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Rhetoric. James Q. Wilson on Gun Ownership Laws


James Q. Wilson, the education correspondent for Time Magazine, argues that the public is right in supporting tougher gun control laws even though it knows they will not improve the security situation in the United States (Wilson 78). The author believes that the president should not waste more time thinking and lobbying for the legislation of tougher gun control policies. He believes that the problem is not with the gun control policies, but the failure to ensure responsible use of arms. Wilson argues that there are other serious risks like car accidents that claim more lives yet nobody talks about denying motorists driving licenses. Gun control legislation will not solve the problem of insecurity if there is unemployment, discrimination and poverty in the society.

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Writer’s Arguments

Wilson argues that the public needs security, and the president must do all he can to ensure the safety of all citizens is given priority. There is no justification for the endless brutal killings of innocent people by criminals and trigger happy people (Cook and Ludwig 380). The author believes that those causing insecurity are just a handful that can be arrested and prosecuted to deter others. He believes that tougher gun legislation will make it difficult for innocent people to arm themselves. Instead, he proposed that the mental health, age and history of an individual should be put into consideration before a person is licensed to carry a gun. He believes that gun ownership is not just a matter of filling forms and getting rubber stamps from different government agencies. Therefore, imposing tougher legislation will mean that responsible civilians will be deprived the right to arm themselves.

Secondly, he supports the argument raised by some political scientists that the problem is not with the guns but their handlers. He confirms that cases of people mishandling their guns, especially in public places or their homes make these weapons dangerous. Parents have become irresponsible and leave their loaded guns where children can reach them (Cook and Ludwig 387). In addition, he claims that gun ownership has deterred criminals and reduced cases of burglary in homes and key government institutions. Most gun owners use them to threaten and intimidate criminals, and that explains why there are few cases of injuries or deaths when burglars attack people (Wilson 78).

Moreover, he claims that it is impossible to have police officers positioned in all the corners of a country to fight crime. These officers cannot be enough to provide surveillance to all citizens at the same time. In addition, they have poor equipment for detecting weapons, and this creates opportunities for criminals to carry them without being noticed. For instance, he explains that most metal detectors function properly when a person is within a short distance from them. They cannot detect a weapon if a person is more than ten meters away from them (Wilson 78). Moreover, he believes that there is an unresolved conflict between the nature of investigations of police officers and an individual’s personal space. Wilson argues that responsible street frisks by police officers will reduce the number of illegal guns and improve security in the United States.

Evaluation of Arguments

Wilson is right in arguing that the legislation of gun ownership laws will not improve security in this country. People that have already complied with the existing gun ownership laws will not resist new ones (Barnet and Bedau 38). However, those that violate the existing gun ownership laws are not likely to accept or abide by the new ones. Therefore, there is no reason why the government should invest heavily in the process of introducing new laws. In addition, irresponsible gun ownership practices are to blame for most cases of reckless shootings. Children do not know the rules that govern gun ownership; therefore, it is the responsibility of parents to educate them (Killias 1722). Secondly, owning a gun makes people confident and assures them that their security is guaranteed. Criminals will rarely make a second attempt at robbing a place where gun-wielding victims ambushed them.

Secondly, he supports street frisks because this practice has proved to be a successful way of managing illegal gun ownership. However, the number of illegal gun owners is very low, and there is no guarantee that all suspects carry weapons. He is right in arguing that there should be criteria for identifying suspects. It is exasperating to be harassed and frisked in public, especially if the victim is innocent (Kaplan and Geling 1231). Therefore, Wilson is right in advocating responsible frisking and training of police officers to ensure they do not violate the rights of citizens.

Opposing Views

The greatest challenge facing nations like the United States and China is that their democratic space is very open, and this affects the work of law enforcers. Wilson suggests that public frisks are effective in controlling illegal gun ownership. However, he forgot that the law does not allow police officers to invade the privacy of citizens without permission. It is impossible for police officers to obtain search warrants to frisk all suspects in the streets (Kaplan and Geling 1229). In addition, not all suspects get appropriate sentences, even after sufficient evidence is presented to a judge. People have developed a habit of circumnavigating rules to make them less punitive.

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Moreover, it is not right for him to claim that additional gun ownership laws will not improve the security of this country (Barnet and Bedau 89). Courts require evidence as grounds to confirm and pass charges on suspects. A person cannot be a suspect if the individual has not broken any law. For instance, the recent anti-terror war targets terrorists and their sympathizers. A person cannot be prosecuted for terrorism acts if the individual has not violated the anti-terror rules. It is easier to live with Draconian laws than accommodating acts of terrorism and indiscriminate shootings. Therefore, the additional legislation will widen the regulations governing gun ownership and ensure people use their weapons responsibly.


Illegal gun ownership is a threat to national security and hampers development. There is the need for legislation of tougher laws to deter criminals and innocent civilians from irresponsible use of weapons. Indiscriminate shootings and other criminal facilitated by weapons like short and handguns are a reflection of the problems facing the society. James Q. Wilson’s arguments are valid, but there should be criticism to ensure the new legislation does not worsen the already fragile situation. Laws are usually established to guide the behavior of people and ensure they do not interfere with the freedom of others. There is no harm in legislating additional laws, if they will improve the current security situation.

Works Cited

Barnet, Sylvan and Hugo Bedau. Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.

Cook, Philip J. and Jens Ludwig. “The Social Costs of Gun Ownership.” Journal of Public Economics 90.1-2 (2006): 379-391. Print.

Kaplan, Mark S. and Olga Geling. “Firearm Suicides and Homicides in the United States: Regional Variations and Patterns of Gun Ownership.” Journal of Social Science and Medicine 46. 9 (1998): 1227-1233.Print.

Killias, Michael. “International Correlations between Gun Ownership and Rates of Homicide and Suicide.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 15. 148 (2010): 1721-1725. Print.

Wilson, James Q. “Just Take Away Their Guns.” New York Times, 1994: 78. Print.

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