Finding Ineffective Solutions to the Problem of Guns

It seems that every few months the United States asks itself whether or not the latest major shooting could have been prevented by some sort of firearms regulation. One side states that regulation does nothing, while the other side states that it will prevent future incidents. The facts seem to show something very clear: gun control in the United States does not work and additional gun control measures would be ineffective.

One of the biggest problems with the gun control argument is that people are not informed about firearms laws, terminology, and culture. Back in 2014, comments made by California State Senator Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, who sought to pass new statewide gun control measures, became a circulating joke and viral video within the pro-gun community. He stated, “This is a ghost gun. This right here has the ability with a .30-caliber clip to disperse with 30 bullets within half a second. Thirty magazine clip in half a second.” Comments such as these have ultimately delegitimized the position of gun control groups since it shows that many members and supporters of such groups seek regulation on something that they do not understand. On top of this, advocates for stricter firearms regulations have discussed measures such as banning machine guns. However, these firearms are already regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). According to 26 U.S.C. 5845(b), a machine gun or assault rifle is “any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” These firearms are illegal to possess unless they are registered with the ATF and the firearm was produced prior to 1986 unless a registered person has a license to possess “dealer samples”, meaning they are able to sell modern machine guns and destructive devices.

Even though machine guns are heavily regulated, initially through the National Firearms Act of 1934 (which also included regulations on short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, and suppressors/silencers), many advocates of firearms restrictions call for a ban of “assault weapons”, similar to the temporary ban implemented in 1994 during the Clinton administration. Such a ban only affects the accesorization of firearms and not the firearms themselves. For instance, if you wanted to purchase a new AR-15 or AK-style rifle, you could still get it; it would just look slightly different. The rifle could not have two banned accessories such as a pistol grip, a folding or telescoping stock, a bayonet lug, a flash hider, or a grenade launcher. On top of this, handguns with certain cosmetic features were also classified as an assault weapon, thus allowing the regulation to criminalize the possession of common firearms. Practically speaking, this has no effect on the performance of the firearm. Grenade launchers are already regulated as destructive devices by the ATF and there have been no reported deaths from bayonetting in many decades in the United States, thus making such restrictions practically useless. Interestingly, the assault weapons ban had “no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence, based on indicators like the percentage of gun crimes resulting in death or the share of gunfire incidents resulting in injury” according to a Congressionally mandated study of the effects of the ban. On top of this, similar bans in other countries, such as Australia, have also shown to have no discernible effect. The fear around “assault weapons” is actually unrealistic, knowing that over 80% of gun murders were committed by a handgun.

The most recent item on the regulatory hitlist for advocates of gun control are bump fire stocks. Following the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, the product, deemed legal by the ATF, has been thrust into the public eye. Essentially, a bump fire stock works by using the recoil of a firearm moving backwards and the forward pull of the firearm in combination to fire off one shot at a time in rapid succession. Some devices similar to bump fire stocks that use springs, such as the Atkins Accelerator, have been banned by the ATF. This is because if a firearm requires a single trigger pull to mechanically reset itself without human intervention, like the forward pull of a firearm with a modern bump fire stock, it would be classified as a machine gun. Both legislators and citizens who are opposed to and support anti-firearms legislation such as an assault weapons ban have stated their support for banning bump fire devices as well. The issue with this, however, is that bump firing does not require a special stock. In this video, you can clearly see that all that is required is a semi-automatic firearm with a finger holding steady at one position on the trigger with another hand pulling the firearm away from the body. It is not a difficult skill to learn, but bump fire stocks do make this a bit easier to control, though one’s accuracy with such a stock will still be less than that of someone standardly rapid firing a firearm with a single pull of the trigger. Perhaps the only solution to dealing with bump fire capabilities would be to ban semi-automatic firearms, even though this would be infeasible since out of the hundreds of millions of firearms in the United States, most handguns, many rifles, and some shotgun variants are semi-automatic.

Recently, President Trump suggested raising the minimum age of firearm purchases to 21 years old. Currently, the Gun Control Act of 1968 ensures that the minimum federal age for purchasing a rifle,  a shotgun, or ammunition is 18 years old. For handguns or NFA-restricted items, the buyer must be 21 years old. There are serious legal challenges that arise with raising the purchase age of all firearms to 21 years of age. While driving and drinking are not constitutionally protected rights, the right to bear arms is. Legally, 18-20 year olds are classified and treated as adults in the eyes of the law as well. Restricting the constitutional rights of citizens without a constitutional amendment could raise major legal concerns since many pro-gun groups would advocate that the citizen’s right to something constitutionally protected would be violated. On top of this, raising the age to purchase a firearm prevents little for several reasons. Getting access to firearms is not very difficult. Additionally, if someone wanted to get a firearm, the only thing that would create a delay is a wait period until the purchaser turned 21, thus not necessarily stopping them from purchasing the firearm. Another issue with this is related to safety. According to the Bureau of Justice, in 2016, 18-24 year olds faced the second highest rate of victimization of violent and serious violent crime. Additionally, in a 1997 study, rates of violent crime and serious violent crime, including murder, were highest for the 18-21 year old age group. From observing these statistics, we can make an educated assumption that 18-21 year olds face a high risk in terms of being a victim of violent crime. Congressional studies have shown a correlation with firearms ownership and a drop in violent crime. Perhaps a solution to the issue of violent crime affecting young adults would not be to ban them from possessing what is a constitutionally given right, but instead to encourage them to learn how and when to use a firearm in the case of an emergency.  By stripping this age group of a right to bear arms and protect themselves from threats, we are preventing them from being able to be responsible for their own safety.

Besides direct firearms restrictions, advocating for gun free zones may seem to make more sense in order to keep people safer. Many people state that having areas where guns are banned would automatically make them safer. In fact, according to the Crime Prevention Center, 98.4 percent of mass public shootings have taken place in gun free zones. While some may dismiss this statistic as inaccurate, it should be noted that the FBI defines these sorts of active shooter incidents as one where drug or gang violence is not accounted for, thus discounting many smaller incidents where the shooter tends not to kill indiscriminately, but with purpose.. In addition to this, in a hypothetical situation the best place for someone seeking to inflict major injury on people with little fear of being injured themselves would be  an area where they would have superior firepower with nothing to deter them. The strong correlation between gun free zones and the violence that has occurred within them should raise flags as to whether or not these zones are in fact, safer.

Background checks are an issue many people seem to agree upon. Many democrats would like expanded background checks passed. However, the current system actually works quite well. The problem with expanded background checks, depending on their scope, would be stripping people of their right of due process in order for people to be able to practice another right guaranteed by the US Constitution since a rejection to purchase a firearm based off an executive action (such as banning anyone who has ever seen a therapist)  would be denying someone a right,something only a court can do in the US. When I state that the database we have in place now works fine, I specifically and only mean that: the database. The issue with the current background check system is not the database itself, but the lack of responsibility taken by prosecutors and states in order to make the system run efficiently and smoothly. For instance, according to the Bureau of Justice, “Twenty-one states report that 80 percent or more of all felony arrests within the criminal history database have final dispositions recorded.” This means that 29 states have failed to submit millions of criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), thus leaving potential felons able to purchase firearms. On top of this, in 2012, the Bureau of Justice conducted a study on federal NICS failure prosecutions where it found that out of nearly 76,000 incidents of people failing the FBI’s NICS system, only “62 charges from the 2010 cases were referred by field offices for consideration by prosecutors.”

Some have claimed that firearms ownership in the United States is related to increased violent crime, though this is not true. There has been a correlation with a decrease in violent crime and an increase in firearms ownership in the United States. Additionally, the number of crimes committed using firearms has dropped over the last several decades. Clearly the issue is not firearms ownership as much as is it other factors, whether it is culture or lack of assistance for those impoverished or those mentally ill.

As demonstrated by the statistics and facts, assault weapons bans have no discernible effect in reducing crime, bump fire stock regulations do not necessarily solve anything since bump firing only requires inertia, gun free zones are more dangerous than those that are not, age restrictions on purchases prevents a vulnerable age group from being able to self-protect, and the NICS system is flawed by the lack of participation by states reporting and lack of prosecutions for failing background checks. The issue with gun violence is not necessarily the type of firearm, but rather criminals who seek to harm others who are unable to defend themselves. As shown, instead of trying to restrict law abiding citizens on what they can and cannot have access to that is a constitutional right, the best solution to gun violence would be to fix systems we have in place and address the issues of mental health and the violent cultures within the United States.

This article's cover photo was taken by Christian Cachola and is in the public domain. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.