Refuting common arguments against gun control

by Ronald Dixon

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, where 20 children and seven staff members were killed by a single gunman, President Barack Obama performed the bold action of signing 23 executive orders and handing Congress a list of legislative recommendations.

Several conservatives have voiced their opposition to any sort of new measure to regulate guns. The National Rifle Association’s executive director, Wayne LaPierre, told of a “fight of the century” in a fundraising e-mail to members of the pro-gun lobby. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus referred to Obama’s actions as an “executive power grab.” Former Republican presidential candidate and current Texas Governor Rick Perry declared that prayer would be a better alternative than “the only redoubt of secularism,” when referring to gun laws. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kent.) compared Obama to a “monarch,” and Congressman Steve Stockman (R-Texas) compared the President to “Saddam Hussein.”

The vehement opposition against Obama’s new measures is fueled by a deeply flawed and inflexible ideology of guns and society. Even as Americans are becoming more liberal on the issue of gun regulations, the right-wing is continuing to cling to their guns as they rally against this supposed “government suppression.” Rallies have been held all across the U.S. in defense of a lack of strong legislation, including at the Capitol Building in St. Paul.

In this blog, I will be unraveling many of these arguments in order to clarify the facts behind the gun debate. I will be drawing upon the arguments against Obama and gun legislation in general. I will then conclude with my own recommendations on new gun laws.

“Obama is trying to take away our guns!”

This rhetoric is far from the truth. None of the proposals the president made during his recent press conference on guns advocate for taking them away. He proposed banning assault weapons, but this would not necessarily ban current assault weapons that are privately owned. Same goes for the limitation of clips to ten rounds. Nothing within any of Obama’s proposals even hints at the confiscation of guns.

“Obama’s executive orders are an overreach of power!”

Any high school student could tell you that Congressmen are the ones who write the laws, while the President enforces those laws. The 23 executive orders that Obama signed act within the existing framework of current laws. When politicians and the gun lobby complain that Obama’s executive orders are an overreach of power, they are expressing a clear ignorance of the basic roles of government. Some of these “tyrannical” orders include:

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.

6. Publish a letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

Can anyone who has actually read the executive orders claim that Obama is overstepping his bounds as the President? Where in the list does it craft new laws?

Additionally, President Obama has issued the fewest executive orders than any other President in over 100 years. In fact, President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush had a higher rate of signing executive orders than our current “tyrannical” president.

“The Second Amendment Guarantees our rights to bear arms, especially to protect against a tyrannical government!”

Most Americans believe that the Second Amendment is a safeguard on the government, to guarantee a way for the people to rebel. They also associate the Second Amendment as a defense to keep their own weapons.

As with many tidbits of conventional wisdom, though, this is false.

Let us analyze the Second Amendment:

“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.”

It seems as though people completely forget about the entire first segment of this Amendment. The first part, “a well-regulated Militia,” refers to a body of citizens acting in place of an army. The next part, “being necessary to the security of a free State,” refers to the goal of this citizen army: to protect the government, in the best interests of the nation. The final part, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” upholds the ability for the citizen army to keep and bear their arms for the security of America.

Although the Second Amendment was primarily intended to call forth the citizens to serve the government in times of rebellion or war, another motivation was to preserve the ability for the South to control their slaves. By using the phrase “state” as opposed to “nation,” the South was able to continue allowing their state militias, which also served as the “slave patrols,” to conduct slavery.

The Second Amendment has long been rid of any practical purpose in the 21st century, but an example of when the amendment was used in the correct primary context was during the Whiskey Rebellion. Shortly after the ratification of the Constitution, some farmers, channeling the spirit of the American Revolution, rebelled against the government because they had to pay a tax on whiskey. In response, the federal government invoked the Second Amendment to call upon state militias to stop the rebellion.

The Founding Fathers never intended to provide an avenue for the citizenry to rebel against their government. In fact, according to Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” (Emphasis is mine)

The Founders may have wanted independence against the English, but that did not mean they wanted to legally enable common people to retaliate against the government of the U.S. They wanted to use the citizens as a valuable military asset, as well as preserve the state right to conduct slavery.

Conservatives often attempt to Google random Second Amendment quotes, credited to the Founding Fathers, in order to bolster their claims that their interpretation is correct. Yet, these quotes seem to be taken without any context to actual language from the Second Amendment.

Today, we find that most politicians and justices believe that the Second Amendment was placed into the Bill of Rights in order to grant access to guns and to provide a means to rebel. A historical analysis of the Second Amendment, however, shows otherwise.

“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people!”

One of the most common arguments against gun regulations is that guns should not be blamed for the actions of the criminals. They further make comparisons between guns and other tools that can be used to kill others.

Although all of these tools can be used to kill, the most practical choice would, obviously, be the gun.  Far less effort and skill is needed to kill when using a gun.

We can even draw a comparison between different guns. If one were to use a pistol as their weapon of choice, or a 30-6 bolt-action rifle, they would kill far less people than one using an AK-47 with 30 rounds per clip. The common response to this is that military-style weapons are less used in gun violence cases, but that is a moot point. As recent events show, AK-47s are, indeed, used, and the impacts of using a military-grade weapon, as opposed to a normal gun, are much more devastating.

People do kill people, but they do so with more impact when using military-grade weapons packed with a plethora of rounds.

“Laws don’t stop criminals!”

A common retaliation against gun legislation is that criminals do not follow the law, so why even bother legislating? When responding, I often draw a parallel between gun legislation and sexual assaults, in order to produce an impact. When examining the state of sexual assault in the nation, and even throughout the world, we find that, no matter how much we try to ban the horrific practice, it still takes place. Does that mean we should not place any laws on the books concerning sexual assault? Most people would argue that we should not shelve these laws. They provide a disincentive to commit the crime, and it provides a judicial framework for punishing those who act against the law.

The same works with gun legislation. If an illegal action is performed, directly or indirectly, with an illegal gun, relative to the area, then they can be punished for it, thus decreasing the incentive to involve that gun, or even commit the full crime in the first place.

“Gun laws harm law-abiding citizens!”

With all of the sensible gun-regulation reforms being proposed, the rights of the citizens are not being usurped. Law-abiding citizens who are mentally capable of wielding a gun will still be able to own weapons. There is nothing that would suggest homes would be picked of their guns by an intrusive federal government. The most liberal gun legislation, in fact, would only confiscate military-grade weapons, such as AK-47s (most of the current proposals allow for people to keep the weapons that they purchased legally prior to a new law). Either way, though, people are not going to be harmed by gun legislation.

“Gun laws don’t work!”

A common criticism of gun legislation is that it has not been shown to actually reduce gun violence. Conservatives will often cite statistics showing a lack of a correlation between the enactment of the assault weapons ban, a law that existed between 1994 and 2004, and  gun violence going down. There are a few responses to this.

First, the assault weapons ban was not a good law. It was rife with loopholes. By not providing a clear definition of an assault weapon, and by only listing the exact models that would be banned, gun companies were able to make knock-offs that were slightly different, yet perfectly legal. Also, it did not remove the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (used in over 75 percent of gun violence cases) from homes, thereby keeping millions of them in the hands of citizens.

Also, we must consider general societal trends when it comes to gun legislation. Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, conducted a study that attempted to correlate several societal factors with gun violence. He found that several factors many have assumed to be linked to gun violence simply were not true, including the use of drugs and having a mental illness. One of the only factors that Florida did find, however, is that there is a substantial negative correlation between gun legislation and gun violence.

We must keep in mind that correlation does not necessarily prove direct causation. Moreover, there are a few societal traits that did negatively correlate with gun violence besides gun regulations, including areas with more college graduates and immigrants, as well as the overall quality of the economy. What we can conclude from this data is that gun legislation can be a tool to reduce gun crimes along with others. In other words, there is not a single solution to the issue of gun violence. A better economy improves the levels of well-being, and immigrants generally want to establish a prosperous life after moving to potentially escape impoverished or suppressive nations.

The opponents of gun legislation often tout Chicago as the counterexample. Approximately 500 people were killed as the result of guns in Chicago last year despite the stringent gun laws in that city. When examining the general data, though, we can conclude that Chicago is merely a statistical outlier and should not be used as a significant factor to determine whether or not we should pass gun legislation. Chicago faces unique problems that are isolated in that city. Opponents will also cite other countries. However, considering the gun culture of the U.S., and considering the unique problems we face as opposed to countries like Switzerland, we find that any analysis on gun legislation should only be done within the U.S., such as the study I cited earlier.

“What is the solution?”

Now that we have cleared most of the arguments against gun control legislation, it is time to examine the best course of action. My rudimentary recommendations would include the ban of the sale of assault weapons, the institution of a mandatory buy-back program for current assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and clips, defining what an assault weapon is, limiting clips to 10 rounds and instituting universal background checks for all gun sales, including those between private citizens. Many of these, and more, are included in Obama’s gun legislation recommendations to Congress.

To ensure the safety and the security of the nation, new gun control measures should be implemented. The NRA political machine, though, has a tight control over several politicians on both sides of the aisle. Moreover, despite the shift in public opinion on guns, many still hold staunch views on this passionate issue, most of which I thoroughly addressed above. Therefore, it will be tough to pass comprehensive gun regulation reform, however, Congress and the President certainly must try.

Lives are at stake.

Ronald Dixon welcomes comments at [email protected].