Let’s Talk About Guns

By Matthew Wrobel, Policy Analyst

In the wake of the tragic shooting that struck San Bernardino, California, America is again faced with the issue of governmental regulation of possession of firearms amongst civilians. While GOP conservatives stick to the Second Amendment and their right to bear arms, those on the left believe that some form of restriction should be implemented, especially in terms of fully-automatic and assault weapons. This debate, combined with the growing threat of terrorism following the emergence of ISIL and their international attacks, has set the table for yet another growth in the rift between the two major political parties in the United States.

With Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress, it is hard to imagine any form of gun control legislation being passed regardless, but with the recent attacks on Paris, whose gun control laws ban the civilian ownership of fully automatic weapons, the effectiveness of proposed gun legislation has also been called into question. Though an October 2015 Gallup survey showed that 55% of Americans call for stricter laws governing the sale of firearms, a contingent YouGov study taken after the Paris attacks explained how only 35% of those Americans believe that those laws will effectively reduce the number of shootings, or gun-related violence. The tragic attacks in France’s capital that killed 130 people and left even more wounded has left many Americans truly doubting the effectiveness of governmental regulation, and if these laws leave their citizens vulnerable to the types of attacks that are becoming all too common.

Advocates and protectors of the Second Amendment are quick to argue the idea of victims lacking protection. Republican primary frontrunner Donald Trump said in the wake of the Paris attacks, “You can say what you want, but if they had guns…they were allowed to carry, it would’ve been a much, much different situation.” A 2013 study done by Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy supported this notion. The researchers stated that countries such as Russia and Luxembourg, both of whom have enacted strict gun control laws, have murder rates 4 to 9 times higher than here in the United States. It is this fear of lack of personal protection that has kept lawmakers as well as the majority of American citizens on edge about enacting new firearm legislation.

Contrastingly, Democrats are not calling for the complete overhaul of gun possession. In an October 2015 speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Chicago, President Obama said, “Every time a mass shootings happens, one of the saddest ironies is suddenly the purchase of guns and ammunition jumps up because folks scared into thinking that, ‘Obama’s gonna use this as an excuse to take away our Second Amendment rights,’” he added. “Nobody’s doing that. We’re talking about common-sense measures to make criminals don’t get them, to make sure background checks work, to make sure that we’re protecting ourselves”. President Obama’s 2013 plan entitled “Now Is The Time”:

• Requires background checks for all gun sales and strengthens the background check system.
• Bans military-style assault weapons and limits magazines to a capacity of 10 rounds.
• Proposes a crackdown on gun trafficking by asking Congress to pass legislation that closes “loopholes” in gun trafficking laws and establishes strict penalties for “straw purchasers” who pass a background check and then pass guns on to prohibited people.
• Maximizes efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
• Provides training for “active shooter” situations to 14,000 law enforcement, first responders and school officials.
• Improves mental health awareness through enhanced teacher training and referrals for treatment.

Similar plans and legislation that has passed in other countries have led to some of the safest, most effective results. Switzerland, a nation with some of the highest gun ownership rates (up to 61% in recent years), has allowed across the board ownership of any semi-automatic weapon. Military style assault weapons are allowed to be kept as privately owned guns, following the conversion to a semi-automatic weapon and obtaining of a license, a process that includes a background check and psychiatric evaluation. These laws, as well as the mandatory training that each gun owner must complete, has led to great increases in security within the state. In 2014 there were 173 attempted and completed homicides, of which 18 involved firearms (10.4%). 41 of them were completed, therefore Switzerland had a murder rate of 0.49 per 100,000 population, the lowest raw figure and lowest rate for 33 years, since the start of the nationwide coordinated collection of statistical data, despite a strong growth of inhabitants (from 6.4 million to 8.1 million, +27%) over the same period.

Though President Obama’s plan was introduced in 2013 following the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Aurora, Colorado and has not made any progress in Congress, it shows the true agenda and motives behind the gun safety reform initiative. It has become clear that one of the biggest issues in the gun control argument is that the sides are not arguing for the same purpose. Republicans are not looking to jeopardize the safety of Americans by allowing the access to assault weapons, just as the Democrats are not looking to repeal the Second Amendment. The rift between this nation’s leaders in terms of gun control is based solely in the inability to cooperate with the other side of the aisle.

Matthew Wrobel is a Policy Analyst with the Center for Development and Strategy and a double major in Political Science and History at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y.

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