Tag Archive for 'gun control'

Red Team vs. Blue Team: Gun Control

Today’s article is a special two for one: two of our writers debate the merits of gun control. Who do you think makes the most convincing argument?

Current State of Gun Control Legislation Requires More Gun Control

By Pearl Rimon

Random acts of gun violence have been a prominent leading story in U.S. headlines for decades. Last month, a gunman killed two people and injured nine others in a Louisiana movie theatre and a gunman fatally shot nine people in a church in Charleston, both purchased their guns legally; this occurred the same month James Holmes was convicted on twenty-four counts of first-degree murder for a shooting in Aurora, Colorado. These horrific events trigger debates about the current state of gun control laws in our country.

Mass killings have been on the rise in America even though gun ownership is declining overall. However, the support for gun rights in America remains resolute. The tragic shootings of churches, elementary schools, and movie theatres are not enough to motivate lawmakers to enact stricter gun control laws. In research conducted by Mother Jones tracking mass shootings since 1982, a majority of the shooters had obtained their guns legally.  Cat Stakeup

The region with the highest percentage of guns in a household is unsurprisingly the South. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer gun related deaths, but this statistic nor the recent mass shooting tragedies have motivated legislators to enact new laws. Shockingly, after the Newtown Massacre, the Pew Research Center found that Americans showed more support for gun rights than gun control.

Congress has not passed new gun control laws since the 1993 Brady Bill and the now expired 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, Congress failed to pass background check legislation. There has not been significant gun control reform since then.

Gun Control Laws

There are federal and state gun regulations in place that try and curb gun violence. However the number of gun deaths in the U.S. compared to other countries that do not have the Second Amendment right to bear arms makes it clear that these gun control laws are not as effective as they could be. For instance, according to 2013 statistics, Brazil has almost the same homicide rate as Washington D.C.

Seattle and Cook County, IL have taken the typical federal and state laws a step further and have imposed a $25 tax on guns and a 5-cent tax on bullets sold within the city limits. This new law is referred to as a “gun violence tax” since proceeds will be used for prevention and research programs to reduce violence. Chicago has banned possession of certain semi-automatic firearms defined as assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition. Previously, Chicago prohibited the sale of firearms within city limits but it has since been overturned for being unconstitutional.

Federal law requires background checks for all gun sales by federally licensed gun dealers; this is one of the provisions part of the Brady Bill. However, this does not prevent sales between private individuals and sales at gun shows from being conducted complying with federal law. Since 1998, 202 million background checks have been conducted with only 0.5% of purchases were blocked, the most common reason being prior felony convictions.

Recently, three Senate Democrats (Chuck Schumer-NY, Murphy and Blumenthal-CT) are attempting to impose gun control change by appealing to retailers of guns due to the failure in advancing legislation. A loophole in federal law allows firearm transactions to proceed if a background check is not completed within three days, the Senators are asking retailers to require completion of background checks to close the loophole. This loophole has proven to be deadly, since it is how Dylan Roof, the shooter of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, procured the gun he used.

The “gun culture” in this country obviously stems from the Second Amendment. The U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, as well as the highest rate of homicides among advanced countries. According to studies there are 88 guns for every 100 people. Following the Charleston church shooting, President Obama stated “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” he said. “It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s executive vice president. Apparently, the American public agreed with LaPierre following the tragic events of Newtown. However, the dangers of untrained people shooting guns seems like it would lead to a larger body count. The focus should not be on arming more people with guns, due to the likelihood of accidental shootings and injuries. Instead, the focus should be on enacting stricter gun control laws and closing any existing loopholes in background checks.

Reforming Mental Health, Not Guns, Will Prevent Mass Violence

By Jason Cheung

Gun control proponents often criticize the Second Amendment as the reason for mass shootings in America. However, if we expand “mass shootings” to “mass violence,” America is actually not different from the rest of the world in large scale acts of violence. Therefore, the solution to mass violence lies not in restricting the type of weaponry used by the killers, but in addressing the underlying psychological issues the killers have in common.

On the same day the Sandy Hook Massacre took place, another mass killing occurred across the Pacific Ocean. In Chenpeng Village, China, a 36 year old man stabbed 23 children and 1 elderly woman. Private gun ownership is almost completely illegal in China, so the Chenpeng attacker used a knife instead. The Chenpeng stabbings were not an isolated incident. In China, there have been at least 11 mass stabbings from 2010 – 2014. In contrast, there have been at least 14 mass shootings in the United States during the same years. The numbers are not greatly different. President Obama was wrong in claiming that mass violence is unique to America. These incidents show that mass violence is a problem shared by many nations.  Panda with a gun

Gun control proponents might argue that a stabbing is safer than a shooting. It’s true that a gun can kill people faster than a knife, but knifes can be just as fatal as guns. The fact that dozens of people have died in some of China’s mass stabbings indicate that a man with a knife in the right location can be as dangerous as a gunman. Guns are loud and can alert other potential victims to the attacker’s presence. In contrast, knifes are silent and thus the attacker can stab more people before anyone has time to flee. Although it takes more skill to use a knife, the need for skill is not as great if an attacker can simply board a crowded train or walk into a classroom.

It is also incorrect to assume that “gun culture in this country obviously stems from the Second Amendment.” The U.S. began in a rural environment with plenty of game and numerous Native America efforts to recover their land. Until the 20th century, Americans constantly expanded westward, and often relied on guns for hunting and protection. The rural environment made guns a necessity. The urban environment of America in the modern and contemporary era makes guns less attractive.

Our history and geography explains why gun ownership is declining – most of the population now resides in urban cities on the coasts. People who live in urban environments have less incentive to own a gun and urban governments are more likely to pass gun control laws. However, many parts of the South are still a rural environment, where hunting is prevalent and spread out residential areas require more self-defense. The Second Amendment is not the cause, but an effect of gun culture.

Mental Health Reform

It is important to recognize the role the Second Amendment plays in our culture. If the Second Amendment is a byproduct and not a cause, then reinterpreting the Second Amendment to allow for greater restriction of guns would not stop the violence. China has outlawed private gun ownership, but mass violence still exists in that country.

However, there is a factor that mass shootings in America and mass stabbings in China have in common. The attackers are typically men in their twenties or thirties from low economic backgrounds and/or have mental issues. Many of the recent cases of violence involve ethnic tensions. Charleston was an attack against a black church and China’s most deadly mass stabbing in 2014 involved Muslim extremists from its western provinces.

Ms. Rimon points to Brazil as an example of a less violent nation, with 2013 statistics on Brazil showing a homicidal rate equivalent to that of America’s capital. Brazil has some forms of gun control, including gun registration, a minimum gun ownership age of 25, and a ban on gun carrying outside the residence. On the other hand, Brazil has the second largest arms industry in the Western Hemisphere, guns are often smuggled back into Brazil, and its voters’ rejected a 2005 proposal to ban civilian gun ownership. Brazil is not as extreme as either the U.S. or China in its gun control or gun rights, so Brazil’s statistics can hardly be attributed to its gun policies.

What Brazil does have that China and the United States does not, is that Brazil reformed and expanded its mental health services in the 1990s. In contrast, the United States and China have allowed their mental health services to wither. The United States has cut mental health budgets, most of the remaining budget is spent on ineffective medication, and any available treatment is usually too expensive for the men most likely to go on a rampage. Obamacare’s mental health mandate may do more to prevent mass shootings than any gun control measure passed. Instead of gun control, the focus should be on reforming our mental health services and providing greater care to those who most need it.

Mental Health Patients Can Own Guns, Court Rules

It sounds like a crazy idea, but the Sixth Circuit has ruled that people committed to mental institutions may own a gun. Gun control proponents might believe the ruling is insane, but the decision is not as loony as it sounds.

mental health patient gun lawInsanity puns aside, the hero of our story is 73 year old Clifford Charles Tyler, a Michigan resident. In 2011, Tyler attempted to purchase a gun. He was denied after an FBI background check showed that he had been held at Ypsilanti Regional Center in 1985 for depression and suicide watch. Tyler was involuntary held at the Center for a month after his ex-wife of 23 years took all their money and left Tyler for another man.

However, Tyler left the Center completely healthy. He remarried in 1999, maintains good relations with his daughters from his first marriage, and has no criminal history before or after his stay at the Center. In fact, Tyler voluntarily underwent another psychological evaluation in 2012. According to the most recent evaluation, Tyler has not had another depressive episode since his divorce in 1985 and the psychologist reported that she could not find any evidence of mental illness in Tyler.

Why So Serious?

For those uninterested in the administrative jargon, Tyler was denied a firearms license because he was a former mental patient. Federal law gives Tyler the right to expunge that ban, but Congress had defunded the ability to make that appeal and Michigan declined to make such an appeals process itself. So where did that leave Tyler?

Tyler’s attorneys brought a lawsuit and the Sixth Circuit made their groundbreaking decision. The Appeals Court agreed that the government can prevent the mentally ill from obtaining a gun because of the risk of public injury. However, just because an individual was committed to a mental institution does not mean they are mentally ill. There might be overlap, but the fact that federal law prohibits both the mentally ill and people committed to mental institutions from possessing firearms means that Congress itself knew there was a distinction when they wrote the law. Although mentally ill people are outside the scope of the Second Amendment because of public safety concerns, the Court could not find a reason that a former patient like Tyler should be prohibited from being able to exercise his constitutional right.

Justice Is Ironic

The Court probably could have decided this case based on Due Process rather than the Second Amendment, but I think this decision reached the proper outcome. Most pundits would probably focus on what this case means for the NRA or for gun owners, but this is an unexpected victory for another group of people: mental health patients.

The Appeals Court didn’t get into why people committed to mental institutions were denied gun ownership. It’s obvious why mentally ill people are denied firearms, but what about regular people who just need mental health assistance? There has long been stereotyping and misunderstanding about people who see psychologists or seek mental health. People who are depressed or who are abusing substances are expected to deal with it, but are often discouraged from seeing experts about it. There is growing recognition that it’s OKAY to seek help for mental health issues. Obamacare requires that insurance companies include mental health services in their insurance coverage, but it’s not enough.

Prohibiting people committed to mental institutions from possessing a gun only made such stereotypes worse. Those stereotypes have prevented people from seeking out professional help before their mental health programs caused greater harm. If we can encourage people to seek professional health before their condition progresses too far, we can stop mass shootings while expanding our right to bear arms.

Supreme Court: It’s Illegal to Purchase a Gun on Behalf of Another Lawful Gun Owner

It’s hard being a middleman, especially if the federal government prosecutes the middleman for a legal transaction. Bruce Abramski, a former police officer, discovered this the hard way when he was misidentified as a bank robber. Although state prosecutors eventually dropped the investigation, federal prosecutors discovered a gun purchase receipt during a search of Abramski’s home. The receipt showed that Bruce had purchased a Glock 19 handgun for $400 on behalf of his uncle, Angel Alvarez.

bruce abramski gun purchase caseBruce had checked “yes” to a background check question asking if he was the “actual transferee/buyer” when he was purchasing the gun. Bruce then signed the form, acknowledging that it is a federal crime to make false statements about “any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale.” Lower courts dealt with the issue that Angel Alvarez was also a legal gun owner, casting doubt on whether the misstatement was legally relevant. The Supreme Court addressed the question of whether Congress intended to regulate third person gun purchases. In a 5-4 decision, the Court voted against Bruce, affirming his five year prison sentence.

Courts Should Not Fix Laws

As Justice Scalia said in his dissent, “The Court makes it a federal crime for one lawful gun owner to buy a gun for another lawful gun owner.” The majority of the Court does so because it sees a loophole that they feel should be closed. The law Bruce was prosecuted under makes it illegal for a person to make a material misstatement about the person’s attempted acquisition of a gun from a licensed dealer. The majority treated Bruce as an agent for his uncle, making the uncle the “person” who purchased the gun.

However, the background question, “Are you the actual transferee/buyer?” could be read as asking whether the person answering the question is the person paying for the gun, NOT whether the person purchasing the gun is an agent for another man or woman. Justice Scalia provided a perfect example: “So if I give my son $10 and tell him to pick up milk and eggs at the store, no English speaker would say the store ‘sells’ the milk and eggs to me.” Answering the question this way does not interfere with Congress’s attempt to keep guns from “felons, fugitives, illegal drug-users and the mentally ill” because the actual gun owner is neither a felon nor mentally ill.

The fear is that if “agents” are allowed to purchase guns, then a felon could hire a delivery man to purchase the gun without having to go through a background check. That does seem like a clever workaround, but the law also requires there be a paper trail when a gun is transferred to another. Since Bruce had a receipt for the police to find, it’s clear that the law already has a method of tracking third person gun purchases.

Federal Overreach

Gun control proponents see this case as a victory. It is sad that any case involving firearms automatically devolves into an argument over the role of the Second Amendment. Gun control advocates might see this ruling as a win, but I see a man who is imprisoned without cause. When courts give federal laws more teeth than originally intended, we all lose.

Gun Control and Mental Illness

Following the recent shooting and stabbing rampage at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the controversial subject of gun control is again being widely debated.

elliot rodger gun violence and mental illnessProponents of stricter gun control laws argue that if guns were less accessible, fewer people would be able to obtain them, resulting in less gun violence. However, tougher gun laws don’t always necessarily translate into less gun violence. For example, there is much gun violence in the District of Columbia, which has strict gun laws.

According to some studies, there are many other variables besides lax gun laws that contribute to increases in gun violence. One study found that the strongest indicators of gun violence are: the number of college graduates in a community, the number of working class residents, the presence of weapons in local high schools, and poverty.

The recent shooting at the UC Santa Barbara highlights another important factor: mental illness. Elliot Rodger, who was committed the six killings, was most likely suffering from some form of mental illness. His actions and statements leading up to the killing spree have been described as “pre-psychosis.”

Under federal law, individuals with mental illnesses are not allowed to possess guns. It is unlawful to sell a firearm to anyone who has been committed to a mental institution. Most states uphold similar laws.

In response to the UC Santa Barbara incident, it has been proposed that these laws should be expanded so that that friends and family members can request gun violence restraining orders. This type of law might have helped to stop Elliot Rodger, who was clearly showing signs of mental illness and the potential for violence.

Why the Gun Control Issue Is Absurd on Both Sides

On the topic of gun control, Americans completely lack common sense.

gun controlIn Washington, D.C., the nomination for Surgeon General is delayed because the candidate, Dr. Vivek Murthy, wrote on Twitter that guns are a healthcare issue. The nomination block is rather extreme given that most Surgeon Generals, including President Regan’s appointee, Everett Koop, believed guns were a healthcare issue. Actually, most medical associations, such as the American Medical Association, support gun regulation. Common sense dictates that guns are a healthcare risk. Shooting a bad guy will put the bad guy in poor health; that’s the very reason gun owners want guns for self-defense!

Of course, the 2nd Amendment is only a right if you’re an adult. Ten year old Nathan Entingh was suspended from school for three days for a “Level 2 Look Alike Firearm” – his fingers. Nathan had put his fingers up to another student’s head and said “Boom!” A teacher saw him and sent Nathan to the principal’s office. Ohio has a zero tolerance policy and students at Devonshire Alternative Elementary School had been repeatedly warned against gun related behavior.

What do these two stories have in common? In the former, Dr. Murthy is criticized for talking about guns. In the latter, Nathan and his fellow students are prohibited from engaging in gun related behavior, such as making paper guns. To overgeneralize for a moment, it seems as though nobody in the United States is allowed to talk about guns.

The context of each incident is completely different, of course. Dr. Murthy is in a job interview with the Senate while Nathan is playing around. The adult is being grilled because Senate Republicans, and some Democrats, believe they are protecting the 2nd Amendment. The NRA fears that an anti-gun right Surgeon General could do to guns what past Surgeon Generals have done to tobacco. Warning labels and public education campaigns about the health risks of tobacco have greatly restrained what the tobacco industry can do today.

Nathan was suspended because the school fears for student safety. I don’t have to mention the number of school massacres to show why Ohio has a zero tolerance policy on guns in schools. Many judges would probably defer to the school on matters of school safety, even if those same judges doubt that zero tolerance is the best approach.

In both cases, an institution seeks to protect something important. Gun rights advocates are trying to silence Dr. Murphy to protect gun rights. Gun restriction advocates want to silence students to protect student safety. It’s ironic that opposing sides of a debate have reached the same conclusion: they can win if everyone walks around on eggshells whenever the topic is brought up.

Still, it is extremely jarring to see a doctor attacked for a position most doctors hold and a ten year old boy punished for something most ten year old boys do.