were killed and 23 injured by a lone individual. At the time, there were no restrictions on guns other than handguns, but just two weeks after the shooting, debates were already taking place. The same year, Australia passed a law restricting the ownership of all guns and enforcing the use of firearms licenses. There was also a national buyback policy for anyone who had guns which did not comply with new legislation, which gave civilians motivation to comply. Since the new legislation in 1996, there has not been a single mass shooting event in Australia.

Claim 3: New gun controls would impose on the Second Amendment rights of the American people

Looking at this statement, we must look at the Amendment itself. The phrase in question is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and was implemented in 1791. At this time, the guns used were not semi-automatic weapons with the ability to kill a large group of people at once. Would it really be an infringement of constitutional rights if guns were limited to safer, less destructive, single-fire weapons? This would still be interpreted as ‘bearing arms’, and so would arguably still be fulfilling the Second Amendment rights that lobbyists are so attached to. In addition, we must consider whether the Second Amendment is something that modern Americans should be proud of. It was added to the US constitution over 70 years before slavery was made illegal, at a time where women were treated as their husbands’ property and had no right to vote or express a political opinion. As we can all agree that the American beliefs on race and gender were wrong at this time, why can we not agree the same about the right to carry a gun? Indeed, it may be true that the Second Amendment is being misunderstood altogether. There were several regulations on gun control in the decades following the Bill of Rights. Gun owners had to go to ‘mandatory musters’ where guns would be inspected, and there were regular door-to-door surveys wherein guns were logged. The idea of the Second Amendment was to promote the safety of the American people, not simply allow everyone to own whichever gun they like. The Amendment itself asks for a ‘well-regulated Militia’, which at the time included civilian gun ownership. Supporters of the NRA should now understand that in order for the US government to serve the constitutional rights of its citizens, there must be strong, clear legislation on the types of guns which are allowed to be owned, and by who. Unfortunately for gun fanatics, complying with the Second Amendment does not allow for ordinary citizens to own and use assault rifles; there is no reason that this is appropriate or safe.

Claim 4: Arming more people will prevent mass shootings

With a surge in support after President Trump suggested arming teachers would prevent school shootings, this claim is resurfacing with more determination than ever before. As it was first debated and rejected in the 1920s, we can look to some of the suggestions about gun control from this decade to tackle this issue. There was much pressure on the government at the time, from gun enthusiasts and some media sources, to increase the number of people who could carry concealed weapons, and to take a back seat when it came to strict regulations. This idea was swiftly rejected by lawmakers and the majority of the public, and ‘may issue’ carry laws were implemented instead. These laws made it harder to carry a concealed weapon, as the state may issue you a permit to carry a concealed weapon, even after fulfilling basic requirements. These laws, first seen in the 19th-Century, were so widely accepted that even gun advocates found them reasonable. Up to the 1980s, the NRA themselves did not support the right of every American citizen to carry a concealed weapon, promoting the idea that only those individuals for whom it was necessary to carry a concealed weapon should be granted state approval to do so. So where did the general consensus take such a dramatic U-turn? Lobbyists gained power and money from the mid-1980s in the USA, and so have been able to influence the media and the government. By pumping 30.3 million dollars into Trump, the NRA gained political influence.  So, Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers should not be surprising. But would it work?

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A bill set into motion in Florida on 3rd March 2018 suggests arming highly trained individuals within schools, who would then act as a protector in the case of an attack. Supporters may argue the famous ‘good guy with a gun’ logic can be applied here, and that teachers would use their guns solely for the protection of their students. But what happens when a teacher snaps? We must consider the implications of arming teachers, an overworked group who are often loaded with stress and paperwork. Just two weeks after the Parkland shooting, Jesse Davidson, a teacher from Dalton Hugh School barricaded himself in a classroom and unloaded a shot. Fortunately, Davidson was alone in the room and there were no injuries, but we must ponder just how much worse this situation could have been. Student safety will not be increased by guaranteeing a weapon in the classroom. It certainly will not prevent school shootings. Indeed, in the case of the Parkland shooting, an armed security officer was present at the school but did not enter and address the shooter. This was an individual who had over 30 years’ experience as a sheriff’s deputy, but in the moment could not bring himself to enter a live shooting scenario. This situation helps to place emphasis on the role of human emotions and natural responses in life-threatening scenarios. So why would arming teachers, whose jobs are not remotely related to armed security, help prevent school shootings?

Conclusions

While it is clear that a calm and civilized debate must occur in the US over gun control, it is also clear that some arguments already put forward are not supported by evidence. It is imperative that any measures implemented consider evidence-based arguments and previous research and case studies. After assessing some of the loudest claims about gun control, it is clear that more guns are not the answer. Whether it be teacher or civilians with concealed handguns, more bullets and more adrenaline-fueled firing will not have positive effects on US citizens, particularly the only people guaranteed to be unarmed: innocent children.

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