The most discussed and polarizing issue of our modern society is no longer a matter of opinion, as over two million people participated in more than 800 marches and rallies across the nation on Saturday as part of the “March for our Lives” protest, which has now been billed as one of the largest demonstrations in the nation’s history.
Over 2,000 of those demonstrators took to the Rhode Island State House, where student activists, including Nina Gregg, a 2016 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who now attends the Rhode Island School of Design, spoke up about their exasperation and apprehension about constantly thinking where the next school shooting might occur – and if the next one might take place within their school.
The message from protesters was unified and powerful. They’re calling for stronger background checks on those who purchase firearms, a mandatory age increase to 21 for those who wish to buy a gun, waiting periods between the request and sale of a gun and outright bans on certain assault style weapons and gun accessories that can exacerbate their destructive power, such as high capacity magazines and military-style bump stocks that reduce weapon recoil.
The youth of the nation were joined by many generations of parents and grandparents who, like the students, are shouting for something to be done to help curtail the violence seen in this country – a number that is estimated at around 36,252 deaths caused via firearms in 2015, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
These demonstrators have one thought in common, which draws the ire of those who disagree with them at the core. They believe that more restrictions on access to guns will prevent more gun deaths.
On the other side, this belief is seen as naïve at best and is laughed at as outright nonsense to some. Those against enacting stricter gun restriction laws believe that a criminal, by their very nature of being a criminal, does not care about laws – and will circumvent legality in order to obtain whatever gun they want in order to carry out their malicious intent. Gun laws only harm law-abiding citizens’ Constitutionally-protected rights to bear arms, they argue.
The important thing to realize is that there is no definitive answer to this issue – neither anecdotally nor through empirical research – at this point in time.
While the federal government has championed thousands of studies on the deadliness of vehicles, cigarettes, exposure to sunlight, chemicals used in food production and hundreds of other hazardous behavioral and environmental factors we’re exposed to on a daily basis, as a nation we are decades behind on viable, crucial research into our society’s fascination and inundation of firearms – and the consequences of that culture.
This is in large part due to a provision that was added to the funding bill for the CDC in 1996, which stated that the CDC would not be allowed to “advocate or promote gun control.” While this provision did not serve as an outright ban on the federal government studying gun control, it has produced a chilling effect that has accomplished that very thing, according to multiple gun research advocacy groups. More directly, Congress simultaneously slashed the CDC’s budget by $2.6 million that year, the same amount they had been spending on gun-related research.
Nonpartisan research entities, such as the RAND Corporation, do not take a side in their desire to study gun violence, nor do they have an agenda to prove that guns need to be restricted or more accessible. These groups are advocating purely for the ability to make better informed decisions about gun policy – something that is sorely needed in a time where the iron for new policy is scorching hot and may very well result in long-lasting policy changes, whether that results in more stringent gun control or not.
Despite the lack of conclusive national research on even simple queries – such as how many people own guns, how many guns are stolen in an average year, how gun owners acquired their weapons or even how many gunshot wounds are reported annually – smaller scale studies have gleaned some insight into which side of the polarized argument holds more water than the other.
It’s not good news for advocates of the “more guns mean less gun death” stance.
A 2014 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that having a gun in the household actually increased the likelihood for violence within that home than it did to repel it, as the majority of suicides (76.4 percent) and a near majority of homicides (45.5 percent) happen in one’s own home – with a vast majority (74 percent) of homicides occurring against women happening via their spouses or partner within their own home. Over half of suicides in America occur via a firearm within the home.
Another study recently published by RAND showed, while the corporation did not go so far as to report these results as conclusive, that states with more permissive policies on guns – such as “stand your ground” policies, unrestricted concealed carry laws and the elimination of gun-free zones – correlated with a higher percentage of violence via firearms than states that employed more restrictive policies.
The suggestion from this incomplete data indicates that stricter gun policies do actually have a positive effect on preventing more gun violence, although more research must be allowed federally to give a more complete picture.
However, a lack of good data to suggest that looser gun laws do anything but make it easier for criminals to conduct criminal behavior means that those who have knee-jerk reactions to those wanting something to be done about access to guns should also stop and think a bit more about their hard-line stance.
After all, if a criminal is prevented from easily accessing a firearm legally, they might not necessarily jump right to the black market or even have the wit to know how to go about such a process. Many crimes, and many suicides too, are acts of passion – where increasing that amount of time necessary between the thought of committing the act, and actually being able to carry out the act, could in theory prevent that act altogether.
While no law or collective of laws will stop all criminals, some tentative research has shown that more severe penalties for assaults and robberies with firearms has decreased the prevalence of criminals utilizing them. At the very least, making it more difficult for those who wish to do harm to get a gun should be a goal we can all agree with.