Gun-related violence has been on the rise over the past few years. It is a problem that threatens one of the most fundamental human rights, the right to live. Anybody can be affected by gun-related violence, including children. More than 3,500 children and teenagers are shot and killed annually, and up to 15,000 are shot and sounded, an estimated 52% of American children and teenagers (EveryTown Research & Policy, 2021). In some instances, just the mere presence of a gun makes people fearful for their lives and thus has a long-term psychological impact. Today, the United States has the highest number of civilian-held firearms compared to any other developed country, most illegally acquired firearms. There are over 392 million unregistered firearms; these statistics are more compared to registered guns. The rise in illegal firearm ownership and increased gun-related violence rates call for an urgent need to address the issue. For these reasons, this paper recommends stricter gun control policies that will limit the acquisition of unregistered firearms and reduce gun-related violence rates.
The issue of gun violence
Globally, the ownership of firearms is highly concentrated in the United States. More than ever, guns can now be more easily assessed, whether legally or illegally. The rise in 3D printing technology has allowed three-dimensional physical objects to be created using relatively inexpensive machinery. These 3D printers have been used to create guns and shotguns cartridges (Little, 2014). To some extent, the rise of these technologies has added to an already complicated mix of inexpensive ways of manufacturing and acquiring handguns. The rapidly developing technology allows the manufacture of handguns. Notably, the printing machines can be acquired for less than $1000. Although 3D printing technologies are far from being complete or perfect, the fact is that some operational handguns are already 3D printed. Experts have pointed out that technology and digitalization are set to improve rapidly (Little, 2014). Consequently, it is increasingly important to address gun control policies in the context that technology will be perfected. The issue of hyper-localized gun manufacturing and gun-related violence may escalate beyond the present statistics.
The United States has the highest number of civilian-held firearms and gun-related violence (Kruis et al., 2021). In 2017, the U.S had more guns than people, and researchers estimated that there were 393 million civilians and illicit held firearms and 120.5 for every 100 residents. It was also estimated that 42 percent of households in the U.S reported owning more than one firearm in 2020. These statistics make the United States the most heavily armed civilian population globally. The high number of civilian and illicit held firearms has resulted in firearm-related crimes, accidental deaths, and proliferation. In 2019, more than 73.6 percent of homicides involved firearms. The issue is even more troublesome for marginalized groups. The rate of gun-related deaths for Black male Americans was more than double of white male Americans (Statista Research Department, 2021).
Impact of Gun Ownership on Communities
Gun ownership is often associated with devastating violence in communities. At the community level, guns are often used in response to fear. Children and youths living in violent neighborhoods are at risk of gun-related violence. Gun violence within communities disproportionately impacts under-resourced black and Hispanic communities. In these communities, community gun violence is a common phenomenon, and the health and well-being of people living in such areas are adversely impacted.
The trauma of gun-related violence extends beyond the people directly injured during the shooting to people who are indirectly involved as witnesses. All these groups experience lasting negative impacts on well-being and health. Over 35,600 Americans survive gun assaults annually, and victims are often forced to cope with the associated physical and mental trauma. According to research, gun violence exposure among children and teens can change the chemistry in the brain, severely impacting emotional and cognitive development Youths exposed to gun violence by hearing gunshots or witnessing a shooting were reported to be extremely distressed (Aufrichtig et al., 2017). When American children and teens die of guns, 60% of it is due to homicides, with an estimated 2,100 deaths annually.
Additionally, 35% of the deaths are suicide due to having access to guns. Disturbingly, gun violence in schools has intensified, thus increasing new anxieties for current statistics. American children between the ages of 5 to 14 are more likely to die of gun violence, and those aged 15 to 24 are 23 times more likely to be killed with guns (Everytown Research & Policy, 2021).
The Second Amendment and Case law rulings
When addressing the issue of gun control, the second amendment is perhaps the most referenced regulation (Vizzard, 2015). It confers an individual right to possess firearms. Underlying the amendments are two major collective and individual defense goals from violence. In the decision made in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the court confirmed and concluded that the second amendment rights adhered to individuals. The court noted that the phrase “keep and bear arms” often arose with military activities, but it was not limited to that context to include self-defense. The court struck down almost a law in the district of Columbia that banned all handguns and noted that it was the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense at home.
Guns for Self-defense or protection?
Current laws allow people to carry guns for purposes of self-protection. However, for eligibility, people must submit a criminal background check, pass a gun-range test, be a state resident for at least 1-year prior, pass tests requiring the legality to bear a firearm, and demonstrate firearm safety. In most instances, people in support of gun ownership cite the need for self-protection, while people citing stricter gun control policies often oppose the need for guns for personal protection (Valle, 2013). People often cite that the reason for gun ownership is self-protection. They claim that possessing firearms is major because firearms make one safer. According to (Pierre, 2019), most people’s decision to obtain firearms is mainly motivated by past victimization and the fear of future victimization. Similarly, research has shown that handgun ownership is linked to the need to address the perceived risk of crime and the ineffectiveness of police protection, particularly in low-income communities. However, Pierre (2019) points out that self-defense guns are more likely to be used during escalating arguments, which creates a socially undesirable and illegality in guns.
The need for Stricter Gun Controls
Evidently, with the continued gun-related violence and unregistered gun ownership, there is a need to establish stricter gun control policies. Valle (2013) researched the two opposing sides of gun ownership and gun control policies. He suggested that it was important for each side of the gun debate to concede in roughly equal measures to the other. Gun advocates must acknowledge some modifications to current gun control policies to address the increasing mass shootings and gun-related violence. In contrast, gun control supporters must concede to the legality of gun ownership for protective functions. Protection measures should not be rejected, while gun control policies should neither be rejected; there is a dire need to revise both sides of the debate.
Revised gun control policies should be particularly focused on risk areas. Legal and regulatory measures should focus primarily on guns acquired illegally and unregistered. For something like 3D Printing, regulators should take time to understand the technology and address its unique aspects related to criminal misuse (Little, 2014). With technological advances such as 3D Printing, there are always the bad and good associated with it; therefore, while celebrating creativity, it is crucial to address its misuse. For instance, nuclear fusion has its dangers, but it was not banned; rather, it has been regulated; this should be the case for 3D printers.
People present multiple arguments against gun control policies, such as the NRA, a major gun supporter that claims that guns do not kill people; people kill people. According to Pierre (2019), “people kill people with guns.” He argues that gun reform proposals should focus on areas with wide support and more consensus, such as enacting background checks policies, pushing for red flags laws, and striking a balance to guarantee gun ownership rights to law-abiding citizens. Pierre (2019) also suggests maintaining public safety campaigns that will encourage safe firearm handling and storage to avoid access by children and at-risk individuals. In their research, Kruis et al. (2021) found that conducting background checks, mental health screenings for gun purchases, and banning the use of military firearms from public use. Moreover, policies should be focused on keeping firearms away from at-risk individuals such as mentally ill individuals and untrained persons.
Introducing stricter gun control policies and regulations will significantly reduce gun-related violence. Policies that have already been implemented to address gun ownership are conducting background checks and having mandatory firearms training programs. Moreover, the federal government should borrow from the state regulations in Virginia that regulate the number of firearms purchased within a specified timeframe; this will help reduce the number of firearms in the market, thus reducing firearm ownership. For instance, a policy can be established to purchase firearms in a year by one individual.
Regarding the ownership of illegal guns, stricter policies against such criminal practices should be set forth. Although criminals have access to unrestricted gun markets, the mentally disturbed most likely lack such access, which means modifications to present gun measures may restrict access to guns compared to criminals, as such measures should be put in place to curtail the deadly threats gun ownership. People looking to purchase firearms should provide their psychiatric history for at least five years before being allowed to complete a gun purchase. Valle (2013) suggests that there should be a formal list of diagnosed mental illnesses that disqualify an individual from purchasing guns, just like criminals. There should be stricter regulations and punishments for people who steal firearms and possess illegal guns, reducing the rate of illegal gun ownership. For example, 3D printing technologies should be regulated to reduce cases of handgun printing. People found in possession of unregistered firearms should be severely punished.
The majority of people who favor gun ownership policies argue that they are for protection purposes, often citing the second amendment. This is not to underestimate the right to bear arms for self-protection purposes; however, multiple considerations should be considered. Even though that is the case, people should be made aware of the risks of possessing firearms. Guns have been associated with homicides, suicides, and accidents. The research established that children are most impacted by domestic violence and gun violence; 85% of the gun homicides among children occur at home. It also established that firearm suicides among children increased by 55%, and for people of all ages, access to guns increases the risk of death by suicide by three times. Moreover, an estimated 4.6 million American children live in homes with at least one gun unlocked or loaded (Everytown Research & Policy, 2021).
Further, the NRA insists that stricter gun controls will limit law-abiding citizens from purchasing guns, thus leaving them in the hands of criminals. The NRA argues that more regulations will negatively impact citizens without impacting criminals. However, the suggested strict regulations should control both registered and illegally acquired firearms. It will control the high suicide and homicide rates and the mass shootings. The relaxed gun controls have encouraged more gun ownership. There is a need to formulate stricter gun control policies to reduce the consequences of gun violence, homicide, and suicides.
Setting strict gun control policies is a step toward reducing the crime rates associated with the use of firearms while at the same time maintaining the privilege established in the second amendment. The laws and policies should regulate illegal access to unauthorized guns while allowing law-abiding citizens to own guns for self-protection purposes. Both sides need to capitalize on common ground to curb future mass killings more effectively. With the rise in technological advancements such as 3D Printing, it is increasingly crucial to address the access to guns. Both sides of the debate must demonstrate ideological and political flexibility in almost equal measures with interest in reducing gun-related mass shootings, homicides, and suicides.
Conclusively, both sides of the debate must be ideologically and politically flexible to accommodate the requirements of each side with a common goal of reducing and preventing gun-related violence. Statistics presented in this paper show a high rate of homicide, suicide, and mass killings from firearms. Moreover, the United States has the most number of civilian and illicit gun ownership compared to other developed countries. There is a dire need to set stricter gun control policies and laws to regulate gun ownership, especially among at-risk individuals and criminals. The policies should also be set to limit the number of guns acquired in a specified time.
Aufrichtig, A. et al. (2017). Community Gun Violence. EFSGV. https://efsgv.org/learn/type-of-gun-violence/community-gun-violence/
EveryTown Research & Policy (2021). The Impact of Gun Violence on Children and Teens. Fact Sheet. https://everytownresearch.org/report/the-impact-of-gun-violence-on-children-and-teens/
Kruis, N. E. et al. (2021). Firearm ownership, defensive gun usage, and support for gun control: Does knowledge matter? American Journal of Criminal Justice,30, 1-30.
Little, R. K. (2014). Guns don’t kill people; 3D Printing does? Why the technology is a distraction from effective gun controls. Hastings Law Journal, 65(6), 1505-1525.
Pierre, J. M. (2019). The psychology of guns: Risk, fear and motivated reasoning. Palgrave Communications, 5(159), 1-7.
Statista Research Department (2021). Firearms in the U.S.: Statistics and Facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/1287/firearms-in-the-us/
Valle, J. (2013). Gun control vs. Self-protection: A Case against the ideological divide. Justice Policy Journal, 10(1), 1-26.
Vizzard, W. J. (2015). The current and future state of gun policy in the United States. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 104(4), 879-904.