Gun Ownership and the Problem of Gun Violence in America

Statistically and stereotypically speaking, Americans love their guns. The US is home to more privately owned guns than any other country, two hundred and seventy million of them. It also boasts the record in guns-per-capita; 88.8 firearms to every 100 citizens. (“Gun Ownership”) Gun sportsmen, collectors and hobbyists alike will fight tooth, claw and shotgun to defend what they perceive as a basic human right- the right to bear arms, particularly without too much restriction on what sort, how many, or how said arms are used and whether or not they are safely stored.

However, many people within America grow weary of the heavy gun homicide rate, rounding to just about 65% of all homicide and causing nine thousand deaths a year; the mass shootings, some of which are considered the worst tragedies in American history; and especially the devastating deaths of children- we alone, as a country, have had a total of 31 school shootings since Columbine, while the rest of the world combined scrapes by at a measly 14.

Nobody wants to see another Virginia Tech in our schools, and it’s time we took a stand and did something to prevent that. America must act based on concern for the safety of our friends, our families, and our children. Other countries serve as positive models for what we might be able to accomplish in the wake of the latest tragedy to hit our news channels: Canada, despite a seemingly gun- happy culture and high firearm possession rate (30 to every 100) has an average of about three- hundred-fifty firearm deaths a year, a fraction of our roughly 9,000 yearly gun murders, and a per capita gun homicide rate of 0.51 to our shamefully high 3.2.

Australia responded to the infamous “Port Arthur massacre,” in which 35 people died, by enacting a compulsory nationwide firearms buyback. They have not seen a single mass killing in the fourteen years since. Japan has banned guns almost entirely- and in the year 2008, they had a total of 11 deaths by firearm and no mass shootings, much less horrific “school shootings” of the nature that we’ve experienced. If we truly want to combat gun violence in America, and to avoid and diffuse disastrous situations like the one in Newtown, we must look at the positive examples other countries have given us and revise our own laws accordingly. Or must we? The NRA says differently. As a group with a vested interest in keeping guns on the table, or under your pillow, in order to keep green in their wallets, the National Rifle Association has argued hard and long for the right to bear arms. Their website’s “legislative action” section has an entire sub-page explaining how Thomas Jefferson would want them to keep their Glocks, even if quietly surrendering their handguns might save the lives of thousands of people.

While the NRA does technically have the second amendment “on their side,” one wonders whether or not these people also believe it is their right to own nuclear weaponry or other extremely dangerous, potentially catastrophic weapons. The Constitution was written at a time when America was reeling from war with the British king and leery of any and all government, but remaining so suspicious of our notably democratic political system that you feel a modern-day uprising may be in order does not seem in the spirit of the founding fathers. Cultural and sociological context is essential to understanding the issues at hand, a fact that the NRA seems to have conveniently overlooked, just as they have overlooked the obvious: More guns does not equal less violence, it equals more- unless all statistics about firearm homicide and gun ownership are being controlled by the government, of course.

Our gun homicide rate is extremely out or proportion in comparison to all other industrialized countries, but by enacting gun laws following Canada’s example, we may be able to bring it down considerably. So, what are the differences between American and Canadian gun law? Well, for starters, one works- one doesn’t. Associate Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Professor of Political Studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Dr. George A. Maclean, had this to say on the subject during an interview with International Business Times: “All gun owners must show evidence of firearms training, go through a security check, and apply for a license. Purchasing a gun can take up to a month to clear. Licenses are also required for the transport of certain restricted weapons, which can only be used in approved locations.

Certainly, the number, types and classifications of weapons permitted for ownership in Canada is much more restrictive than the U.S.”

America, of course, has its own background check system, entitled the NCIS (“National Instant Criminal Background Check System”). This law was set in place to prevent criminals and other prohibited individuals from buying guns, and makes it less likely that they’ll try knowing that comprehensive background checks are in place. Unfortunately, it does not apply to unlicensed firearm dealers; the resulting inability to monitor gun sales has been called, for obvious reasons, the “gun show loophole.” This might not be such a problem if not for the fact that an estimated 40% or more of all guns are purchased during gun shows! Simply running thorough background checks at the time of purchase could potentially lower our gun homicide rate by thousands.

Mass shootings in America have become a real, lasting problem, but if we look to the gun- control model of Australia, we see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel- reaching it does require convincing entire hordes of gun-lovers to fork over their favorite weaponry, but the resulting peace of mind may be well worth their sacrifice. When a man open-fired on seaside restaurant-goers, killing 35 and wounding another 23, Australia put a law into place that banned semiautomatic and automatic rifles and shotguns and forced a compulsory buyback system on the owners of said guns. This legislation purportedly: “-cut firearm homicide by 59% over the next two decades and firearms suicide by 74%, the report showed. The law banned semiautomatic and automatic rifles and shotguns and put in place a mandatory buy-back program for newly banned weapons. […] The buyback led to the destruction of 650,000 guns.”

It also neatly snuffed out mass shootings (Shootings with four or more victims) in Australia for the next fourteen years up until today. If America instituted a similar buyback, it would be expensive- Australia’s buyback is reported to have cost $500 million- but it may end our mass shooting problem for good, which, when you consider it as an exchange for innocent lives, puts the price tag into better perspective.

Sometimes, it can seem like every time you turn on the news, you find yourself gritting your teeth in case of another school shooting- This horrible, uniquely American trend has become almost normal in that as soon as the country finishes mourning the victims of one attack, a new set of innocents is gunned down. But if we walk in Japan’s footsteps, we may find a way to avoid school shootings altogether and reclaim our places of education as safe zones instead of potentially dangerous environments.

While Japan’s gun laws are some of the most extreme in any democratic country, they boast one of the lowest firearm homicide rates per capita of any country, 0.01, and have an average of only eleven firearm-related homicides a year. That leaves us with 818% the gun murders, and Japan sitting pretty. Think of all the lives we could save if guns just hadn’t been available when Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown went down; though Japan has a higher rate of knife violence, a knife simply isn’t the same kind of machine. How, exactly, does Japan keep its gun murder rate so low?

“No rifles. No handguns. Shotguns and air guns are allowed only under a licensing system that is designed to discourage everyone but the most highly motivated from applying for a license. To get a license in Japan, you have to pass a psychological exam and run the gauntlet of a paperwork process made to be inconvenient. Once you get a license, you better be able to account for every round of ammunition you ever shot at target practice or while hunting.”

But what about black-market guns? The illegal sale of guns to “wackos” is one of the main arguments against banning guns outright. Japan seems to be dealing with it just fine: “Theoretically, a Japanese sociopath could purchase an illegal firearm on the black market. But the isolates inclined to mass murder lack the social skills to engage the organized crime networks that guard their illegal guns jealously. So, Japan has very few guns, no mass murders with guns in more than 70 years and very few mass murders of any sort.”

In conclusion, though the NRA cites their need for personal liberty in a cruel, harsh world of politicians and tyranny, more guns does not equal less violence. In fact, by instituting thorough background checks as Canada does, making like Australia and passing legislation to buy back dangerous weaponry, and seriously considering a zero-tolerance policy similar to Japan’s, America can fix our problems with gun homicide, mass shootings, and particularly school shootings. If anything, these policies may save some small amount of innocent lives- and even one, I think, would be well worth the effort.

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