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Gun Control, In Brief
Gun control pros and cons ignite heated debate. Republicans and Democrats support reducing gun violence and deaths. However, whether gun control restricts constitutional rights or saves lives remains a divisive question. Before further diving into partisan opinions, let’s review the basics.
First, “gun control” refers to legal measures meant to restrict possession or use of firearms by civilians. These measures reflect a broad range of restrictions. They can regulate the types of firearms manufactured; who can buy or sell them; whether or how they’re carried in public; and beyond.
Most developed nations impose gun control measures in some form. Singapore, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan maintain some of the tightest gun restrictions. The US, where gun ownership is constitutionally protected, has some of the least restrictive laws.
US federal law prohibits gun possession by some types of people and the manufacture and sale of specific types of guns — namely machine guns. Licensed gun dealers must also conduct FBI background checks on buyers to verify whether their gun rights are restricted. Individual states impose gun regulations, too. California, New York, and Massachusetts maintain some of the strictest gun laws. Alaska, Arizona, and Wyoming boast some of the least restrictive.
Now, let’s explore gun control pros and cons.
Gun Control Pros
First, gun regulations can help reduce gun deaths. US states with more laws regulating guns have lower firearm fatality rates. Country comparisons show the same pattern. The US has a much higher rate of violent gun deaths than countries with stronger gun control laws like Singapore, Japan, and the UK.
Secondly, regulations like banning assault weapons may reduce mass shootings. In 1996, following 13 mass shootings in 20 years, Australia banned semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns. The country experienced zero mass shootings in the 20 years that followed.
Additionally, gun control measures can help protect vulnerable populations. For example, in the US, domestic violence issues are 500 times more likely to become homicides when a gun is present. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that higher gun ownership rates correlate with higher rates of domestic violence homicide.
Lastly, gun control measures can reduce suicide rates as well. According to the CDC, suicides account for 60 percent of gun-related deaths in the US. Guns are the most common method of suicide. Studies indicate that states with lower rates of gun ownership see lower suicide rates. Canada and Austria have also seen reduced suicide rates after introducing tighter gun control policies.
Gun Control Cons
First, gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution 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.” In 2008, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Americans’ right to own guns — unrelated to military service. Gun rights advocates maintain that regulations that make it harder to possess guns lawfully are unconstitutional.
Secondly, some research suggests that common US gun control measures barely impact mass shooting rates. Political scientists with the University of Missouri-Columbia argue that assault weapon and high-capacity magazine bans and background check requirements only minimally reduce US mass shootings. “For instance, enacting a statewide assault weapons ban decreases the number of mass shootings in the state by one shooting every six years.” The researchers also found no evidence that these regulations reduce the total number of mass shooting deaths.
Lastly, other violence prevention strategies may reduce gun violence and save lives more effectively. For example, Boston implemented Gun Violence Intervention — an interpersonal community-policing strategy — in the mid-990s. This resulted in a 63 percent monthly reduction in youth homicides.
Gun Control Pros and Cons: Where Both Parties Stand
Americans remain deeply divided on gun control overall. However, public opinion polls regularly find majority support for some type of regulation.
For example, Pew Research finds that 85 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats believe people with mental illnesses should not be allowed to purchase guns. Additionally, 70 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats support background checks for private and gun show sales. However, other propositions receive stark disagreement. Republicans show far more support for expanding concealed carry rights. On the other side, Democrats are much more in favor of tracking gun sales through a federal database and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Despite regular discussion — especially following high-profile mass shootings — the federal government hasn’t passed a new gun control measure since 1994. To pass a 10-year assault weapons ban, urban Democrats teamed up with moderate Republicans representing suburban constituencies. Republican leaders and Democrats representing southern and rural areas opposed the measure.
Similar dynamics remain in play at the state level today. In general, Democratic-controlled states pass more gun restrictions while Republican-run states actively work to loosen gun laws. Still, populous Democratic states impose stronger gun restrictions than rural and southern states controlled by either party.