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Shooting down bad arguments

Adam Newman | Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Every time America experiences a mass shooting, conservatives flock to the airwaves and re-use the same old arguments against gun controls. Hopefully, I can shed some light on why many of them are misguided. (Big thanks to Ezra Klein of The Washington Post for pointing me in the direction of much of the data). 
1. Fewer mass shootings would occur if more people were armed. 
The belief that having “good people” armed can prevent mass shootings has not proven true in the past. There were armed guards at Columbine (13 killed and 21 injured), Virginia Tech had its own police department (32 killed and 17 injured) and Fort Hood is a military base (13 killed and 29 injured).  Moreover, shootings create panic, and it may thus be difficult to for authorities to differentiate “good guys” and “bad guys,” creating an unnecessary chaos that could lead to more injuries and deaths.
2. There are many other factors that lead to gun violence, such as the prevalence of mental illness.
According to the OECD, roughly the same proportion of Europeans suffers from a mental illness as Americans, suggesting homicides by firearm would be somewhat similar. However, America has four times as many deaths by firearm per 100,000 people, 3.2 times as the next highest developed country, Switzerland (0.8). Other notable European countries are much lower than this. Given the numbers, this difference cannot be explained merely by the prevalence of mental illness, but it can be explained by the prevalence of guns: America has nearly twice as many guns per 100 people (88) as the next highest developed country (46).
3. Most mass shootings occur with guns purchased illegally.
Mother Jones magazine recently compiled a list of the 61 mass shootings – shootings when four or more people are killed – since 1982. They found that the guns were purchased legally in 49 of the shootings.
4. If someone is crazy, they will still try to hurt people regardless if they have a gun.
Can you imagine a politician saying “Al-Qaeda is a major threat to America, but these people will do anything to kill Americans, so as a result it is not really worth trying to stop them because they will always find some way?” Of course not. Strangely, this argument has become acceptable when discussing gun deaths, as many people reason, ‘If someone is determined to kill all those people, no barrier will stop them, therefore we should not impose gun regulations.’ However, common sense gun controls can make it harder for people who should not own weapons, such as the mentally ill and criminals, limit the number of rounds a gun can get off, limit the number of guns purchased at a time and limit the type of gun one can buy. All can be used to deter shootings, or limit the number of fatalities in a shooting if one occurs.
6. Guns may kill, but one can use also use other objects, like a baseball bat to kill. Should we outlaw baseball bats?
Guns are by far the most common weapons used in homicides. Department of Justice data reveals that between 1976 and 2005, approximately 64 percent of homicides were due to guns. Between 1973 and 2005, guns were responsible for 92 percent of law enforcement officers killed. There are many objects, like a baseball bat, that could potentially be used to kill people. The main difference is these objects have a main purpose other than killing, while the main purpose of a gun is to kill.
7. Public opinion is against gun controls.
Indeed, over time polling has shown that people are against more gun controls. According to Gallup in 1990, 19 percent of people wanted less strict gun laws or laws to be kept the same while 78 percent of people wanted stricter laws. In 2010, Gallup found 54 percent of people wanted less strict gun laws or laws to be kept the same and 45 percent wanted laws to be stricter.
However, when asked about specific gun controls, people tend to favor them. A CNN poll conducted in August found 96 percent of people believe a background check should be used when someone buys a gun, 57 percent support a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of semi-automatic assault guns and 60 percent support a ban on the sale and possession of equipment known as high-capacity or extended ammunition clips.
These are just some of the responses to common anti-gun control arguments. Sadly, gun rights advocates too often ignore wisdom and data and cling to ideology and preconceived notions when discussing gun policy, making it almost impossible to curb the high number of mass and solo shootings that plague this country.
Adam Newman is a senior finance major. He can be reached at
[email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.