Critique of “Will Strict Gun Control Laws Reduce the Number of Homicides in the United States?”

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The issue of gun control, and laws regulating the ability to use guns, is the subject of contentious debate. Advocates in favor of stronger gun control argue that the number of deaths from violent crimes is greater when the public has increased access to guns (Hickey, p. 260, 2007). Opponents of stronger gun control argue that by limiting the public’s access to guns, “law-abiding citizens” are limited in their ability to defend themselves from criminals (Hickey, p. 260). However, experts and the court alike continue to debate the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which affords U.S. citizens with the right to bear arms (Hickey, p. 260, 2007). In the meantime, those in favor of gun control, and those opposed to it, could not be further apart from coming to an agreement.

The article presented multiple reasons for strengthening gun control. Professor Franklin E. Zimring argued in favor of restricting access to guns, and increasing Federal requirements for handgun purchase (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 262). He initially justifies this position by reviewing the correlation between gun use and violence. Zimring notes that guns are used in only a small fraction of all crimes committed (roughly 4%) (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 262). This is hardly a cause for concern. However, the issue arises when we inspect the larger picture since guns are involved in 70% of crimes involving fatal violence (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 262). Further, gun assaults are by far the most deadly for the victims and most likely to result in death (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 262). There are certain factors that make gun assault lethal.

Simply put, guns change the dynamics of a crime. They have the “instrumentality” effect which the author posits to increase the death rates (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 263). The first instrumentality effect is “mechanical” (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 263). Mechanically, guns create more serious injuries, to more people (if desired), and can do so from a greater distance (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 263). Research studies cited in the article found that while the primary intention in many homicides was not necessarily to kill, the likelihood that the attack resulted in a fatality increased if a gun was used during a crime (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 263-264). In fact, guns were five times as likely to kill over knives (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 264). The second instrumentality effect is “social” (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 262). Socially, guns are used more often because the use of guns is has become socially acceptable in many circles, combined with the fact that assailants carry them to level a playing field where guns have become more prevalent (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 262). The author reports that guns are often used in robberies to “frighten victims into complying with the robbers’ demands” (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 264). However, when these robberies do go awry, the fatal outcome is almost guaranteed.

Advocates of gun control must still convince society of the role that guns play in violent crimes. Based on the arguments in favor of restrictions, society should control access to firearms because they are a “contributing cause” of homicide (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 265). However, even proponents of gun reform acknowledge that gun laws will only be useful if they are successful in reducing the availability of firearms for violent assaults.

The article also presented multiple reasons for not regulating gun control. Lance K. Stell argued against restricting public access to guns (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 269). He disagrees that gun control will reduce the rate of homicide for violent crimes, adding that “any measure designed to impose handgun scarcity on the general population is both needless and useless” (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 270). Stell’s arguments are equally as persuasive for the reader.

Stell begins his argument against gun control by rebutting Zimring’s statistics regarding gun use in violent homicides. He notes that although suicide is not a crime, death by suicide is often categorized as a violent death (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 270). However, this categorization skews the homicide figures significantly. Further, guns are used in nearly fifty percent of suicides (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 271). For Zimring’s “scarcity theory” to be accurate, countries with strict gun control would similarly see a decline in the suicide rate (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 271). However, the researchers discovered that this was not the case. The author also noted that while the homicide rate has fluctuated greatly over the course of 100 years, the percentage of homicides committed with firearms stayed relatively constant (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 272). These figures form the initial basis for Stell’s argument.

Stell also takes aim at Zimring’s instrumentality theory. He presented statistics that demonstrated a significant decline in the homicide rate (40%), where the percentage of homicides committed with guns remained relatively constant (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 273). He also argues that guns do not pose more serious injury than bombs might (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 274). Further, the lethalness of the shot also depends on other factors, such as the assailant’s ability to operate the gun, or the victim’s attempts to escape (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 270). Lastly, other statistics show that while gunshot wounds to the abdomen are more “life-threatening” than wounds made with other weapons, they are not exponentially as dangerous as the previous arguments would suggest (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 274). Regarding social instrumentality, Stell claims that “ordinary folk” do not generally carry firearms, and this justification for carrying a gun is also flawed (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 274). Instead, violent offenders generally suffer from a host of other issues (such as low I.Q., mental illness and substance abuse) (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 270). Given these findings, Stell argues that Zimring’s theory lacks merit.

The key argument introduced against gun control in the article is regarding the benefits of armed self-defense. Victims who use a gun to thwart a violent crime reportedly fared better than those who defended themselves with another type of weapon, or those who did not defend themselves at all (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 278). Individuals also have a “fundamental, serious right to self-defense” against criminals (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 279-280). Anything less than this would be an infringement on this right.

While both sides present a logical argument regarding gun control, what is most noteworthy is that the key argument for open-access to firearms is self-defense. However, if guns were more controlled, query what there would be to defend against? There is no question that guns are powerful weapons, regardless of whether there is an intention to commit harm. The popular slogan that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” may arguably be used to justify either side’s position (Hickey, 2007, p. 270). Guns kill people when put into the hands of people who use them. Both authors also agree that “carefully-crafted, well-enforced firearms control policies can contribute to marginal reductions in criminal violence” (as cited in Hickey, 2007, p. 270). As such, both sides should come together to develop responsible legislation regarding access to firearms.

Reference

Hickey, T. J. (2007). Issue 13: Do Strict Gun Control Laws Reduce the Number of Homicides in the United States? Taking sides: clashing views in criminal justice (pp. 260-286). Dubuque, Iowa: McGraw Hill Contemporary Learning Series.