Should more gun control laws be enacted? This question is highly contested. As with all controversial issues, in order to decide what we believe we must look at both sides. For this post, I will focus on the Liberal perspective, which stands in favor of this issue. In the next post, I will discuss the Conservative view, which stands against the issue. The Liberals make a very convincing case, stating that the Second Amendment does not give citizens unlimited gun ownership, most adults support gun control laws, more gun control laws would reduce the societal costs associated with gun violence, and more gun control laws would reduce gun deaths.
The Second Amendment, as with all rights granted in the Bill of Rights, is not unlimited. The freedom of speech is also not unlimited. For example, we cannot yell, “Fire” in a crowded movie theater when there isn’t one. Likewise, gun rights must be restrained. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose… nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” Liberals are not denying citizen’s right to bear arms; they are suggesting the need for restrictions on gun ownership.
A majority of adults would agree that gun control laws such as background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are common sense restrictions. According to a Pew Research survey conducted in March 2013, 83% of all adults surveyed (and 79% of gun-owners; 86% of people living with a gun-owner; and 74% of NRA households) approve of background checks for private and gun show sales. 56% of all adults surveyed approved of assault weapon bans and 60% approved of a federal database to track gun sales. Surprisingly, up to 40% of all gun sales are undocumented private party gun sales that do not require a background check. Most Americans found this statistic alarming, including Don Macalady, a member of Hunters against Gun Violence. He explained, “As a hunter and someone who has owned guns since I was a young boy, I believe that commonsense gun legislation makes us all safer. Background checks prevent criminals and other dangerous people from getting guns.” Liberals appeal to the common sense in all of us to not only endorse the current gun laws but also to endorse the enactment of more gun control laws in the future.
Liberals claim that enacting more gun control laws would significantly reduce the societal costs associated with gun violence. The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation paints a troubling picture. In 2010, gun violence cost each person in the United States about $564 and the U.S. government $5.5 billion in lost tax revenue; $4.7 billion in court costs; $1.4 billion in Medicare and Medicaid costs; $180 million in mental health care for victims; $224 million in insurance claims processing; and $133 million for law enforcement and medic response to shooting injuries. Also in 2010, a total of 36, 341 emergency room visits and 25,024 hospitalizations for gun injuries costed an estimated $6.3 million. Societal costs of gun violence can also include legal services, foster care, life insurance, and psychological costs, among others according to the World Health Organization.
Liberals also state that more gun control laws would reduce gun-related deaths. Between 1999 and 2013, there were 464,033 total gun deaths. Guns were the leading cause of death by homicide (66.6% of all homicides) and by suicide (52.2% of all suicides). Firearms were the 12th leading cause of all deaths, topping liver disease, hypertension, and Parkinson’s disease, as well as death from fires, drowning, and machinery accidents. A Lancet study conducted in March 20, 2016 found that implementing federal universal background checks could decrease firearm deaths by a projected 56.9%; background checks for ammunition purchases could reduce deaths by a projected 80.7%; and gun identification requirements could reduce deaths by a projected 82.5%.
In summary, Liberals do believe that citizens have the right to bear arms. They simply believe that restrictions are necessary in order to protect people’s right to safety. The majority of adults agree with these basic, common sense restrictions on gun ownership. However, Liberals also claim that additional restrictions need to be made. They state that these additional restrictions will decrease both the societal costs associated with gun violence and gun-related deaths.
Keep an eye out for my next post, where I will discuss the Conservative’s perspective on gun control.