Most articles on gun control start with the conclusion that guns either should be banned or shouldn’t be banned and then provide reasoning and evidence to support their position. In this article I will try to reverse that process and start with some facts and figures and then draw some conclusions.
Let’s start with the problem—gun-related deaths.
As everyone is aware, the U. S. leads the developed world in deaths related to guns (about 30,000 deaths per year).
What is sometimes missed because of the media’s focus on the sensational (e.g. mass killings) is that about 2/3rds of those deaths are from suicides. The most “successful” way of killing oneself is with the use of a gun, usually a handgun. Suicide attempts with guns result in deaths over 96% of the time. All other methods of attempting suicide are far less “successful,” none reaching even 10% success rates.
America is awash with guns.
America has about 4.4% of the world’s population but has about half of the world’s guns owned by civilians. There is more than one gun per person in the U. S., but actually most people (57%) live in households that are gun-free. Gun ownership is skewed with some people owning lots of guns and most people not owning any. 3% of Americans own almost half of all the guns in the country. 7.7 million people own, on average, 17 guns.
As one may suspect gun ownership is highest among white men (48%) and lowest among non-white women (16%). Why do people own them? According to polling 67% of the people who own them say they own them for “protection.”
What are people scared of?
Since Colonial times the crime rates have generally dropped. There have been occasional “up-ticks” in certain types of crime for various reasons, but generally the overall trend is down. In particular, since the 1990s all types of crime in the U.S. have declined.
However, over 60% of the American public actually believes that crime rates have increased in recent years.
Does arming people make them safer?
We often hear that countries with strict gun control have dramatically lower gun-related deaths than the U. S.—and that is true. What is seldom reported is that in developed countries with larger numbers of guns in circulation (even with strict gun control policies) the rates of gun-related deaths are higher than countries with fewer guns in circulation.
Even though crime rates have been declining, is it possible that crime rates in the U. S. are significantly higher than in other developed countries? That, also is not true. The U. S. actually has about an average amount per capita of crime compared with other developed nations.
States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths (e.g. Hawaii, NY, Mass, Iowa, RI) while states with more lax gun control laws have higher rates of gun-related deaths (e.g. Louisiana, Alaska, Miss, Alabama, Arkansas).
Some states have, over the last decade, enacted right to carry concealed gun laws. Those states have experienced a 13-15% increase in violent crimes compared to states that have no such laws.
Where is public opinion on the issue of gun control?
70% of Americans say they want stricter gun laws and among owners of guns 57% say they want stricter gun laws
89% of gun owners as well as non-gun owners say that the mentally ill should be prevented from purchasing a gun.
77% of gun owners say background checks should be mandatory for the purchase of a gun at gun shows.
77% of non-gun owners support a ban on assault weapons, but only 44% of gun owners support such a ban.
Will meaningful gun control be enacted?
Republicans who control all three branches of the federal government are overwhelmingly opposed to significant gun control measures. Democrats at the national level generally support stricter gun control measures.
States vary in their approaches with Democratically controlled states generally enacting stricter gun policies and Republican states going in the opposite direction (right to carry states).
In sum: Gun ownership is skewed with very few people owning most of the guns.
- Most gun-related deaths are due to suicides not homicides.
- Gun control measures generally reduce deaths due to guns.
- The public is generally supportive of stricter gun control.
- Democrats are more supportive of gun control than Republicans.
Conclusion—What can be done?
In a democracy government policies should follow the support of majorities unless those policies infringe upon the inherent rights of citizens. Yet, even then the Supreme Court has ruled that no right is absolute. Reasonable restrictions can and should be placed upon all rights. While the Court has ruled that individual citizens have a right to own guns, they also indicated that reasonable regulations are appropriate.
It would seem that greater regulation of guns is in order. Yet, in most states and at the national level this is not happening. Sadly, the major hurdle is the Republican Party, supported by (some would say captured by) the NRA. This was not always the case. All Republican presidents from Nixon to George W. Bush supported some form of gun control and Nixon actually wanted to ban all handguns.
If you want gun control today, and if it is a very important issue for you, then you are led to the conclusion that you cannot vote for any politician who refuses to support gun control—most likely not a Republican.
Where is Sarasota’s representative to Congress, Vern Buchanan, on gun control?
Buchanan is a member of the NRA and is “a strong defender of the Second Amendment.” He supports the right of individuals to carry concealed weapons across state lines, he wants to loosen the restrictions of interstate gun purchases, he wants to ban the registration of guns and trigger locks. He has “waffled” on banning bump stocks. If you are looking for measures to restrict access to guns Vern Buchanan is not your guy in Congress.
NOTE: A protest against the NRA and in favor of gun control will be held in Sarasota, Saturday March 24 from 10-noon at the Bayfront Park.