Powder Keg: The Complex Issue Of Gun Control In The United States

Unfortunately, it is not shocking anymore when gun crimes are reported in the United States. From 1968 to 2017, there were 1.5 million firearms deaths. This number is higher than the number of American soldiers killed in every U.S. conflict since the country’s Revolutionary War in 1775. This is an urgent alarm to spotlight the origins and reality of gun usage.

Due to the impacts of the Revolutionary War and the Manifest Destiny-fueled expansion to the west, the social atmosphere in the United States has historically approved of gun ownership as a way to protect white Americans’ lives. The Second Amendment to the constitution even decrees that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Since the American social view of gun possession is much more positive compared to European nations, it is easier for to buy guns in America than in other countries. If the buyer is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with no history of mental illness or serious crime, they can purchase guns, except for military automatic guns, in many states with little restriction. (Semi-automatic guns are legal.) This permissiveness is not limited to regular hunting guns, air guns, or self-defence pistols; civilians can easily buy weapons that are used indiscriminately in wars. Many states do not ban large gun companies such as Colt and Remington, or other gun-advocating groups like the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.), so long as they maintain that their weapons are purchased for hunting or leisure shooting.

When discussing the gun controversy, one must bear in mind the decentralization of the U.S. system. This union of states has been divided between federalism and anti-federalism from its formation to the 21st century. As each state has a strong individual identity, the autonomous laws each enacts may differ from laws at the federal level, meaning a gun that was legally bought in a state with anti-federal opinions and loose gun control laws may be illegal in a state more in favor of federalist gun control. Laws and regulations in states like New York and California are heavily damaged when a gun accident occurs. However, Alaska’s gun regulations are freer because of its wild environment. If the national government imposes federal gun control, each state government will protest, calling it a severe violation of sovereignty. This is a vulnerability of the United States.

The political spectrum regarding regulation varies considerably, from demanding the most complete regulation of gun possession to demanding the most complete liquidation of current gun law. Statistics showing that only about 5% of the guns used in crime are legally purchased have sparked controversy over the effectiveness of regulations on guns sold. On top of this gamut of opinion, there are intra-group disagreements on whether to change the regulations in federal law or make the topic an issue for state-by-state legislation.

What is regulated is also a subject of controversy. The National Firearms Act (N.F.A.) has regulated explosives, light firearms, muzzles, silencers, and so on, and until the law expired in 2004, political agreements were made banning “military-style” weapons on a state-by-state basis.

Despite all the buzz, the reality is that pro-gun control discourse only deals with regulations on sales, especially regulations from company to consumer within one state. Distribution of guns across state boundaries or used gun trade between individuals has rarely been discussed beyond the state level. The definition of guns is not uniform in each state, so removing and trading certain parts is legal.

The arguments both for and against gun control have some rationality. Among the weapons that humans can realistically transport and operate, guns guarantee some of the best killing power. Unlike a blade, a gun can kill many people at high speed so long as the shooter has decent range, vision, and basic shooting skills. The focus of the gun control debate is whether it is necessary to allow the general public to possess this ability to kill.

When the Second Amendment was written, guns were not reliable. Rifles were most effective when fired as a group while their wielders closed the distance to make a bayonet charge, because they lacked firepower and were easily exposed to gunpowder smoke, and so were ineffective in minor armed clashes. This is very different from today’s automatic firearms, which can kill dozens of people at a time. However, when the difference in combat power between the military and the individual is very severe, it is not in the past to guarantee the right to arm oneself as an extension of the right to resist.

In addition, most agree that individuals have a need to defend themselves from criminals or other security threats – often represented by bears in American political discourse – and most agree on the N.F.A. regulations which already exist. The gun control discourse is not truly a battle between complete deregulation and complete regulation, but between the middle forces, whether to add or remove regulation.

From an external point of view, complicating the process of approving gun ownership licenses and drastically strengthening the punishments for illegal possession, carrying, and fire of guns is likely to solve the problem of how to prevent crime and gun violence. If it becomes easier to get guns in the private market, illegal guns will also be easier to obtain and hide, so the surest way to reduce the presence of guns in the U.S. is to reduce the number of firearms released in the country overall.

However, most regulatory attempts have been thwarted due to lobbying by organizations such as the N.R.A. and resistance from gun owners.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to see a quick and unanimously agreed-upon solution for how to regulate gun usage. But a solution must nevertheless be found. While politicians, gun companies, and the government are having a war of nerves, easily-bought guns are killing innocents.

Heewon Seo


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