The United States has the highest per capita number of guns with 88.8 guns per every 100 persons (Anderson, 2017). Currently, over 270 million guns are in the hands of civilians. Additionally, in 2016, there were 16,459 murders in the United States, and 73 percent of them were committed with guns (Anderson, 2017). Additionally, the recent shooting at Florida high school, which was the worst incident after the infamous Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, has reignited the sharply divided debate on gun control.
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On the one hand, proponents argue that strict gun control will reduce the number of deaths related to firearms. On the other hand, opponents claim that stringent gun control laws will not prevent crime. As such, the debate on this contentious issue continues, and Americans are divided sharply depending on one’s understanding and interpretation of all the aspects surrounding the topic. Nevertheless, federally regulated ownership of semi-automatic weapons will solve this problem without violating people’s rights as enshrined in the Second Amendment.
The American gun culture is rooted in different aspects like revolutionary inclinations, colonial history, and the Second Amendment. During the Revolutionary War, gun laws allowed all heads of families, including women, to have firearms. Additionally, every able-bodied man was supposed to enlist in the military reserve and acquire a personal gun.
The Second Amendment, which was signed in 1791, states, “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” (Spitzer, 2017, p. 73). However, the issue of gun control arose in the 19th century after the abolishment of slavery. Black people were not allowed to own guns as opposed to their white counterparts.
The US enjoyed a long period of responsible gun usage until February 14, 1929, when seven members of a street gang were killed in a confrontation with a rival pack (Spitzer, 2017). Such mafia crimes led to the enactment of the National Firearms Act (NFA) in 1934, which required the taxation of guns and registration of transfer and ownership of some specified firearms like rifles and shotguns (Spitzer, 2017). However, this act was overturned with the enactment of the Gun Control Act (GCA) in 1968. Under the new law, gun owners were not supposed to register their firearms—the act prohibited interstate gun transfer for individuals and dealers.
However, the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) revised this requirement to allow dealers to sell firearms in other places not listed in their address (Spitzer, 2017). This law prohibited the federal government from having a central database with records on all gun dealers. Additionally, dealers were no longer required to keep records of their transactions. The Brady Act of 1993 required unlicensed individuals to wait for five days before getting a gun after purchasing (Spitzer, 2017). Since then, different laws have been enacted to govern the sale, ownership, and usage of firearms.
Currently, several state and federal regulations on gun ownership and sale are in place. For instance, people with criminal records or using outlawed drugs are not allowed to purchase firearms (Karim, 2015). Dealers are supposed to carry out background checks before selling guns to unlicensed individuals. Federal laws determine who can be allowed to own a firearm, while state and local laws regulate the usage of the same. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) sets the requirements that gun vendors should meet before getting an operating license. However, there is a loophole in the regulation of gun ownership and usage, which can be exploited, and this issue forms the debate of gun control in contemporary times.
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The ambiguity in gun control regulations is commonly known as the “gun show loophole” (Karim, 2015). The law on selling and owning a gun in the United States is clear. However, there is a loophole whereby “any person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of the state where they reside, as long as they do not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms” (Vizzard, 2015, p. 880).
Therefore, such sellers are not required to carry out background checks on unlicensed individuals willing to purchase a firearm. Additionally, the buyer is not required to produce any form of identification, and the seller is not supposed to keep records of such transactions. As such, gun control proponents point to this ambiguity in the federal law, which means that anyone can acquire a gun, even criminals. This side of the debate argues that the increased gun-related crimes in the US can be attributed to this loophole, hence the need for strict gun control laws.
On the other hand, proponents of gun rights argue that the federal law cannot regulate non-commercial transactions of guns and ownership between citizens. As such, people who would otherwise fail to acquire guns under federal laws can own one legally. A study in 2017 revealed that 20 percent of guns in the United States are acquired without proper background checks (Anderson, 2017). In addition, children under the age of 18 years can own guns that are received as presents from their parents or guardians.
This loophole in gun control regulations underscores the unrelenting calls for strict laws on selling, transfer, and ownership of firearms. However, the pertinent question is how such stern regulations can be implemented without violating individuals’ rights as provided in the Second Amendment. As such, different groups of advocates hold diverse views on how the issue of gun control should be handled, as explained in the next section.
The advocates for strict gun control argue that such regulations will reduce the number of gun-related deaths in the country. Amongst all the developed countries, the US has the highest number of annual deaths of violent gun-related deaths (Gius, 2017). Therefore, proponents of such laws cite cases of other countries where strict regulations have worked to curb unwarranted deaths. For instance, Australia implemented strict gun control laws after the mass shooting in a café in Tasmania where 35 individuals were killed and 28 others injured (Lemieux, Bricknell, & Prenzler, 2015).
This incident occurred on April 28, 1996, and by the end of 1997, the government had repossessed over 650,000 firearms owned privately (Lemieux et al., 2015). In 2014, which was seven years after the implementation of the strict law, the average number of deaths related to guns had dropped by 57 percent (Lemieux et al., 2015). Therefore, while advocates for gun control in the US agree that such successful results may not be replicated in the country, they argue that there will be a significant decline in deaths caused by firearms.
Other individuals call for moderate gun control laws. The advocates for such regulations seek to maintain a status quo where people’s rights are not violated while implementing laws on gun ownership. As such, moderate gun control will not infringe on the Second Amendment, which allows private citizens to own firearms. Therefore, guns should be purchased and used for lawful functions like self-defense (Vizzard, 2015).
In addition, some firearms like assault weapons should be banned under the law. Moreover, strict background checks should be made mandatory before the transfer of gun ownership is made. In essence, proponents of moderate gun control laws demand the sealing of the gun show loophole, which allows people to acquire firearms indiscriminately. Consequently, private gun ownership will be allowed based on the current federal laws. On the other hand, people who are not supposed to own guns will not be in a position to violate that law. Ultimately, the status quo will be maintained.
On the other hand, advocates for gun rights are against any form of regulations targeting firearm ownership. One of the outstanding arguments here is that gun control violates the Second Amendment provisions on private ownership of firearms, and thus individual rights should be respected (Gius, 2017). Additionally, there are claims that gun control does not prevent crime. Hence people will be exposed to attacks due to the lack of capacity to defend themselves.
The proposition to ban assault rifles violates people’s rights to enjoy sport and hunting. Similarly, requiring stringent background checks before purchasing a gun will invade one’s privacy, which is against the law. Ultimately, the government may use any form of gun control to repossess firearms from private citizens. Therefore, proponents of gun rights argue that the current laws should not be changed, and the government should come up with education programs to inform people of the safe usage of firearms.
The current federal and state laws on gun control have weaknesses that should be corrected to ensure the safety of the citizens without violating their rights to own firearms. Even gun rights proponents agree that firearms should not fall into the wrong hands (Stroebe, Leander, & Kruglanski, 2017). The current shootings in schools and other public places are a testimony that something needs to be done to fix the gun issue in the US. The contentious issue has been the possession of semi-automatic guns, which are commonly known as assault rifles. The majority of mass shootings involve the use of such firearms. Therefore, issuing a federal license for the possession of semi-automatic rifles will solve this problem.
The federal government should have a database that captures the details of all licensed owners of such firearms. As such, gun dealers will have a mechanism of carrying out sufficient background checks before selling semi-automatic rifles. Additionally, licensed owners will be at liberty to exchange guns amongst themselves. Therefore, the access and usage of the weapons commonly used in the mass shooting will be regulated without violating people’s rights according to the Second Amendment.
The sharply divided debate on gun control will continue as long as the federal government does not take action to address the pertinent issues. Strict gun control laws will violate people’s rights. However, the current regulations are not effective as unlicensed people can purchase semi-automatic rifles and cause harm to the public. In light of the issues raised by different sides of the debate, federally regulated ownership of semi-automatic weapons will solve this issue without violating the people’s rights as enshrined in the Second Amendment.
A database containing details of licensed gun owners should be created to ensure proper background checks. Ultimately, law-abiding private citizens will enjoy ownership of assault rifles, and the public will be safe from the threats of usage of such weapons by the wrong persons.
Anderson, J. (2017). Gun owners, ethics, and the problem of evil: A response to the Las Vegas Shooting. Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 7(3), 39-48.
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Gius, M. (2017). The effects of state and federal gun control laws on school shootings. Applied Economics Letters, 25(5), 317-320.
Karim, O. (2015). The two sides of gun legislation and control debate in the United States of America. European Scientific Journal, 11(7), 400-415.
Lemieux, F., Bricknell, S., & Prenzler, T. (2015). Mass shootings in Australia and the United States, 1981-2013. Journal of Criminological Research, Policy, and Practice, 1(3), 131-142.
Spitzer, R. (2017). Gun law history in the United States and Second Amendment Rights. Law and Contemporary Problems, 80, 55-83.
Stroebe, W., Leander, N, & Kruglanski, A. (2017). The impact of the Orlando mass shooting on fear of victimization and gun-purchasing intentions: Not what one might expect. PLoSONE, 12(8), 1-15.
Vizzard, W. (2015). The current and future state of gun policy in the United States. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 104(4), 879-906.