Approximately 270 million people in the United States own firearms. The United States also has the highest gun ownership rate per 100 residents on the planet, with an estimated 466 crimes per 100,000 people. This raises questions regarding whether or not the ability for American citizens to obtain guns should be allowed because of safety, as well as various interpretations of the Second Amendment of the Constitution. Gun control laws in the United States need to either become more strictly enforced regarding backgrounds checks and the ability to obtain a gun, or guns should be banned altogether from citizens and police forces. This is because easy access to firearms leads to an increase in mass shootings and general violence as well as decreased safety of the public. No other position can be validly justified by the spirit and intention of the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Second Amendment was originally created to address the fact that members of militias had the right to bear arms, not the general public. Former Chief Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger stated that “the real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that the ‘state armies’ — ‘the militias’ — would be maintained for the defense of the state.” The Second Amendment does not say anywhere that each individual has the right to bear arms and exclusively states that this right pertains to militias. Justice Stephen Breyer emphasized in the same case that “self defense alone, detached from any militia related objective, is not the Amendment’s concern.” This means that individual self-defense was not what the amendment originally was intended to promote. Regarding the District of Columbia V. Heller case of 2008, Justice John Paul Stevens mentioned in his dissent that the purpose of the Second Amendment was a “response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States … ” meaning that there was fear that Congress would create only one standing central military instead, posing a threat to separate state militias. Using these interpretations, it is easy to rationalize the idea that the original intent of creating the Second Amendment was not to give every individual citizen the right to own a gun but to ensure that members of state militias were able to.
Another popular argument regarding the Second Amendment, if interpreted as every American man having the right to bear arms, is that the general public owning guns leads to a safer country with less crime rates. This can easily be disproven by simple statistics, in addition to the fact that the basis of the argument is an incorrect interpretation of the amendment itself. According to a study conducted on mass shootings by criminologist and author Frederic Lemieux, the number of guns per 100 inhabitants in the United States is 88.8, making it the country with the highest number of guns per 100 people. Because there has been a direct correlation between the amount of guns per 100 people in the U.S. and gun violence per year, the country has had more mass shootings than any other country on this planet. A study by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center showed that the number of days separating mass shootings went from on average 200 days between 1984 and 2011 to 64 days between 2011 and 2014. Increasingly frequent mass shootings do not make the United States safer than it could be if both citizens and the police force were not allowed to obtain guns and if the United States discontinued the manufacturing of firearms. If nobody in the United States owned a gun, including authority figures such as policemen, there truly would not be any valid reason for one to feel the need to own one themselves. There would also be more of a balance in power. Rather than using guns for self defense and protecting citizens, police officers should be given alternative weapons that do not have as easy of an ability to end a person’s life as a gun does, such as pepper spray, mace, tranquilizers and Tasers. If citizens don’t own guns, the police force won’t need them either. This could also be a step forward in solving the issue of police brutality that has become increasingly prevalent during the past two to three years.
One prevalent argument that is used over and over in favor of allowing gun ownership is that guns don’t kill people but people behind the trigger kill people, and that if we ban guns, we should ban all other weapons in the United States that can potentially kill a human being. But, according to the FBI’s Expanded Homicide Data Table, firearms (including handguns, rifles, shotguns and more) are the No. 1 most popular weapon used for murder in the United States. The second most common are knives and cutting instruments, and yet guns are more than five times more popular than knives regarding murderous weapons. This clearly shows that, although it is a human being behind the gun that is pulling the trigger, the gun itself is what is truly dangerous and has the most potential to kill someone. Another significant detail is that it is both physically and emotionally easier to end someone’s life with a gun because you do not have to physically stab them, strangle them or hit them. Also, things such as knives serve other central purposes than injuring or killing human beings, but guns are created solely for that purpose.
Many believe that as long as the individual buying a gun goes through a strict background check and does not have any mental illnesses, it is perfectly safe for them to buy and own firearms. This argument has a variety of different flaws, one of them being that although the buyer may satisfy gun ownership criteria and not be mentally unstable, they are still a human being and human beings still feel intense emotions such as raging anger or occasional depression. Human beings are impulsive and will act in the moment when trapped in extreme situations. A person could not have a background of mental illnesses and still go through a fit of anger and shoot their gun to release the emotions pent up inside of them. There is also a fatal link between guns and suicide, according to a 2008 study by Matthew Miller and David Hemenway of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, or HICRC. States with the highest rates of gun ownership had guns in 47 percent of households and more than 16,000 firearm suicides. Compare this to states with guns in 15 percent of their households and only about 4,000 firearm suicides, and one can clearly tell that there is a direct correlation between guns and suicide rates.
Another flaw regarding the argument above is that, although whoever is buying the gun may be mentally stable and meet the criteria, others living in their household may not be. An example of this is the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of December 2012, in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 26 children and staff members using his mother’s gun, and then shot himself shortly after. The entire situation occurred because his mother’s guns were easily accessible and not locked up properly. Lanza was also diagnosed with various mental conditions years before as a child, such as sensory integration disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. This and many other public shootings could have been easily prevented if firearms were not so accessible to other members of the household or even kept in a safe elsewhere, like at a specialized shooting range.
Overall, the public and police force’s access to guns has led to far more harm than good in the United States over the past few years and only continues to worsen as time goes on. Change can be made and action can be taken, however. If firearms are banned from being manufactured and obtained by the public in this country and members of the police force are only allowed to use defense weapons that don’t have the potential to end a person’s life in a single shot, it can lead to decreased crime rates, decreased suicide rates and a generally safer and more peaceful nation for future generations.
Jaskrit Bhalla Shifa is a member of the greater Bay Area community.
The byline accompanying a previous version of this op-ed misspelled Jaskrit Bhalla’s name.