The Truth About Guns In America

September 1st, 2012 - D. Stone 

Gun violence has invaded the US media in recent months. It all started with a theatre massacre in July and carried on to shootings in New York and Chicago. This has reignited a debate about gun control that neither side is winning, according to public opinion. One side is losing for a good reason. Most gun violence in the United States is actually committed by criminals carrying illegal guns that they obtained on the black market or through corrupt, licensed firearms dealers.

Most states have concealment laws and bans on assault weapons and military guns. This hasn't stopped criminals from selling and purchasing such weaponry from underground markets in the same way that drugs are bought and sold illegally.

It would be inaccurate and politically biased to make the claim that all states with the fewest gun control laws have the lowest rates of gun violence, as this is not true. The state of Louisiana has some of the fewest firearm regulations in the US and the highest rate of gun violence per capita in the country. The state does not require anyone owning a pistol, rifle, or shotgun to carry a permit, a license, or to register their firearms (but requires a permit for concealment in public). The state of Maryland has the second highest rate of gun violence, but requires citizens to register their handguns and have certified safety training for most regulated firearms. Both states have adequate regulations on the sale and distribution of firearms.

In Michigan, gun violence is the 8th highest in the country. The state also has much stricter gun control laws than Louisiana and Maryland, requiring not only permits and registrations for handguns, but licensing.

New York has some of the nation's strictest gun control laws. Such laws did not stop Jeffrey Johnson from opening fire on civilians with his registered handgun at the Empire State building. After the incident, it was revealed that 9 bystanders were actually shot by New York City police and not by Johnson.

The gun control debate has popped into the mainstream cross-hairs periodically for decades, but both Democrats and Republicans have been divided on the issue. With inconsistent crime statistics, the issue is difficult to assess. In some states, like New Hampshire, gun control is minimal, but the state has the lowest rate of gun violence in the country. The state of Illinois probably has the country's most abundant firearm regulations, requiring a Firearms Ownership Identification (FOID) to carry most firearms. The city of Chicago itself requires a registration for all guns, but had nearly 40 shootings in the month of August alone. The state also regulates the sales and purchase of firearms more heavily than other states. Despite all of this, Illinois still ranks 7th in the country for gun violence. New Hampshire ranks last for gun violence at 50th with only .43 gun homicides per capita.

Some laws are consistent amongst all states, such as the prohibition of firearm sales to convicted criminals. The average per-state rate of gun violence is approximately 3.5 per capita. 29 of the 50 states are below the per-state average. Only 10 of the 21 states that rank above the average have the most minimal firearms laws. 11 of the 21 states require basic registration or licensing for most handguns.

An accurate and official glimpse of gun crime data from 2010 can be found at the FBI's official website.

The inconsistency of such statistics have opened the door to other debates about possible social factors that go above and beyond registration requirements or complete bans. Social conservatives have often hinted at violence in movies and video games, broken families, and the deterioration of social morality. Some on the left have hinted at a lack of education, underfunded social programs, poverty, and racism or discrimination. Instead of first trying to make a case for either side, we should look at the facts beforehand.

Most gun violence in the United States is committed with illegal or unregistered firearms. According to the National Gun Victims Action Council, 12,000 gun murders in the US are committed by individuals who are not legally allowed to own guns. A vast portion of guns in the US are sold and trafficked illegally. The NGVAC also cites several federal laws that have hindered the ability of law enforcement to trace and track suspected criminals. There are also regulations in place that prevent the country's regulatory agencies from giving certain gun trace data to law enforcement officials. These laws have made it difficult for law enforcement to crack down and convict corrupt firearms dealers.

Several illegal guns in the US are sold through “straw purchasing”. This is when a person without a criminal record buys a gun for someone who is a felon. Law enforcement officials often use limited gun trace data to track down the seller and the buyer. In the state of Illinois (like in most states), most gun crimes are committed with illegal guns. Unfortunately, most illegal gun sellers and straw buyers are never successfully prosecuted. “Firearms dealers are so well protected it makes it hard to prosecute them.” This was what retired supervisor for the US Bureau Of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Mark Jones, told the Chicago Sun-Times last month.

Some have said that the laws that restrict gun trace data are meant to protect law enforcement officers. According to Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Police Chief, Edward Flynn, thinks that notion is a “crock”. He has publicly criticized the Republican Representative from Kansas, Todd Tiahrt, who authored the measure and put it into a budget bill to ensure it got passed without a fight. The Milwaukee publication also claims that Tiahrt is the second largest recipient of donations from the National Rifle Association. Such gun lobby groups are often blamed for the laws and regulations that have been designed to protect gun dealers under the ironic premise that releasing gun trace data and sales information puts innocent lives at risk and harms the potential business of honest and legitimate firearms dealers.

The far left side of the US political spectrum has gone as far as calling for a complete ban on handguns. The far right has gone as far as calling for less regulations and controls. When looking at current laws and regulations that have made it almost impossible for illegal gun traffickers and dealers to be prosecuted and traced, we clearly see that it is – in fact – a form of over-regulation that has protected several gun dealers from prosecution. Through privacy and information regulations that have restricted the use of gun trace data, purchaser information, and judicial processes to shut down illegal activity, we see that the true culprit in continued gun homicides is the United States government. Most corrupt dealers, traffickers, and straw buyers are never held to account for their actions because of such laws and regulations.

In the United States, guns have been used legally by average, licensed citizens to stop and prevent crimes.

During a high school shooting in Pearl, Mississippi, in 1997, it was the assistant principal, Joel Myrick, who held his .45 pistol to the back of the gunman's neck until police showed up. In April, a high profile incident made headlines in Salt Lake City after a stabbing spree was ended by a legal, gun-carrying citizen. These are just a few examples of legal gun defence that have saved numerous lives from the acts of suicidal, troubled, and enraged individuals.

Infamous rapper, Ice-T defined the US constitution best when he told a London reporter, “I'd give up my gun when everybody else does.” He went on to exhibit his understanding of the constitution and the second amendment by saying, “The right to bear arms is because that's the last defence against tyranny.” When asked if the legality of guns had anything to do with the Aurora theatre massacre, Ice-T said, “No. Not really...If somebody wants to kill people, you know, they don't need a gun to do it.” 

Those who founded the United States intended to grant citizens the right to protect their own property, their families, and their own lives. Some more extreme instances of one being forced to protect their property could involve situations of civil disorder, social collapse, and foreign invasions. As unrealistic as some of these situations may be, the right to self defence was never intended to be oppressed or revoked by any higher authority under any circumstances. The individualist agenda outlined in the US constitution was also meant to give citizens the means to defend themselves from their own governments. 

Murder and aggression have always been a part of civilizations throughout history. Such acts have been successfully prevented and punished using strict, but logical, laws that are meant to protect the lives of innocent citizens. Unbalanced regulations that prevent the appropriate prosecution of criminals and murderers is not only a setback, it is a disservice to those who continue to bear their arms legally. Revoking citizens of their constitutional right to bear arms and protect their lives from other gun bearers is not the answer, nor is the deregulation of gun sales.

Advocates on both the right and left might be difficult to convince, but a true answer to gun violence may exist somewhere along the centre line. Exposing and firing elected politicians based on their obedience to any kind of lobby groups and campaign donors could be a move in the right direction.