The Debate on Global Gun Policy

 

 Emma Donahue, Staff Writer

  Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. From the years 1996 to 2012, there have been ninety mass shootings in the United States. The runner up is the Philippines, with only eighteen. Recently, we have backtracked rather than progressed with regards to gun policy. In February, President Trump rolled back an Obama-era regulation that was aimed at preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns. Despite being home to less than five percent of the world’s population, we own thirty-five to fifty percent of its civilian owned guns, making us the number one firearm per capita nation. We also have the highest gun homicide and suicide rate, although a Pew study showed that the majority of Americans own a gun for personal protection.

Legislation to ban semiautomatic assault weapons was recently defeated in the senate, in spite of the bill’s popular support in the wake of the Las Vegas and San Antonio shootings. Currently, we have bans on concealed and specific categories of weapons, as well as restrictions on sales to certain groups of people. The Gun Control Act of 1986 prohibited under eighteen year olds, convicted criminals, the mentally disabled, and dishonorably discharged military personnel from buying firearms. In 1993, The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act required those without a gun license to go through a background check before purchasing a gun from a federally authorized dealer. There have also been setbacks, like when the Supreme Court retracted the law that banned handguns in Washington D.C., or when Idaho, Alaska, and Kansas attempted to nullify federal gun legislation.

Many analysts believe that the United States could benefit by modeling our gun policy after certain countries with lower gun-related crime. In Canada, major gun reforms were passed following a school shooting in 1989 where the perpetrator used a semiautomatic rifle. Now, there is a twenty-eight day waiting period for gun purchases, mandatory safety training, more thorough background checks, bans on large capacity magazines, and increased restrictions on military grade weapons and ammunition. Their three categories of firearms include non-restricted (rifles and shotguns, which don’t need to be registered), restricted (handguns, semi automatic rifles and shotguns), and prohibited (automatic weapons). Australia is another prime example of how restrictive policies can decrease violence: since their recent implementation of new gun control laws, there have been declining gun deaths and no mass shootings. Their murder rate due to guns has fallen to one per 100,000, compared to our five per 100,000. Additionally, armed robberies occur half as  frequently there as they do here.

In the United Kingdom, gun control reform was spurred by the Hungerford massacre in 1987. The direct result of this tragic event was the Firearms Amendment Act, which expanded the list of banned weapons and increased registration requirements. The Scotland Dumblane shooting in 1996 lead to the Snowdrop Petition, which was instrumental in pushing legislation to ban handguns and implement a temporary gun buyback. Japan is known for having among the most strict laws, and have a very low gun homicide rate as a result. Most guns are illegal there; under the Firearm and Sword law, the only guns permitted are shotguns, air guns, and specific, situational exceptions which require a series background, drug, and mental health tests. In Germany, any gun purchaser under the age of twenty-five are subject to a psychiatric evaluation that they must pass in order to obtain a firearm. License applicants in Finland can only purchase guns if they can prove that they are an active member in shooting or hunting clubs, pass an aptitude test, a police interview and be in possession of a safe storage unit. Similarly, Italian laws also require purchasers to establish a legitimate reason for their need of a firearm. French applicants for guns must have no record and also pass a background check which takes into account reason for the purchase.

Perhaps the reason we have failed to progress as much as these countries is due to a certain mindset created by forces like the NRA. Supporters of increased gun-rights tend to argue that high rates of ownership don’t directly correlate with the strictness of gun laws. The NRA has been continuously opposing safe storage laws, saying it is pointless to own a gun if you can’t reach it in time to defend yourself. However, only a small amount of victims are able to actually use a gun in their defense. A national crime victimization survey showed that 99.2% of 6 million victims (from the years 2007-2011) involved in non-fatal violent crimes did not protect themselves with a gun. Furthermore, in a study of 198 cases of unwanted entry into family homes in Atlanta, it was found that the invader was twice as likely to obtain the homeowners’ gun than to have it used against him/her. There is also a debate surrounding right to carry laws (RTC), as the NRA has been pushing for a Supreme Court decision that would make this right a matter of the Constitution. But, research conducted at Stanford University found that the thirty three states that have adopted RTC laws between 1979-2014 experience gun-related crime rates fourteen percent higher than if these laws had not been adopted.

So, despite the significant evidence that more restrictive policies (both internationally and domestically) have resulted in less gun violence, it seems that the American mindset towards what we views as a right must shift before any real progress can be made.

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