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Do we need gun control?

| Monday, October 5, 2015

This past week, the entire country mourned the deaths of 10 individuals as a mentally disturbed man horrifically took their lives. Like many of the horrific mass shootings we’ve seen over the past few years, this revived our constantly resurging conversation over gun control in the United States. While it is sad that it takes such a tragedy for this debate to take place (like so many other debates), the conversation is necessary. Yet, this discussion has led to nothing. Our politicians either say that nothing needs to be changed or that lobbying groups prevent things from being changed. Like with all contentious issues in our country, we seem to be at a gridlock. But should we even be doing anything?

Those who don’t think there should be any changes to gun laws (or think that we should have looser gun laws) consistently cite the 2nd amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Some pro-gun groups vehemently assert that because of this, any gun control law is illegal. On its face, this argument is nonsensical — the government surely has a right to control arms (i.e., outlawing grenades and rocket launchers for civilians), just as it has a right to carve out exceptions for free speech (i.e., outlawing shouting “fire” in a movie theater). The question shouldn’t be whether the government has the right to restrict civilian ownership of arms. The question should be asking what the right amount of restriction is.

This isn’t a simple question. Lots of people try to simplify the various sides of the gun control debate. Gun control advocates will point to a few graphs in a few countries where increased gun control has correlated with decreased murders. Pro-gun advocates will point to a few studies that show that more gun deaths occur in gun-free zones. They’re both right, because it’s an intricate debate. But there are a few facts that both sides need to acknowledge. For one, it is true that in places where there are more guns, there are more homicides. At the same time, however, a common (and true) saying is that correlation does not imply causation. The fact that there are more homicides where there are more guns doesn’t necessarily mean that severe gun restrictions will decrease the amount of homicides and mass murders that will happen. But it points to the possibility that reducing the amount of dangerous arms available to civilians quite possibly makes them safer.

Another common theme for the pro-gun side is the mantra “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. While true, this distracts from a truth — guns make it a lot easier to kill people. Now, this doesn’t mean that we should be outlawing guns — owning a gun is a citizen’s right. Furthermore, it’s naïve to think that the Oregon shooter (or any criminal) would not have been able to obtain a gun if it were illegal to do so. With the amount of guns in our country right now and the ease to purchase them today, outlawing guns is ineffective and unrealistic. It would probably have little to no clear effect on gun violence, and wouldn’t make us any safer considering the context

In spite of this, our policymakers can’t do nothing. Little by little, they need to try and figure out what actually works in reducing gun violence, the ease to obtain a gun and the deaths that guns cause. It starts with things that have vast public support — it’s appalling that the federal government won’t mandate background checks at gun shows when 85 percent of the country supports this policy. A majority of the country supports a ban on assault weapons and semi-automatic weapons (they’re called assault weapons, for crying out loud, what is their purpose — to assault), yet we have not yet renewed the ban that Clinton passed in 1994. The point is, we outpace our peer developed countries in gun deaths per capita — and it is the responsibility of policymakers to do something about it.

Curbing gun violence won’t be easy or all-encompassing. One policy won’t significantly reduce gun violence by itself. We need to make our country safer for all while also realizing that our Founders put the 2nd Amendment in the Constitution for a reason — to save us from the tyranny of our government. But at the same time, we need to keep tragedies like the one this past week from happening. The policies we enact won’t do that wholesale — but they will work towards making it harder to purchase guns and will thus save lives. And that’s what should be done, because even one life saved is worth it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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