“The more things change, the more they stay the same”
Way back in 1975, almost 43 years ago to the day, I wrote a paper on the misuse of guns and the lack of gun control. Today, considering the current ongoing situation with shootings of the innocent, I would like to share that paper with you.
The often quoted Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms. (I’m not sure it does. If at all, in a very limited outmoded sense.) But is this right a license for Americans to kill each other? The prevalent feeling seems to be that murders are committed by criminals, and gun control laws would disarm the law-abiding citizen while the criminal keeps his weapon. Although criminals were responsible for 28% of all murders in 1972 according to FBI statistics, the fact remains that many innocent people are killed with a handgun every day by other than criminals.
Throughout the nation, newspapers carry shocking stories of gross unnecessary tragedies. In Chester, PA, Shawn Armstead shoots himself after finding a .45 caliber revolver in a dresser drawer. He is dead at 4 years of age. Shooting at tin cans among sand dunes near their home in Palm Desert, CA, Juan Diaz, 19, accidentally kills his brother with a .22 caliber pistol when a companion jostles his arm. The FBI reports that of the 19,510 murders committed in the United States in 1973, 53% involved handguns. Long guns accounted for only 12%. The problem then, is mainly with handguns rather than with all firearms in general.
According to public opinion polls, Americans have favored gun control laws overwhelmingly since 1938. A 1972 Gallup Poll shows that two out of five Americans would ban handguns for everyone, except for those people who need them for public safety use, such as police, security guards, and the military. Why then, hasn’t Congress acted? Primarily because they have been afraid to buck the NRA whose million members are made up of hunters, sports shooters, collectors and dealers. One reason is that the powerful NRA Lobby has the ability to evoke a tremendous response from its members in the form of angry letters to the congressmen. The law makers in turn hesitate to cross gun control opponents for fear of vote loss at election time.
Actually, the NRA stresses lawful gun ownership, with emphasis on existing gun laws. According to a recent article in US News & World Report, a point that is being made by gun control opponents is that it is the user of the gun – not the gun – that is the problem. “Better enforcement and tougher penalties” they say, “are the appropriate remedy – not registration, licensing or ban.”
Regardless of whether the person or the gun is the problem, the fact remains that as long as there are handguns available, people will use them. According to FBI statistics 31% of all murders in 1972 occurred within families and another 41% grew out of arguments and disputes, often between people who knew each other. Criminals made up about 28%.
Gun control opponents are aware of the handgun menace, but they are also very much aware of the anti-hunting groups that would ban all guns and ammunition. Bob Brister, writer for Field and Stream, expresses several opinions from sportsmen about what should be done about the handgun problem. “Some believe we should not give an inch on any form of gun control. This is based on the premise that no matter what gun laws are passed, anti-gun elements will have a foot in the door and be back for more legislation. Others believe it is better to get a reasonable law relating only to cheap handguns rather than risk an avalanche of antigun bills which might take away all handguns and possibly, eventually, shot guns and sporting rifles as well.”
The Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, a watered down version of the original proposal, is weak and ineffective. Although the law stats that sellers of handguns must be licensed and forbids interstate mail sales, the law also has some very important negative aspects. Except for known criminals and mental incompetents, anybody can own a gun. The law bans the import of the ‘Saturday Night Special’, an inexpensive, easily concealed, foreign made handgun, but not the parts! Consequently, the ‘specials’ are assembled here and continue to be sold.
Former police chief Jerry V. Wilson, writing in the Washington Post asked “…what do all those handguns contribute to our society to justify the deaths and crimes of which they are instruments?” According to estimates made by Professor Franklin Zimring of the Univ. of Chicago, “assault with a gun is five times as likely to kill the victim as assault with a knife.”
Our objective must be to enact sane, sensible, effective, federal laws. A new booklet, Gun Registration: Costly Experiment or Crime Cure? , published by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, presents some little known facts concerning licensing of handguns. New York City, with eight million residents, has 24,354 pistol licenses, of which 564 are issued to citizens who do not require them for their jobs. Yet the city has one of the highest murder rates in the nation. Since l966 when New Jersey enacted its fire-arms-owner license law, its murder rate has doubled. Illinois has had a similar problem. Obviously, individual states are not able to cope with the problems arising from the misuse of handguns, and so must rely on stricter federal regulations or advocate a complete ban of these guns.
Opponents of gun control laws maintain that these laws are an ‘invasion of privacy’ and violate their ‘right to keep and bear arms’. Maybe it is about time we took a good look at the Second Amendment, and realize that “it was only meant to give states the right to have an armed militia of citizens”, and not a license to use a firearm against another.