The issue: In light of recent mass shootings, is it time to overhaul gun laws?
The recent massacres in Colorado and Milwaukee are national tragedies. Many innocent people were maimed and murdered by deranged men, and the suffering of the victims and their families and friends cannot be measured.
In light of these crimes, new attention is being focused on an old hot-button issue in American politics: gun control. And although these cases still aren’t fully understood, past cases, studies and statistics can help guide us as we seek answers to two important questions. First, do guns increase violent crime? And second, how can society prevent tragedies like these from happening?
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When you study the perpetrators of mass killings, patterns emerge. Typically, the killers had a lengthy psychiatric and/or criminal history, and the families, school administrators or authorities either didn’t recognize their mental illness or didn’t deal with it properly.
The Batman movie shooting suspect was seeing a psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia and “threat assessment” before the shooting; the Sikh temple shooter was less-than-honorably discharged from the military and had links to white supremacist groups; the Virginia Tech shooter was declared mentally ill two years before the massacre; and the Columbine killers wrote online about acquiring guns to kill people years before it happened.
Clearly, something needs to change. Under current federal law, serious criminals and mentally ill individuals cannot legally buy guns. In some cases a lack of communication between parents, psychiatrists, schools, local law enforcement and federal agencies enabled tragedies to occur. But no matter how vigilant we are, sometimes tragedies will happen. This doesn’t, however, mean that we should ban all guns or severely restrict them for sane, lawabiding citizens.
Gun ownership is an individual, constitutionally protected right. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that strict gun control laws don’t reduce violent crime. After all, whom do gun laws actually disarm?
The United Kingdom has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. Recent reports from the European Commission show the violent crime rate in the U.K. is higher than any country in Europe, as well as America and South Africa.
Gun control proponents often cite gun ownership in America and our rates of homicide and suicide compared to other countries. Indeed, America does have a high homicide and gun ownership rates, but Switzerland also has high gun ownership and a very low homicide rate. Russia more than doubles our homicide rate with extremely low gun ownership rates. Also, Japan’s suicide rate doubles ours with almost no gun ownership.
A Harvard study from 2007 examined many surveys, studies and statistics from around the world regarding firearms, murder and suicide rates. The study found that high gun ownership didn’t increase murder or suicide rates, and it in fact noted a negative correlation in the United States.
This means that areas with a high density of legal gun ownership have lower violent crime rates than areas with a low density.
Violence, overall, was deemed to be more related to social, cultural and economic factors rather than gun ownership. Violence wasn’t prevented due to restricted gun access — criminals simply used another weapon.
Dr. Gary Kleck, famed criminologist from Florida State University, conducted a national survey that found that guns were used four to five times more to prevent crime than to commit crime. His work was cited in the Supreme Court’s landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision, which stated that the Second Amendment provides individuals the right to bear arms, and struck down the D.C. handgun ban.
From here, the question becomes: would more gun control laws significantly reduce violent crime? My contention is no. Those who seek to commit violent crimes will not stop because of a gun law. As the saying goes, “If we outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns.”
The 2010 Cumbria shootings in England, which killed 12 people and injured 11 others at 30 different crime scenes over two hours, are a good example. Would this event have been possible if law-abiding citizens were allowed to carry weapons for self-defense? The police cannot be everywhere. We have a right to protect ourselves.
The laws already on the books are sufficient to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill people, if they are enforced. We should improve awareness of mental health issues so families can recognize problems early on, but we should also get these individuals on the radar of local authorities and in the database of the federal government’s backgroundcheck system.
We need to enforce compliance with our current system, which uses a national background check for permits to own firearms, and make sure that states are adhering to rules by reporting mental illness. Beyond eligibility to own a firearm, decisions regarding right-to-carry and other restrictions should be determined at the state and local level.
John Allan Peschong served in President Ronald Reagan's administration and later as a senior strategist for the campaigns of President George W. Bush. He is a founding partner of Meridian Pacific Inc., a public relations and public affairs company, and serves as chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Republican Party.