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La Cronica, Mexico

Reconsidering Gun Control

By Andrés Roemer

So what should the U.S. government do? It is difficult to say; some opt for controlling assault weapons, others for regulating the sale of munitions and others believe that partial control is ineffectual for prohibiting guns altogether.

Translated By Reva Dhingra

21 December 2012

Edited by Rachel Smith

Mexico - La Cronica - Original Article (Spanish)

The debate over gun control will reopen soon in the U.S. Congress after a national tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut where 20 children, six adults and the assailant died, the last due to suicide. In the United States, the right to bear arms is protected under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, approved in 1791. The amendment had two primary reasons: protecting the right of self-defense and preventing tyranny by allowing the population to bear arms so as not be “at the mercy” of the army of a tyrannical government.

Today, 221 years after the passage of the amendment, in a country where it is difficult to find tyranny and after the massacres at Virginia Tech in 2007 with 32 dead, a Luby’s cafeteria in 1991 with 23 dead, the opening night of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora in July of this year with 12 dead, Columbine High School in 1999 with 13 dead and others, it is not clear what the role of the government should be in controlling its citizens' possession of arms.

In his speech on the previous Sunday, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, said that if there was anything they could do to prevent the death of another child or parent, they had an obligation to try. He said this referring to, I would like to think, the currently low level of gun control in the majority of U.S. states.

As Obama recognizes, the causes of this type of violence are extremely complex, as is the discussion of gun control, especially when it touches the themes of liberty, morality, democracy, tolerance, consistency and of the consequences of this policy. Additionally, there must be a discussion about not only whether it is good or bad, but also what to control and how.

Strict control of guns could prevent these types of tragedies, obviously because it would be much more difficult to obtain guns, although presumably not impossible due to the black market. In fact, the weapons used by Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, belonged to his mother who had a collection of weapons that included a Bushmaster AR 15, the civilian version of a weapon used by the army in Afghanistan.

After the tragedy in Tasmania in 1996 where 35 people died and 23 were injured, the Australian government decided to implement much stricter laws. Since then, no mass assassination has taken place, and as Leigh and Neill demonstrated in a 2010 study, the strategy has resulted in fewer suicides and murders with guns and did not increase those without guns. Comparable laws vigorously enacted in the United Kingdom after a massacre at a school in Scotland in the same year had similar results.

But this leaves the matter of liberty. For Conor Friedersdorf, a columnist at The Atlantic magazine, arguments such as those used by President Obama in his speech are invalid because they do not consider the value of the freedom being given up. Many lives would be saved if no one consumed alcohol, or if the whole world drove at 20 kilometers per hour; without a doubt, few people would agree to renounce their freedom to consume alcohol or impose a speed limit of 20 kilometers per hour. Why must we force gun lovers to renounce their freedom to possess guns? Why would it be better to restrict the freedom to possess guns and not alcohol?

Additionally, why do we deprecate the value given by gun lovers to the possession of guns? That is to say, if someone values having a luxury car less, we do not all have to value it less. When making a decision, it is part of plurality and tolerance to respect the value other people give things such as guns. In the world there are teetotalers and people who drive slowly to be cautious, but just because these people value drinking alcohol and speeding less, should we prohibit alcohol and radically reduce the speed limit? Along these lines, what would you think if the majority of the American population was in agreement with the freedom to bear arms?

Though it sounds terribly insensitive — and this is exclusively in regard to the freedom to possess guns, not to kill — it is a valid argument about liberty, but of course guns are not alcohol and the comparison is not perfect. Laws exist to punish those who drive while inebriated, which could prevent deaths as a result of alcohol, and those who exceed the speed limit, intended to prevent deaths due to traffic accidents, but what is the analogy for guns? Perhaps it is the punishment for murder, although this could arrive much too late.

So what should the U.S. government do? It is difficult to say; some opt for controlling assault weapons, others for regulating the sale of munitions and others believe that partial control is ineffectual for prohibiting guns altogether. The opposing side is stubbornly repeating that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and argues that a ban is not the ideal solution; the ideal solution is making people not want to kill. In any case there are drawbacks: To the latter, good luck designing programs to prevent these massacres, and to the former, good luck getting rid of the over 300 million guns in the hands of the people.



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