Gun control has once again become a popular topic in light of the recent Sandy Hook tragedy. Commentators have posed numerous possible solutions to a national audience still reeling from the shock of this brutal attack. Many of these remedies include stringent controls on access to firearms, which at first glance seem to be a valid method for preventing similar tragedies in the future.
But there is more to the story than what these proposals reveal. They are built on some faulty assumptions, which are not very obvious, with only a cursory knowledge of firearms. Even worse, the misconceptions these ideas rely on are clouding a true and meaningful discussion about guns and violence.
The most common misconception about gun control is that licensing keeps bad people from obtaining or using guns. The problem is that gun violence trends around the world do not support this assumption. Consider drivers licenses. Approximately 100,000 people are convicted of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle each year in New York State. While guns and cars amount to an 'apples and oranges' comparison, this phenomenon does demonstrate that licensing requirements do not stop people from engaging in activities the government wants to regulate. The Justice Department certainly does not act on license violations and only prosecutes a small fraction of people arrested in connection with being denied a fire arms permits. The Supreme Court also ruled that criminals do not have to obtain licenses or register weapons because doing so would be self-incrimination.
School shootings are not a new phenomenon. They have been happening since the 1960's, despite varying degrees of firearms availability. School shootings are premeditated. They are not impulsive crimes of passion. This gives a shooter plenty of time to plan not only their attack, but also how to obtain firearms. The Columbine shooters certainly took the time to plan their assault, and violated almost twenty firearms laws to obtain their weapons.
Police are not a reasonable means for protection. About 11% of police shootings kill an innocent person compared to the 2% caused by citizen shootings, which can be attributed to accidents as much as shooting the wrong person during a confrontation. In August, a single person shot and killed a former co-worker outside the Empire State Building in New York City. Responding police shot and wounded nine innocent bystanders while attempting to take to the gunman down. Florida police shot and killed an innocent man in July, while searching for a suspect in an assault. Even worse, the FBI is reportedly missing hundreds of firearms, and as of 2001, 449 of them had been used in crimes.
The U.S. government "found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes," and also concluded in one study that none of the attackers interviewed was "hindered by any law — federal, state or local — that has ever been established to prevent gun ownership. They just laughed at gun laws." Many cities with stringent gun control laws such as Chicago and D.C. have alarmingly high homicide rates despite their restrictions.
The 'gun lobby,' as some call it, is a relatively weak force in politics compared to some of the larger donors. In fact, Open Secrets reveals the total combined political contributions from firearms related industries did not even peak at $7 million and failed to make the top ten contributors.
These are only some of the myths which gun control strategies are based on. Some of them sound nice and even plausible until scrutinized. Facts can be overlooked in the rush to judgment, facts that can change the entire discussion, and they must all be considered if a truly open and honest discussion is to be had.