The purpose of government can be summarized as protecting the rights of its citizens. Among these is the right to life. It stands to reason that if the government is not protecting its citizens’ right to life, it’s failing. When the issue of gun control is viewed in this context, a question presents itself. Does gun control increase or decrease loss of life?
In the wake of a recent spree of shootings, such as those at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora and most recently Umpqua Community College in Oregon, there have been multiple pushes for increased gun control, as there should be. We, as a people, should be saddened when innocent people are mercilessly murdered. We must demand change.
Many speak of gun control in terms of adding background checks, safety classes and mental health screenings. But aren’t these already part of the process of owning a firearm? If the sobering loss of life is our motivation for a desire for change, nothing short of an all-out ban on guns would be a solution to this problem.
According to a comprehensive study by the Congressional Research Service, less than two percent of gun crimes involve an assault weapon. For what reason, then, is there a relentless attack on semi-automatic weaponry? We must be astute enough to recognize that, while horrific and deeply troubling, the mass-murders involving assault weapons are merely the fringes of a much larger, less publicized problem we are facing: a problem with people.
In 1997, the United Kingdom’s Labor Party won the general election, taking the Conservative Party’s place as the majority. One of their first actions was to ban the ownership of handguns. In the decade following, the number of recorded violent attacks rose by an astounding 77 percent, the opposite of the intended effect. Today in the UK, there is an average of 2,034 violent crimes per 100,000 people, compared to the United States at 466 violent crimes per 100,000 people.
While gun violence may have decreased, not only did other violent crimes take its place, but they also rose far past the number of gun related incidents before the ban took place.
Switzerland trails only the United States, Yemen and Serbia in gun ownership per capita. It has a conscripted militia, where men between the ages of 20 and 30 report for training and are issued military weaponry that they keep in their homes. Yet, even in a society where firearms are prevalent, there is a firearm-related death rate of 0.5 per 100,000 people, compared to the United States at 5 per 100,000.
According to TIME magazine, the reason Switzerland enjoys a low firearm-related death rate is because of the “the culture of responsibility and safety that is anchored in society and passed from generation to generation.”
Children are taught from a young age how to handle a firearm, and shooting is even considered a national pastime. “Social conditions are fundamental in deterring crime”, adds Peter Squires, a professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton in Great Britain.
This does not, in and of itself, prove that gun ownership deters crime. However, the fact that the UK had such a sharp spike in crime after the outlawing of guns seems to suggest that it might.
It stands to reason that if an individual is bent on mass murder, which is not only a crime but also much worse than purchasing an illegal firearm, a law banning the purchase of firearms isn’t going to prevent that individual from accomplishing their goal.
The only thing a law like that would do is inhibit law-abiding citizens who might be in a situation to prevent a mass-murder from having the means to do so. Unfortunately, laws like this one, though well meaning, rarely accomplish their goals.
I’m not suggesting that no action should be taken. Indeed, we should do everything in our power to prevent the aforementioned accidents. But unfortunately, many of us fail to recognize the real problem. It’s not a gun problem. It’s a people problem. And until we acknowledge that fact, no real progress will be made.
I don’t know what will stop these school shootings and mass-murders from occurring time and time again. But I do know that taking away law abiding citizens’ guns is not only unfair, but will actually worsen the problem we have, and we must be exceedingly conscientious about how eagerly we give up our constitutional rights for a solution that has no chance of working.
Jonathan Deemer is a freshman studying International Relations.