English Composition II
13 April 1995
Thesis Statement: Society benefits from firearms in
the hands of responsible citizens. Attempts to keep firearms away
from these citizens do more harm than good.
B. Crime prevention
2. Effects on crime victims
2. Teaches responsibility
C. Personal Opinion
Gun control is not one issue, but many. To some people gun control is a crime issue, to others it is a rights issue. Gun control is a safety issue, an education issue, a racial issue, and a political issue, among others. Within each of these issues there are those who want more gun control legislation and those who want less. On both sides of this issue opinions range from moderate to extreme.
Guns are not for everyone. Certain individuals cannot handle a firearm safely, and some individuals choose to use firearms inappropriately. Our society has passed laws regulating the ownership and use of firearms, and more legislation is being considered. Most of this legislation restricts, to some degree, the rights of individuals to possess or use firearms. Some restrictions may be necessary, but some recent legislation has gone too far. Society benefits from firearms in the hands of responsible citizens. Attempts to keep firearms away from these citizens do more harm than good.
To begin with, a definition of a "responsible citizen" is in order. The definition used in this paper was provided by Steve Rusiecki, a local police officer. When asked what makes someone a responsible citizen in regard to firearms ownership, Mr. Rusiecki replied, "The citizen must be law-abiding, with no felony record, must not abuse alcohol or drugs, must not be mentally ill, must not have renounced U.S. citizenship, must not have been dishonorably discharged from the military, and must be in the U.S. legally" (10). This definition combines elements from the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, and Arizona's concealed carry law.
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states: "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." The Founding Fathers included this in our Bill of Rights because they feared the Federal Government might oppress the population if the people did not have the means to defend themselves as a nation and as individuals (Halbrook 65-84). This idea was not new. The Founding Fathers' thoughts on the right to keep and bear arms were influenced by Aristotle, Cicero, John Locke, and Algernon Sidney (7).
The militia referred to cannot be construed as meaning the Army or National Guard, in the words of Samuel Adams: "The Militia is composed of free citizens" (qtd. in Halbrook 62). Additionally, George Mason considered a "well regulated Militia" to be one "composed of . . . Gentlemen, Freeholders, and other Freemen" (qtd. in Halbrook 61). The Revolutionary War was won with the help of "An armed populace composed of partisans, militias, independent companies, and the continental army . . ." (63). It is obvious from this that the Founding Fathers thought that society benefited from firearms in the hands of the people.
Many years later we began placing restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. The first restrictions concerned the manner in which citizens could carry arms. In 1850 the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the constitution did not grant the right to carry a concealed weapon; although earlier court cases had ruled that the constitution did protect the right to carry concealed weapons (93-96). Shortly before the Civil War, some southern States passed legislation denying slaves and freed blacks the right to possess firearms. The basis of this legislation was the Dred Scott Decision. They reasoned that since blacks were not considered citizens they did not have the rights of citizens, including the right to keep and bear arms (96-98). The gun control legislation of this era resulted from prejudice against an entire race of people. These laws were in effect until after the Civil War when the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution were ratified. The legislation referred to here must be considered harmful to society.
The rational given for most modern gun control legislation is "Crime Control." The Brady Bill is one example. The Brady Bill is named after James Brady, who was shot by John Hinckley during an assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981. Supporters of the Brady Bill used that incident to gain support for their gun control legislation, claiming it would reduce crime and save lives. The fact is that the background check and waiting period included in the Brady Bill would not have prevented John Hinckley from legally purchasing the handgun used in that incident. Records show that "a police background was run on Hinckley four days before he purchased the revolver he used to shoot President Reagan and Jim Brady. The check showed he had no felony convictions in any jurisdiction. Neither had Hinckley any public record of mental illness" ("Guns" 51).
An even greater shortcoming of the Brady Bill is that it only affects legal transactions. By definition, a criminal is someone who breaks the law. Criminals have many ways to obtain weapons without going through the process mandated by the Brady Bill. Two obvious examples are theft and black market purchases. According to studies "only one firearm of every six used in a crime is obtained legally" (Thomas 277). Since the passage of the Brady Bill, only four felons have been apprehended trying to purchase a firearm (NRA, "Grassfire"). When I asked Steve Rusiecki for a policeman's opinion of the Brady Bill, he replied: "I think it is an emotional attempt at crime reduction rather than one based on legitimate facts" (6). In view of the facts presented, it is obvious that the Brady Bill is not an effective crime prevention tool.
The Brady Bill is not effective in fighting crime, but it does affect crime victims. The five-day waiting period during which the police conduct the background check is also supposed to serve as a "cooling off" period to prevent crimes of passion. Fortunately, this five-day wait is waived in states like Virginia which have an instant background check system in place. The following article is an example of how waiting periods affect crime victims:
Marine Cpl. Rayna Ross of Woodbridge, Virginia, might
be dead if a waiting period had been in effect. Instead, the
instant check system in place in that state allowed her to defend
her life against a former boyfriend three days after she
purchased a pistol. The man, a Marine under orders to stay away
from Ross because of previous assaults and threats, broke through
a door and rushed into her bedroom with a bayonet. Ross fired
twice, mortally wounding him. The shooting was ruled to be a case
of self-defense ("Armed
If the five-day waiting period had been in effect, it is likely that an innocent woman would have been killed. During the debate in Congress over the passage of the Brady Bill, supporters claimed passing the bill would be worth it "if it saved just one life." Surely the bill is not worth it if it costs just one innocent life.
Another example of gun control legislation that affects the wrong people is the "Assault Weapon" ban included in the Crime Bill of 1994. While supporters of the ban claim the firearms banned by this bill are the "weapons of choice" of gangs and drug dealers, the FBI Uniform Crime Reports show this contention is unfounded (Rusiecki 7). However, at Congressional hearings held on March 31of this year, several people testified that they had used guns which are now banned to defend their lives and to prevent crimes ("Survival"). It is fortunate that these citizens had firearms to defend themselves. Society does not benefit from the death or serious injury of innocent citizens.
As mentioned earlier, crime is not the only issue related to firearms ownership. Hunting is a popular sport and, in some parts of the country, an important source of food. On the surface, it might appear that hunting is harmful to wildlife and the environment. The fact is that the opposite is true. Wildlife biologists have found that well managed and regulated hunting programs are beneficial to wildlife. If the wildlife population becomes too large, food becomes scarce and the population starves to death. Wildlife biologists take counts of game animals in a given area and study the habitat to determine the population level it can support. Then they make recommendations to State Game and Fish officials who set hunting seasons and bag limits. Hunting is a tool used by these officials to manage the wildlife under their care ("Arizona" 18).
Non-game wildlife is also protected by hunters, and even by firearms owners who do not hunt. Approximately 77% of the funds used to operate state Fish and Game and other wildlife agencies are derived from the sales of hunting licenses, excise taxes levied on sales of firearms and ammunition, and the sale of federal duck stamps. More than three billion dollars have been raised from these sources and used to protect both game and non-game animals (22). Firearms ownership is clearly beneficial to the environment and a good environment is beneficial to everyone.
Firearms are also used in competitive sports. The Olympic Games include competitions with pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Shooting is also part of the biathlon and has been part of the Olympic pentathlon since 1912 ("Pentathlon"). There are also many competitions throughout the country in bull's eye, bench rest, silhouette, practical pistol, trap and skeet, and other shooting sports. Men, women, older children, and even individuals with certain disabilities can enjoy these sports since shooting does not require much agility or physical strength.
Even without formal competition, shooting can be enjoyed as a hobby. Recreational shooting may involve paper targets, tin cans, or other suitable targets. This hobby can be enjoyed at indoor target ranges, but is usually practiced outdoors. In fact, shooting can often be combined with other enjoyable outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, and sight seeing.
Shooting is a relatively inexpensive activity which the entire family can enjoy. With close supervision, children can be taught to shoot. Learning how to shoot safely means learning about responsibility, and the time spent teaching a child to shoot is quality time. When a child is ready, they may be allowed to shoot with less supervision. When this time comes, the child knows they have earned their parent's trust and they gain a sense of self-confidence. Sharing a hobby like shooting can bring a family closer together, teach children responsibility, and promote trust between parents and children. This is definitely good for society.
Throughout history violence has plagued the human race. Since ancient times the strong have preyed on the weak and the meek. We have passed laws to protect society, but the violence continues. Laws attempt to change human behavior, but laws are not able to change human nature. Laws are not enough to protect people from aggression. We must allow people the means to protect themselves. Protection is a major reason that about half of all Americans own a firearm (Lester 30).
It is a fact that not all people are the same size or possess the same amount of strength. Sometimes people must defend themselves from stronger aggressors, or sometimes from multiple aggressors. This is especially true for women since they are, on average, smaller than men. Also, older people are generally less able physically to defend themselves than young adults are. Everyone deserves to be safe, but not everyone has the physical ability to defend themselves. Firearms are the most effective tools used today for self-defense, but they are only useful if they are available.
Statistics show that people who are attacked by a criminal are safer if they use a weapon to resist their attacker than if they do not resist. In addition, those who resist with a gun are less likely to be injured than those who use a less effective weapon, such as a knife (Quigley 14). Resisting crime with a gun does not always mean shooting the criminal. Statistics show that in true life instances of self-defense with firearms, firing the gun was necessary only one third to one half of the time (13), the rest of the time the mere presence of a gun was enough to scare away the attacker.
Guns are an effective deterrent to crime. A study involving convicted felons showed that nearly 40 percent of them had decided against committing a specific crime because they suspected their intended victim might be armed (14). In 1966 the Police Department in Orlando, Florida, offered a well-publicized self-defense shooting program to women. As a result, the rate of rape in that city decreased from thirty-six per year to only four. This was accomplished without any of the women shooting anyone or even pulling a gun on anyone. The publicity alone was enough to discourage potential rapists (15-17). Rape and other violent crimes should not be tolerated in any society. It has been shown that firearms are a deterrent to these crimes; therefore, firearms are beneficial to society.
The Brady Bill and the "Assault Weapon" ban in last year's Crime Bill are examples of bad legislation, but some good firearms-related legislation was also passed last year. The Arizona Legislature recognized the benefits of firearms to our society and passed a law which enables many Arizona residents to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. There are restrictions in place to ensure that only responsible citizens are issued a permit. These restrictions cover age, criminal record, and mental competency. Applicants for this permit must pass a sixteen-hour training course. In addition, the applicant must send a copy of their fingerprints to the Department of Public Safety to be used to help them conduct a background check (Korwin 150-151).
It is too early to determine the effectiveness of Arizona's Concealed Carry Law, but statistics show that a similar law passed in Florida in 1987 has been effective in reducing crime. Between 1987 and 1992 murders involving handguns decreased 29 percent (Francis). According to the National Rifle Association, the homicide rate is 31% lower, and robbery rate is 36% lower in states with "favorable carry laws" compared to states with "restrictive concealed carry laws" (NRA, "Fact Card"). Some people may fear that citizens with concealed weapons are more likely to commit crimes, but statistics show that only .007% of the concealed weapon permits issued in the state of Florida have had to be revoked because of a crime committed by the permit holder (NRA, "Fact Card"). Laws that reduce violent crime are good for society, and concealed carry laws have been shown to reduce violent crime.
The Founding Fathers of our country won our freedom with firearms. After we won our independence the Founding Fathers included the right to keep and bear arms in the Constitution to ensure that the freedom they fought for would last. Throughout the history of this country firearms have been used to defend that freedom from both foreign aggressors and from violent criminal aggressors. Americans own and use firearms for many reasons, such as; hunting, organized sports competitions, informal recreational uses, and for protection. Some legislation has been passed recently which restricts our firearms rights, and the shortcomings of these laws have been exposed. Fortunately, there has also been good legislation passed, like Arizona's Concealed Carry Law, which give residents of this state a better chance to defend themselves against violent crime.
I recognize that criminals have misused firearms, often with tragic results, but I must point out that a few individuals committed those crimes. We should punish the individuals who commit these crimes, and we should imprison those who pose a threat to society so that they do not have the opportunity to cause harm. Punishing law-abiding citizens by passing restrictive gun laws is wrong. Guns are not the cause of this country's crime problem. Criminals are. Effective crime control legislation must control criminals, not guns. Effective crime control legislation should provide more prisons to lock up these criminals, and more police officers to deter crime and capture criminals. Effective crime control legislation should give the law-abiding citizens of our country the means to defend themselves. It should not restrict the rights of responsible citizens to own or carry firearms. The best way to ensure good legislation is to elect good legislators, I believe this is what happened last November 8.
Firearms can be dangerous in the wrong hands, that is why I believe firearms training is important. The best training consists of parents passing on our firearms heritage, respect for people and property, and some common sense safety rules to their children. For many people this training will be enough. Formal firearms training courses, like Hunter Safety Courses and the course required to obtain a concealed carry permit, are also very useful. These courses reinforce the basic safety rules that everyone who handles firearms should know. They also teach the legal requirements specific to hunting or self-defense, depending on the course.
Society does benefit from firearms in the hands of responsible citizens. It is our responsibility to use them properly and safely.
Thomas, Andrew Peyton. Crime and the Sacking of America: The Roots of Chaos. Washington: Brassey's, 1994.