There is more gun violence in America than in any other developed nation. The prevalence of gun homicides is due to at least three factors: the high availability of firearms, ethnic tension, and powerful defensive legislation against gun control. These three factors influence each other. Ethnic conflict increases the perceived need for self-defense and leads to violence, which heightens people’s perceived for self-defense, which encourages gun buying.
The issue of gun ownership has been disputed for about a century and remains legally ambiguous. Politicians and lobby groups like the NRA thus have a great deal of influence over gun laws. In addition, it is unclear whether or not current gun laws adequately regulate either gun availability or cut down on gun violence.
Hoskin tested the hypothesis that greater access to firearms “produces higher levels of lethal violence” (Hoskin 587). He examined data from 36 nations measuring firearm availability and homicide rates. He found that countries with more privately owned guns had higher homicide and lethal violence rates. Nations that were ethnically diverse had more cases of lethal violence. The United States has the “highest homicide rate in the developed world, almost 4 times higher than that of the average industrialized nation.”
In addition to the high homicide rate, there is more gun violence and gun possession in America than in the developed world: “The United States surpasses other countries by much a greater margin in gun homicides than in non-gun homicides. […] The non-gun homicide rate in the United States is 2.5 times higher than the average for other countries; the U.S. gun homicide rate is 7.6 times higher than the combined rates of other nations (Killias 1993)” (Hoskin 570-571). America also has far greater numbers of firearms and availability of firearms than other countries; Hoskin implies that this gun availability is correlated with the increase in acts of lethal violence.
Hoskin’s study implies that the United States in fact has three factors that might create greater violence. One of the factors is its ethnic diversity, which his study shows is linked to increased violence (both gun violence and non-gun violence) across all 361 countries he studied. Another factor is the country’s light spending on social programs relative to nations that have more welfare programs, which is similarly linked. Finally, America is the number one country of private firearm possession in the world. Obviously, more guns available for use contributes to great use of guns in violent crime.
To understand America’s gun violence, studying longitudinal changes in violent crime based on firearm availability could be helpful. Hoskin only looked at differences between nations at one point in time. It would be useful to examine fluctuations in violent crime across a period of time. We can then compare this data to the data that Hoskin collected. This suggested study would help to explore the potential effects of firearm regulation on actual firearm ability, and also on gun violence. In other words, it would help us to measure whether or not stricter gun laws do in fact reduce gun violence over time.
According to Kopel, who traces the history of gun legislation in America, the United States has considered banning handguns since the early 1900’s. The NRA has been a significant lobby group since the 1930’s (Kopel 107-110). He notes that violent crime rose sharply during the 1960’s: a time of social and ethnic unrest. This data supports Hoskin’s view that ethnic tension encourages gun violence, as does the surge in gun purchases that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the ensuing steep increase in ethnic tensions in America (Kopel, 175-195).
Kopel also discusses ways in which the United States cannot agree on the level of restriction of gun ownership. Many Americans emphasized that guns represented their right to bear arms. The Second Amendment right has always been open to interpretation. Kopel informs us that guns are widely available in America due to the continual argument over the Second Amendment. He adds that the Supreme Court has been reluctant to take part in culture war issues that include gun control. The constitutionality of gun control in America is ambiguous.
Lobby groups like the NRA have successfully fought for the right to bear arms, emphasizing that law-abiding citizens deserve guns as a right, and that gun laws may not keep criminals from owning them. Speaking about the 1974 struggle for gun confiscation in Massachusetts, “Senator Edward Kennedy explained: ‘We won’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals'” (Kopel 139). The NRA fought back, as did police. “The police argued that the ban was not enforceable, that it took the focus off the criminals, and that it was unfair to deprive good citizens of defensive handguns” (Kopel 140).
Reagan also believed that there was a difference between creating laws limiting gun ownership and enforcing those laws. Reagan even defended gun ownership rights after he was shot, speaking about Kennedy’s “Saturday Night Special” gun ban (a ban on cheap and poorly made firearms). “There are, today, more than 20,000 gun- control laws in effect-federal, state, and local-in the United States.
Indeed, some of the stiffest gun-control laws in the nation are right here in the district and they didn’t seem to prevent a fellow, a few weeks ago, from carrying one down by the Hilton Hotel” (Kopel 144). It has been hard to regulate gun availability when there has been pressure from both politicians and lobby groups as a freedom and protection. Their argument is that we need guns to protect us from other guns. America thus finds itself in a somewhat literal arms race. Indeed, gun ownership has markedly increased with the middle of the last century. Gun ownership has almost tripled from one gun for three people in the 1950’s to one gun per person in the 21st century.
Gun control laws remain controversial in America. Stell claims that strict gun laws are unethical when imposed on the public. He claims that a state ban means that the government has a monopoly on these firearms. He also says that because we pass a law to ban guns, it doesn’t mean that the law will be effective. Criminals will still own guns. Stell compares potential gun ban laws to the economic costly war on drugs, which hasn’t succeeded in taking drugs off the streets. There is a difference between law and implementation. Finally he emphasizes that there is potential for the government itself to perpetrate unethical violence under the false banner of law. Allowing citizens to remain privately armed is a protection against this possibility (Stell 44-45).
We have already noted that more guns leads to more lethal violence. We have not noted whether banning guns or creating stricter laws will therefore reduce lethal violence. This is more evidence that longitudinal studies are needed, as we noted when discussing Hoskin’s work. It would be useful to measure the effect of firearm bans on actual gun availability and on the ensuing gun homicide rate. The question Stell raises is whether or not the costs of enforcing a ban on guns would outweigh the benefits. Would it cause more violence in the short term? Would it truly reduce gun availability in America, and thus, fatalities due to gun violence? Or would illegal traffic in guns remain a problem?
America has struggled to find a solution to its world-leading gun violence rates. There have been many reasons for this struggle, which continues today. It is not a clear-cut political issue. Lobby groups and politicians have had a great influence on public policy on gun control. In addition, as Hoskin suggests, America may be uniquely vulnerable to gun violence due to its ethnic composition and its high availability of guns. Gun availability is a key factor in gun violence, but it is hard to regulate.