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It’s time to learn something about guns in America

Austin Lagomarsino | Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Toolbox has always served as a column that aims to educate and inform its readership. Yesterday, I read Adam Newman’s article, “It’s time to do something about guns in America,” and was very interested in his claims. However, I noticed very few of the claims were substantiated by data, so I began to look into it a little further.
First and foremost, I would like to start by agreeing with Mr. Newman in his assessment of the horrors of the 61 mass shootings that have occurred since 1982, and affirm that these occurrences are so frightening and tragic that I wholeheartedly agree we need to ensure these events do not occur. However, I am not going to preach about how I believe that should be done. Rather, in Toolbox fashion, I want to point out some interesting statistics many people either do not know or simply ignore when making claims about how to fix gun violence.
Now, let’s look at some of the examples of egregious spree killings Mr. Newman pointed out: Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech and Fort Hood. What do they all have in common? Yes, they were all sites of horrifying mass killings, but what else? How about the fact they were all, by law, gun-free zones. Yes, even Fort Hood. As a military base, laws passed in 1993 do not allow soldiers to carry around firearms unless the base itself is under military threat at that moment. The other sites were all schools, which are gun-free zones to keep children safe. The designation of gun-free zone identifies that location as an area full of unarmed people, marking these spots as easy targets.
This unintended consequence of these well-intentioned rules demonstrates the paradox of implementing guns laws: the only people the laws will affect are law abiding citizens. By definition, criminals are individuals who defy the law. So if someone is set on performing a shooting, which is clearly against the law, what is going to stop them from defying another law to get a gun?
As it turns out, not much.  93 percent of gun-related crimes are committed with an illegally obtained firearm. Now consider that in 2011 there were 760,000 incidents of law abiding American citizens using firearms to defend themselves from a crime.
Many will say there is no need for an assault rifle, that the Second Amendment should allow people to have hunting guns but shouldn’t protect weapons designed to wage war. If you read the Second Amendment, you will notice it is designed to keep citizens armed in the event they needed to overthrow their government. At the time, that weapon would have been the musket, and today that would be a weapon designed for combat, such as a semiautomatic assault rifle (this argument does not include fully automatic machine guns, as those are already extremely heavily regulated).
Now, all firearms are not created equal. I will be the first to tell you an 18th-century musket is not nearly as scary a weapon as a modern assault rifle. As Mr. Newman points out, assault rifles have become a major issue in the United States. These weapons of war are by and away the scariest weapons on the streets, right?
Assault rifles represented approximately 0.6 percent of all gun murders in the United States in 2011. This astounding statistic means the terrifying, military grade weapons the United States’ armed forces use represent a tiny fraction of gun related incidents. In fact, 2011 FBI data records 323 murders in the United States with a rifle of any kind, including assault weapons. To put that in context, that means these weapons “designed for warfare,” in addition to all other rifles, combined in 2011 for 173 less kills than hammers and clubs (496) and 1371 less kills than knives (1694).
As I said before, I won’t tell you how I would fix the gun problems we have in the United States, because frankly I have no idea. Maybe the solution is increasing the laws to prevent people from getting guns. Maybe it requires an ideological shift in the United States away from the thought crime is acceptable. Would you be surprised to learn America has seven times as many people per 100,000 in prisons as Europe does? 0.7 percent of all American adults are in prison. That stat is high enough to make America number one in the world in incarcerations per capita.
Regardless, we need to ensure we have all the facts before we make a decision on our gun laws.
Austin Lagomarsino is a junior aerospace engineering major. He can be reached at alagomar@nd.edu
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.