Compare and Contrast Essay on the Effectiveness of Gun Laws
The gun law debate has divided the U.S. regarding its approach to gun-related crimes. Gun law proponents claim that establishing gun legislation is necessary to prevent gun-related crimes. Alternatively, opponents of gun laws argue that limiting and controlling the public’s access to firearms violates their constitutional rights. News of gun-related violence, such as school shootings, further ignites the topic; pressuring the government to take action. However, issues regarding the effectiveness of gun laws make it difficult for the government to assess which laws to approve. This compare and contrast essay will examine the differences between some gun laws to understand their effectiveness better.
Gun Violence in the U.S.
Before discussing gun laws, getting an overview of the U.S.’s gun violence situation can help individuals understand the significance of the topic. According to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey (2018), the U.S. has 46% of the world’s civilian-owned guns, the highest firearm-related homicide rates among most-developed countries, a ratio of 120.5 civilian-owned guns per 100 individuals, and a ratio of 4.12 gun homicides per 100,000 individuals (cited in Masters, 2022). These statistics suggest that the U.S. has a lot of gun-owning citizens which may correlate to the high gun-related crimes in the country. Citizens have high access to firearms, increasing the risk of using them to defend themselves, commit crimes or cause gun-related accidents.
It is also important to note that the statistics show a wide discrepancy between the U.S.’s gun ownership and homicides rate and other countries. After the U.S., Canada has the second highest gun ownership and homicide rates. Canada has 34.7 civilian-owned guns per 100 individuals with a 0.5 gun homicide rate per 100,000 individuals (Small Arms Survey, 2018, cited in Masters, 2022). Comparing this to the U.S.’s 120.5 civilian-owned guns per 100 individuals and 4.12 gun homicides per 100,000 individuals, one can see the alarming wide discrepancy. As such, an examination of U.S. gun laws can help provide insight into this trend.
Background Check Laws
Background check laws require institutions or businesses that sell firearms to conduct background checks on a customer before giving them firearm access. Theoretically, background checks can help firearm sellers avoid selling firearms to unqualified individuals with a history of violence or other factors for disqualifications. However, some argue that these laws are ineffective since criminals obtain firearms from black markets instead of legal sellers. For instance, many claimed that the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act or the Brady Act was ineffective because of off-the-books transactions from sellers who did not follow the law (Cook & Ludwig, 2013). Aside from circumventing the Brady Act, criminals tend to purchase firearms from illegal sellers because they do not want authorities to track their transactions. So regardless of the Brady Act, individuals with a criminal history would rather transact with illegal sellers than those who conduct extensive background checks.
While background check laws can be ineffective, combining them with other legislation can lead to better results. Studies show that combining background checks with licensing strategies and other laws can help reduce gun-related crimes (Merrerfield, 2022). Governments can utilize permit-to-purchase requirements, waiting period laws, and other legislation to make background checks viable. For instance, an individual with a clean criminal history may be planning to commit a violent crime. They may be planning to go to a large public event and commit a mass shooting. Waiting period laws will delay the delivery of the firearm which can potentially prevent the individual from accessing a gun in time for the event and allow authorities more time for the background check. Alternatively, permit-to-purchase requirements can ensure that a buyer is a licensed individual with knowledge of proper firearm usage. Therefore, background check laws, in combination with other requirements, can help prevent gun-related crimes.
Child-Access Prevention Laws
Child-access prevention laws aim to prevent minors from accessing firearms. These laws exist to address adults giving children access to guns or for gun-owning households with children. Instead of preventing gun-related crimes, these laws focus on decreasing gun-related accidents. Studies show that child-access prevention laws decreased gun-related accidents, such as self-injuries and suicides among the youth (Morrall, 2022). These laws make adults legally accountable for allowing children to access firearms, giving them the incentive to properly store firearms (Miller et al., 2022; The Effects of Child-Access Prevention Laws, 2020). Child-access prevention laws are effective in preventing gun-related accidents that could result from adults' and minors' irresponsible firearm use.
However, some laws allow minors to carry and purchase firearms. For instance, the Alabama Act 2015-341 or Act 341 allowed minors access to guns with parental permission. Since children have poor decision-making skills and may decide to play around with firearms, Act 341 and similar laws led to increased children’s gun-related hospital visits, gun-related fatality, gun-related long-term disability, and suicide rates (Cruickshank, 2022; Haque & Jorge, 2021). This showed that the laws allowing minors to access firearms, perhaps as a way to educate them, are counterproductive and can lead to more accidents since adults have no legal incentive for proper firearm storage.
Gun-Free Zone Laws
Lastly, there are gun-free zone laws that establish certain areas as gun-free zones or places where individuals cannot carry firearms. These laws aim to avoid firearm usage in public areas with large groups of people, preventing mass shootings . Common gun-free zones include schools, federal facilities, government land, and certain private properties that the public frequently uses (The Effects of Gun-Free Zones, 2020). According to Reeping (2022), gun-free zone laws have led to fewer crimes in gun-free zones than in areas that allow firearms, since they do not attract active shooters. This may be due to the high security in certain gun-free zones, such as government facilities and private properties. For instance, metal detectors and pat-down searches can help prevent armed individuals from entering gun-free zones.
However, studies regarding mass shootings suggest different effects. According to the Crime Prevention Research Center, 97.8% of public mass shootings happen in gun-free zones (cited in Gun-Free Zones, 2022). This large percentage implies that gun-free zones are the primary target for mass shootings. While this seems to contradict the latter study, it is important to note that Reeping (2022) focused on overall gun-related crimes which include suicides, robberies, domestic violence , and other crimes. Considering that mass shootings happen when an individual attacks four or more victims, it is likely that they happen in public places, such as schools and government facilities. Furthermore, Everytown for Gun Safety conducted a study that revealed that only 30% of mass shootings happen in gun-free zones while 61% happen in private homes between 2009 and 2020 (cited in Gun-Free Zones, 2022). However, the parameters for this research did not involve shooter motivation, leading to a different result. Still, these contradicting studies showcase the limited data for assessing the viability of gun laws and the need for more research.
Gun laws differ in how they approach gun-related crimes, leading to varying effectiveness in different aspects. Background check laws, along with complementary laws, help ensure that firearm sellers are selling to qualified individuals with no criminal history or intent. Child-access prevention laws prevent minors from accessing firearms and harming themselves or those around them. Gun-free zone laws may help decrease the risks of mass shootings, especially in public places. While these differences allow gun laws to address the wide scope of gun-related crimes, there is still a need for further research regarding their effectiveness as current studies provide contradicting and limited results.
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Cruickshank, S. (2022). Many Gun Policy Solutions are Effective and Popular, Experts Say. HUB Johns Hopkins University. Available at https://hub.jhu.edu/2022/06/03/gun-policies-that-are-effective-and-supported-by-gun-owners/. Accessed: October 11, 2022.
Gun-Free Zones: Do They Make Us Safer? (2022). Zeroeyes. Available at https://zeroeyes.com/gun-free-zones-do-they-make-us-safer/. Accessed: October 11, 2022.
Haque, A. & Jorge, E. (2021). When the Kids Get Guns–The Effects of Lowering the Minimum Age of Firearm Possession in Alabama. Preventative Medicine Reports, vol. 23. Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335521001716. Accessed: October 11, 2022.
Masters, J. (2022). U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons. Council on Foreign Relations. Available at https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-gun-policy-global-comparisons. Accessed: October 10, 2022.
Merrefield, C. (2022). Can Universal Background Checks Curb Gun Violence? Here’s What the Research Says. The Journalist’s Resource. Available at https://journalistsresource.org/politics-and-government/background-checks-gun-violence-research/#:~:text=In%20general%2C%20academic%20studies%20do,as%20permit%2Dto%2Dpurchase . Accessed: October 11, 2022.
Miller, M., Zhang, W., Rowhani-Rahbar, A. & Azrael, D. (2021). Child Access Prevention Laws and Firearm Storage: Results From a National Survey. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 62(3). Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379721005547. Accessed: October 11, 2022.
Morral, A. (2022). The Gun Laws That Work, and the Gun Laws That Don’t. RAND. Available at https://www.rand.org/blog/2022/05/the-gun-laws-that-work-and-the-gun-laws-that-dont.html . Accessed: October 10, 2022.
Reeping, P. (2022). The Effects of Gun-Free Zones on Crimes Committed with a Firearm and Active Shootings in the United States. Colombia Academic Commons. Available at https://doi.org/10.7916/cq01-g192. Accessed: October 11, 2022.
The Effects of Child-Access Prevention Laws. (2020). RAND. Available at https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy/analysis/child-access-prevention.html. Accessed: October 11, 2022.