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The Circular Argument of America’s Gun Debate Must End

handgun gun debate America
Image courtesy Pixabay.

Editor-in-Chief Marino Unger-Verna on the issue of gun regulation in the US, urging for actionable solutions rather than perpetual debate.

In the past seven days, eight mass shootings occurred in the United States, including one in Boulder, Colorado which resulted in ten deaths. Thus far, there have been 104 such shootings across the US since 2021 began – an average rate of 1.22 shootings per day. At such a rate, it is statistically unlikely that these numbers will still be up-to-date by the time you read this article.

I spent ten years of my life living in America. My elementary school was across the road from a small bank that serviced our town and others nearby. In my seven years at that school, we were forced to go into “lockdown” a total of three times when robbers, armed with handguns, attempted to make off with the bank’s funds. Large metal shutters would lower over the tall windows of our cafeteria, and if we were in class at the time, our teachers would turn off the lights and tell us to hide in our cubby-holes so these criminals, were they to enter the building, would think the room empty.

This is no way for a child to live and, thankfully, not a life children in the UK are faced with. Following a mass shooting at a primary school in 1996, a tragedy now referred to as the Dunblane Massacre, the then-Conservative government banned the private ownership of handguns. A combination of public outcry and swift action, alongside a necessary re-classification of what constitutes a “gun crime” in 2003, has led to a relatively consistent drop in gun crime across the country ever since. As puts it, “there is a general public consensus against ownership of handguns” in the UK. So why, after so much death, has the US government not taken similar steps?

According to the Centre for American Progress, 44% of Americans know somebody who has been shot, while another 23% say they have been threatened at gunpoint. A 2019 survey conducted by ABC and the Washington Post found that six in ten Americans feared a mass shooting in their community and that 89% supported increased gun control regulations across the nation. Clearly, then, there is support for increased gun regulation in the US.

According to Senator Cruz, however, calls for gun control are nothing more than “ridiculous theatre”, with the Senator adding: “What happens in this committee after every mass shooting is Democrats proposed taking away guns from law-abiding citizens because that’s their political objective.

“The jurisdictions in this country with the strictest gun control have among the highest rates of crime and murder. When you disarm law-abiding citizens, you make them more likely to be victims. If you want to stop these murders, go after the murderers.”

For starters, Cruz’s statement regarding crime rates is patently false. According to Statista, the five US states with the highest crime rates in 2019 were New Mexico, Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Arkansas. As reported by the World Population Review, four of these five states ranked an “F” in gun control strictness, with New Mexico only rating a “C”. The evidence would seem to indicate that guns do make a tangible difference.

Similarly, Cruz’s comment about “going after the murderers” instead is out of touch – though this is perhaps unsurprising coming from a man who reportedly fled his home state to vacation in Cancun amidst a power and climate crisis earlier this year. The argument is definitionally circular, in that the premise of Cruz’s statement is in need of just as much evidence as his conclusion.

A study on the efficacy of gun control policies conducted by RAND was unable to find strong scientific evidence that proposed regulations on who may buy new guns would lead to tangible outcomes. Despite this, the study concludes by noting two flaws. Firstly, US statisticians have only researched marginal possibilities, without fully examining more extreme measures such as a full ban on handguns and/or assault weaponry. Secondly, the large number of guns in US circulation – just under 400 million in 2017 – mean actual change would likely necessitate such extreme measures. Looking to the UK, it would seem these measures work; almost as if taking away a criminal’s tools does, in fact, make it more difficult for them to commit a crime.

US President Joe Biden recently stated that he would endeavour to ban assault weapons in the country. This is an important first step, but to achieve it, politicians such as Senator Cruz must realise that the solution to a violent gunman is not to hand other people guns – it is to disarm the gunman himself. As a child sitting in my cubby-hole at the mature old age of eight, I would not have wanted my teacher to be handed a gun and told to defend us at the potential cost of her life. As with most things in life, prevention should be the first step, rather than a flawed, patchwork attempt at treatment.

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