Gun control is one of the most contentious and divisive issues embattling the United States. Mass shootings have been on the rise in the past decade, as does gun violence. Various sectors of American society have joined, along with the rest of the world, the March For Our Lives movement in protesting and lobbying a plea to the US government to initiate federal action to strengthen gun control and prevent such violent crimes. Various proposals have been presented amidst the gun control debate, not excluding the proposal to repeal the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution – the right to bear and keep arms, ratified in 1791 when the country was still in its infancy. In contrast, proponents of the 2nd amendment or gun ownership are strongly opposing such proposals, arguing that the right to bear arms is an inviolable right. With the citizens torn about this issue, the future of gun control undoubtedly rests upon the views and decisions of those at the top. While President-elect Joe Biden has expressed his plans to bolster gun control laws in the US, majority of the work rests on the political will of gun control advocates in the House and Congress. The future of gun control depends on the battle of political wills that will ensue in the next years. And what depends on it is the safety of millions of lives. After discussing the current gun control policy and the future trajectory of gun control under Biden’s presidency, I end this expository essay by presenting my arguments supporting the country’s need for gun control, as well as why it does not infringe on the 2nd amendment.
The Current Gun Control Policy
Gun control in the US is technically restrictive, with some states and cities imposing stricter laws. Under federal law, people under the age of 18 are restricted from rifles and shotguns, while people under 21 for all other guns; people convicted or indicted for crime punishable by imprisonment of more than one year; fugitives; severely mentally ill; drug addicts; people convicted of domestic violence; and undocumented immigrants are banned from purchasing firearms (Lopez, 2018). Furthermore, fully automatic weapons are banned, and licensed dealers are required to run a background check through the FBI on everyone who wishes to purchase a firearm. There are various laws—both federal and state—in place meant to control civilian access to guns.
Despite the various laws and policies, US gun control is considered lax because, as Lopez analyzes, of the plethora of loopholes they contain (2018). Specifically, not all fully automatic weapons are banned—those manufactured before 1986 are technically legal. Meanwhile, the law banning semi-automatic weapons expired in 2004 and was not renewed (Elving, 2019). Similarly, not all states ban high-capacity ammunition magazines. Such laws make it possible for civilians to own highly dangerous firearms.
On the other hand, background checks, while required, are not always utilized, and can be easily bypassed. First and foremost among the issues is the underfunding and understaffing of the FBI’s system of background checks. These issues make it difficult for the FBI to conclude a background check within the required 3 days (Lopez, 2018). A more severe loophole here is that the buyer may proceed with their purchase if the FBI fails to complete its check within the 3 days. The issues is further compounded by lack of resources of the background checks systems due to states’ non-compliance in their reports. Budgetary issues or ideological opposition to gun control may have led states to not report medical and criminal records to the FBI (Lopez, 2018). Without a comprehensive background checks system in place, gun control remains lax.
Another way to bypass the background checks is by purchasing through private sellers, who are not required to conduct background checks unlike licensed dealers. The Washington Post reported in 2013 that an increasing number of gun sales are occurring online through private sellers (Plumer, 2013). Attempts to regulate online gun sales have been made, but have been unsuccessful so far (Plumer, 2013). One can only imagine how these loopholes in the background check process can hand dangerous or unfit individuals weapons.
The Future of Gun Control
Gun control seemed an impossibility in the last years. Although former President Obama promised to implement stricter gun control, efforts to do so, such as renewing the Assault Weapons Ban, were unsuccessful (Elving, 2019). Under former President Trump, gun control received even less attention. The then-President himself does not believe that gun control will curb the worsening gun violence in the country.
Joe Biden’s election seems to give gun control a better future. Having been the Congress’s chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act or Assault Weapons Ban was passed, a stronger gun control is one of his campaign promises (Lopez, 2020). Biden’s gun control plan would require universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, red flag laws that allow courts to confiscate guns from an individual if they are deemed a risk to themselves or others, allow only one gun purchase per month per individual, and require safe storage (Lopez, 2020). He also plans to repeal the law that makes it difficult to sue gun manufacturers for making and selling guns they know could be used for crime, as well as finance research and implementation of strategies to combat urban violence and gun violence (Lopez, 2020). His plan, however, falls short in the area of licensing. Biden proposes a financial incentive program for states that will adopt licensing (Lopez, 2020). However, since this is voluntary, it is highly likely that states that oppose gun control will opt out, thereby creating a loophole in future gun control measures.
Despite its shortcomings, Biden’s gun control plans still present stronger measures that could potentially lower instances of gun violence in the US. Another factor that matters to the future of gun control, however, is whether Congress will support it. As the nation witnessed during Obama’s presidency, gun control did not get sufficient votes from the House and Congress (Elving, 2019). In the next years, Democrats will have to occupy more seats than Republicans first. However, as Republican strategist Grover Norquist explained back in 2000: “The question is intensity versus preference. You can always get a certain percentage to say they are in favor of some gun controls. But are they going to vote on their ‘control’ position? (quoted in Lopez, 2018)" Supporters of gun control will rarely vote solely based on this one issue, whereas opponents of gun control will strongly vote against those who support gun control (Lopez, 2018). Subsequently, gun control will have to fight for the attention of Democrats in the House and Congress given the gravity of other issues in the country, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Without a doubt, Biden’s allies understand the gravity of the gun violence issue in the country, but their priorities may be divided among other, equally important issues.
With Biden’s presidency, there is renewed hope that gun control will be given appropriate attention and will be strengthened. There’s no doubt that opposition to gun control will push back harder, too. In the end, then, it will be a matter of political will. President-elect Biden will have to balance his priorities and be steadfast in implementing his gun control plan.
The Case for Gun Control
Writers and researchers often write about this controversial topic. Countless articles and research have been published proving the effectiveness of strict gun control policies in curbing gun violence. Lopez’s comparison of four countries’ gun control laws, gun ownership rate, and gun homicide rate shows the stark difference between the US and countries with strict gun control laws (2018). The US, with lax and loop-hole-ridden gun control laws, and a gun ownership rate of 88.8 guns per 100 people, has a gun homicide rate of 29.7 per 100 million people (Lopez, 2018). In contrast, the United Kingdom, which has one of the strictest gun control laws in the world and has a gun ownership rate of 6.2 guns per 100 people, has a gun homicide rate of 0.7 per 1 million people (Lopez, 2018). In light of this proof, Biden’s plan is but a logical, humane, and socially responsible one.
Opposition argue that gun control laws infringe on their 2nd amendment rights. However, this is not the case since gun control laws do not ban all firearms or civilian ownership of firearms. What it does is filter who can buy and own firearms. Biden’s gun control plans are indeed stricter than the current gun control in the US, but it is still nowhere close to those of the UK or Japan where it is not only difficult to buy a gun, but also to get a license. Biden’s gun control laws prioritize preventing mentally ill and those with criminal records, in other words those who are dangerous, from having access to firearms. Individuals who are mentally fit and responsible will still have no trouble buying or owning a gun under Biden’s proposed laws.
Although a large number of Americans now support gun control laws, opponents of gun control are a formidable opponent, not just in their resolve to elect officials who support their vision, but also to find ways around gun control. They need to understand that stricter gun control laws will make the country safer for everyone, and in doing so, does not infringe on their 2nd amendment rights. Expecting all Americans to agree on the issue of gun control—or any issue, for that matter—is a tall order. Aside from fundamental ideological differences, there is the matter of misinformation in the United States. Still, gun control is not completely impossible. The future of gun control does not only rest upon President Biden’s shoulders. Democrats and Republicans who support strict gun control must strengthen their political will as well if the US is to see lower gun violence and safer streets in the next years.
Elving, R. (2019, August 13). The U.S. once had a ban on assault weapons—why did it expire? NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/08/13/750656174/the-u-s-once-had-a-ban-on-assault-weapons-why-did-it-expire
Lopez, G. (2018, March 14). How gun control works in America, compared with 4 other rich countries. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2020/8/20/21377041/joe-biden-gun-violence-plan-dnc-democratic-convention
Lopez, G. (2020, August 20). The democratic convention highlighted gun violence. Here’s what Biden plans to do about it. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2020/8/20/21377041/joe-biden-gun-violence-plan-dnc-democratic-convention
Plumer, B. (2013, August 5). Just how easy is it to buy a gun over the internet? The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/08/05/is-it-really-so-easy-to-buy-a-gun-over-the-internet/