In the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy and now the Aurora shooting, I’d say it’s hard to justify the lax gun laws in this country. But strict gun control laws don’t necessarily mean a decrease in gun violence. Mexico is a prime example of a country with strict gun control laws and a high incidence of gun violence.
So does a happy medium exist? If so, where on the spectrum of strict and lax does this safe, happy place sit? I think the question that the American public and subsequently the government needs to answer is what is more important, the rights of an individual to own a gun or the government’s commitment to public safety.
On a spectrum, America’s gun laws angle toward permissive, where a person who wants to purchase a gun only needs to prove that they are not unfit. Meaning, in most cases, if you are of good conduct and can pass a simple background check, you can have a gun. Yes, there are currently restrictions on the type of gun that you can own a gun.
Comparing America to countries like Germany, England, Canada, and Australia, the numbers are telling but there is another story to consider. In 2009, the rate of homicide by firearm per 100,000 inhabitants in America was 3.0, Germany 0.2, England 0.07, Canada 0.5 and Australia 0.1. What are those countries doing that America isn’t? Well, for one thing, gun ownership isn’t considered a right. People in countries with tighter gun control laws have to prove that they are fit to own a gun.
I get that it is our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. Staunch defenders of this right will point to Switzerland as proof that a high rate of gun ownership doesn’t lead to a high rate of gun violence. What they won’t point out is that gun ownership in Switzerland isn’t a right. It’s a responsibility. And the Swiss government trains its gun owners as such. America? Not so much.
To be fair, I understand that the debate isn’t this simplistic. Every person who picks up a gun to kill someone isn’t mentally unstable in the traditional sense. We have to evaluate other factors such as the social problems that are related to gun violence, which include poverty and drugs. Do I believe that we need to reform our gun laws, yes. But that isn’t the entire story. We can’t cure the disease by just treating the symptoms and ignoring the underlying conditions.