Why the Gun Debate Will Never Change

Article Posted: March 27, 2013

When FOPA was passed, congressional opinion was stated as such: The conclusion is thus inescapable that the history, concept, and wording of the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as its interpretation by every major commentator and court in the first half century after its ratification, indicates that what is protected is an individual right of a private citizen to own and carry firearms in a peaceful manner.

Many local and state governments found that the opposite was true in their interpretation of the Second Amendment, believing that the right to bear arms was a "collective right" meaning that the State held the right to arm and equip militias, but individuals did not have the right to arm themselves outside of state regulation. This would cause the nature of gun control and firearms legislation to become further fractured and divisive in federal and state politics. After the myriad of legislation was found insufficient to prevent violence and satisfy the public regarding public safety, another law was introduced and this time congress meant business. The federal government would check out your statements for validity when you applied, and took on the responsibility for maintaining legal records pertaining to the right to bear arms, somewhat at odds with FOPA. They would become a true government agency, thanks to the Brady Bill. In another attempt to regulate the actions of criminals, the Brady Handgun Prevention Act (named in honor of White House press secretary under President Regan, James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination) was passed into law in 1994, requiring a back ground check by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System prior to the sale of a gun by a Federal Firearms Licensed individual. These checks were intended to determine lawful possession status of an individual according to the requirements outlined in the Gun Control Act, based upon information compiled by federal and local law enforcement or record keeping agencies. The law was under contention for almost ten years prior to being passed, and suffered a blow in the Supreme Court when the requirement for local (non-federal) law enforcement involvement was found to be unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment. The Brady law does not regulate the sale of firearms by private individuals to other private individuals, however the same set of federal restrictions exist in order to purchase one, a catch 22 some say needs to be addressed and eliminated (although many state and local laws specifically address this situation, requiring that private sellers must submit a local version of the 4473). The back ground check system is designed to prevent guns from being sold to those individuals that pose a great risk of using the weapon inappropriately, and touts the number of persons that have been denied as a result of its investigations. As of 2009, over 107 million investigations have been completed, and out of those 1.9 million were denied purchase, about 1.8% of applicants. Close to half of denials resulted from past felony convictions, however many of the denials are appealed and overturned for reasons the ATF declines to release information about. The system does not have the ability to track other reasons that would deny a purchase, such as an addiction to illegal drugs or mental health issues that have not been reported for various legal and administrative reasons. Perhaps as a show of force, the ATF released a memo to FFL holders of dubious legality stating that those persons who held medical marijuana prescriptions in California were considered ineligible to possess firearms. Charges resulting from the violation of the Brady act have been few and far between, with only 7 convictions in the first 17 months following the passage of the bill. Ultimately it is difficult to judge the effectiveness of legislation based on non-occurrences of violence; however there exists no linear correlation between gun violence rates and the Brady Bill. As another example of regulation failing to decrease occurrences of gun violence, soon after the passage of the Brady Bill the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) was instituted via the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

In continuing the trend of ineffective feel-good laws, the House and Senate along with support from President Clinton instituted a ban on "assault weapons," a previously undefined and largely semantic class of firearms, based upon their supposed potential to perpetrate massive amounts of violence. It was unclear prior to the ban what percentage of crimes were perpetrated with the guns now classified as "assault weapons," although even the Brady Center has the number at less than 5%. After the ban, they claim it went down to 1.9%, although corresponding violent crime committed with guns went up throughout the mid 1990's and little data exists to substantiate their claims. The AWB prohibited the sale of guns that had several key characteristics, including a pistol-grip, detachable magazine, and collapsible stock manufactured after the date of passage. The features outlawed had little to do with the gun's functionality or ability to be concealed, unlike the FCA which dealt primarily with mechanics and ease of concealment. The result was unimpressive at best, allowing firearms manufacturers to sidestep the regulations by adapting designs to exclude banned features. Critics of the law would blame this for the ban's marked lack of impact on violence, regardless of the other factors involved. If the weapons were banned because the listed features made them more dangerous, and the market responded by not including those features, wouldn't the intent of the law be satisfied? Or perhaps the list was arbitrary and lacked research that could conclusively show which types of firearms were more prone to be used in violent crimes, which would argue against any other such ban. This exemplifies the disregard for foresight on behalf of the ban's authors and supporters, and provides substantial ammunition for those who would rather not reinstate it. There was also a provision to limit the ammunition capacity of weapons for the first time, setting a ten round capacity as the maximum for any detachable ammunition feeding device. Again, there was little data to show that the number of rounds a weapon could hold had an impact on violence, and the result was predictable. During the ten years the ban was in effect, there was never a definitive impact on gun violence or an enhanced ability to control violence in general, sealing its fate when the sunset provision took effect. In 2004 when another attempt to reinstate the ban was mounted, FBI data suggested that although there were 1.8 million more firearms in the US every year after the ban, gun violence had decreased by over 10%. Another interesting and disputed component of the bill, seemingly at odds with the Second Amendment, was that law enforcement and military organizations could continue to purchase and use any of the items prohibited by the AWB. The state was now given free rein to arm itself over the people, with weapons that the federal government deemed too dangerous to trust in the hands of its citizens. As an interesting side note, most police forces do not have Title II weapons in their arsenals, but use the same "assault weapons" available to the public for tactical response teams and patrol officers. Again it seems that political winds would blow, but have little effect upon actual crime while restricting rights of the people and empowering the state.

Throughout the period of the Assault Weapons Ban, and under the provisions of the Brady Bill along with codified Federal Firearms Laws, Americans saw well publicized acts of mass-violence often perpetrated with firearms. However, believing that it is a result of weapons availability or occurring any more now than it has been in the past would be utter fallacy. Throughout the history of the United States, there have been gross acts of murder committed by the deranged and social outcasts of every variety, from mass exterminations of native peoples to the politically motivated sacking of whole townships. One can gaze into the past and find incidences such as Hun's Mill Massacre to Virginia Tech, where individuals or governments bent on violence executed large numbers of civilians with no hesitation. These occurrences have not been any less frequent due to gun legislation, and historically have not been mitigated through control of weapons.

Historical US Massacres and numbers killed 1770 to 2012; based on Wikipedia massacre data. The unjust murder of groups by another individual or group has been a global issue since the first dissimilar tribes encountered each other, and has resulted in untold quantities of bloodshed throughout the course of human evolution. These acts have never been eliminated through civil or societal controls, and attempting to control just one facet in hopes that it will affect the others is a serious misconception. If there is any way to mitigate the damage from these events, or perhaps to decrease the frequency, several strategies must be applied but with the honest assumption that the threat is not eliminated. There has been some research by the Centers for Disease Control that suggests instilling a value for life in children, proper socialization and integration at a young age, and a general acceptance (not just tolerance) of other cultures as well as anti-drug programs assist in lowering violence at a local and national level. These programs target the youth with cultural integration and proper values that have been commonly taught by parents or mentors. The CDC has shown through research that these techniques were more effective than gun buyback programs or scare tactics in lowering violent crime rates. These studies continue to show the benefit in targeting the way children think and are educated, and are more comprehensive in taking a meta-physical approach to curbing all types of violence. In comparison, firearm legislation has had dubious results at best, and at worst restricts the rights and abilities of upstanding citizens. It is difficult to imagine an American dream that entails more bloodshed and mayhem, but perhaps proposed legislation could have those exact consequences if the order of effects is not well understood.

The current political climate has become increasingly polarized, and as witnessed with the recent budget and taxation problems, is ineffective at reaching meaningful and productive legislation. Those measures that do pass have been ever more myopic, dealing with yesterday's problem and still doing it badly. This climate fosters radicals and inflammatory discourse, with more scape-goating and finger-pointing than productive effort. The legislation recently proposed and crafted by radicals shares much of the same nature, almost designed to fail in debate and rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court when found to be unconstitutional. There are provisions in the plan, initiated by Vice President Biden, like another assault weapons ban and magazine capacity restriction that have failed before and will do so again, and those like a national gun registry which have already been deemed against the constitution and are protected against in federal code. Unrealistic and already addressed issues like "universal" back ground checks are already in place with their own inherent flaws. The panel commissioned to determine "new approaches" to gun control was formed with radicals that were enlisted from one side of the debate, such as Mayor Bloomberg and the Brady campaign, without the inclusion of opposing viewpoints and alternative methods. These same groups have tried their ideas at different government levels with limited success at best, and have been afforded many chances to show results without producing them while excluding experts in guns or violence prevention. This single minded approach leads to a one sided-solution to a broad and far reaching problem, at the cost of support from the gun owners and the public community at large. The tension this creates is similar to a restriction of any other protected right, such as the right to peaceably assemble or the right to free speech. A war was twice fought on American soil to protect the rights of a people, with the Second Amendment providing the means for these wars. The potential exists that if this right is curtailed, the people may reserve that right through the force of arms. While not a particularly enticing thought, it must be considered carefully in legislation prior to taking the first steps towards a nation divided. There is absolutely no desire among the vast majority of Americans to see massacres carried out in our towns, schools and places of gathering, and a strong desire to prevent it where possible. However it must also be taken into consideration that gun control has been a contentious and ineffective means in preventing violence, and has several consequences that are less than desirable. After each tragedy there is a desire to immediately remedy the situation, but without the cognizance that the damage cannot be undone and poor thought-out legislation may make matters far worse. The catalyst for change should be a mutual desire to study society for potential and foreseeable problems, and address them with respect and applied knowledge gleaned from our past, not a predictably ineffective and continually failed policy renewed without joint conversation with the applicable experts and public at large. We stand to gain much through cooperation and education, but we will forever fail if the same reaction is used where it has not worked before. Solving today's problems can only occur if we know the historical basis for those issues and how they were addressed in the past, and applying that knowledge to project which measures will provide us with the society we want to build tomorrow. As an old idiom from Einstein illustrates best, "the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over, while expecting different results."

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Thanks goes to Peter Barnes for this informative article. Thanks to mrhayata for photo.

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