By: Rachel Leven
Last fall I fell into a heated discussion with a classmate from Benin. He did not understand what he perceived as America’s obsession with gun ownership and gun laws. Well, perhaps he’ll be glad to know as he returns to campus that he is also returning to a country where the rate of civilian gun possession is over 60 times higher than Benin’s.
At the time, I loosely argued that lax gun laws were an infringement on my right not to own a gun. Now, another incident at a movie theatre demonstrates my point. Scott A. Smith, brought a loaded 9 mm semiautomatic handgun, two loaded magazine clips and three knives to a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Smith argued in court that the weapons were for protection of himself and others. How many other people brought their own guns to theatres and weren’t caught? Suddenly going to the theatre means the possibility of crossfire. If five people might walk into a theatre carrying a gun, well that basically means I won’t feel safe until I go out and get a gun myself. When someone in the theatre starts talking and conflict escalates, maybe a vest and a helmet would be even better than having my own gun.
Dramatics aside, it is very difficult to find sound non-partisan research about gun control. Especially, anything related to the second amendment and the relation between tyranny and gun ownership (that’s a hint for any Political Science PhD candidates out there). What research is available can be contradictory. The conservative CATO institute recently released a report on the importance of civilian gun ownership in stopping crime. Yet other research shows criminals are rarely shot during their crime, but rather are shot as victims during a separate incident. Further, the majority of self-defense claims go hand in hand with escalating conflict, my nightmare scenario described above.
Interestingly, while gun ownership in the US is sky high, our laws may not be as far from others as we think. The choice is not one between a total free market and absolute restriction. Of course there are countries like Japan, where gun restrictions are extreme and gun violence is minuscule, and countries like Switzerland, where possession of an assault rifle in one’s home is required of all young men and gun homicide rates are still low. The question is more one of licensing and appropriate forms of possession. Even Governor Romney supported more restrictions and qualifications of the second amendment right. For the record, the Swiss themselves are far from unified in their support of a gun free-for-all.
Our inability as a country to accept any increase in gun control as legitimate could actually be increasing crime in other areas besides simple homicide. Due to lax laws and enforcement in the US, the Mexican-US drug trade has become the Mexican-US drug and arms trade. Leaving aside obvious mishaps like Fast and Furious, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, more than 68,000 firearms moved from the US to Mexico between 2007 and 2011.
In the wake of this summers shootings, three states are considering stricter gun laws. With state legislators on break for the summer it is unlikely anything concrete will happen until the fall. However, small changes in three liberal states do not add up to a national policy. On gun control, Obama has been just uncommitted enough to enliven right wing conspiracies theorists and left wing extremists alike. Romney has reversed the position he had as Governor of Massachusetts and said a flat out “No” to new gun control legislation. Sadly, with such a consensus for inaction, and no alternative answer besides new laws coming to the national stage, it’s unlikely that any major changes will be seen in national gun possession or in gun related violence.