Gun Control in the United States: A Review


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As of May 8th, 2023, there have been 202 mass shootings so far this year in the United States, and the number continues to rise. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) defines a mass shooting as an incident where one or more persons are “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. Implicit in this definition is the shooter’s use of a firearm.” According to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit organization that tracks mass casualty events, there were 646 mass shootings in 2022. From January 2022 to November 23rd of that year, 3,179 people were shot in a mass shooting, resulting in 637 deaths. So what caused this epidemic of gun violence?

Back in 1791, the fledgling United States of America ratified the Bill of Rights, a set of amendments to the US Constitution that outlined the rights of the people in this new country. At the time, guns were essential to America; they were the weapons that allowed Americans to gain independence from the British. That reverence for firearms and distaste for government interference in private affairs led to the writing of the Second Amendment. The Amendment states that “a well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” What does that mean? Well, it states that military and/or paramilitary groups are necessary for a state’s security; most soldiers on the American side during the Revolutionary War were militiamen, so the new government was very much in favor of them. It also says, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”; this continues on the idea that the government wanted to protect the right of its citizens to own firearms. The government did not want to resemble the empire it had just gained independence from, the empire that had intense restrictions on freedoms, including the right to own a gun.

Since the Great Party Flip (when Democrats and Republicans switched ideologies), the Republicans have increasingly become the party of gun owners and supporters of the Second Amendment. This has caused them to pass many bills that increase gun freedom or ensure government agencies and future Democratic governments cannot do anything to restrict the “right to bear arms.” For instance, the Dickey Amendment of the 1996 Spending Bill mandates that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” However, it also meant from then on that the CDC could not even study gun violence. This amendment’s writer, Representative Jay Dickey, in 2016 sent a letter to the House Democrats’ gun violence task force and asked them to fund CDC research on the topic. However, the House Democrats could not pass said legislation because of Republican control of the Senate. Meanwhile, the leading cause of death for children and teenagers as of July 2022 is gun violence (KFF). According to the study, one in every 17,000 children died in 2020 from gun-related incidents.

Figure 1: Source from KFF analysis of CDC Wonder and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Global Burden of Disease data

The National Rifle Association, or NRA, is another significant reason for the lack of gun restrictions. This organization seeks to protect the Second Amendment, promote public safety, train for marksmanship and gun safety, promote competitive shooting, and improve hunter safety. They are a lobby organization with online classes. According to Open Secrets, a non-profit organization that studies lobbying, the NRA spent $2,630,000 on lobbying in 2022 (OS). Like many other industries, the NRA gives candidates campaign donations, and in return, they vote for measures promoted by the NRA, such as those against gun control bills. According to Brady United, the Senator who has benefited most from NRA money is Mitt Romney of Utah, who has gotten $13,647,676 from them (BU). Senator Romney supports the Second Amendment and believes that gun regulation should be left up to the states. He almost always votes against gun control bills.

This lack of restriction has led to excessive guns; for every 100 Americans, there are 120 guns (World Population Review). This number is far higher than any other country on Earth, including war-torn countries like Yemen, which has 52.8 guns per 100 people. Possibly because of this, the US has the highest childhood gun death rate compared to similar countries; 5.6% for 100,000. The United States has approximately thirteen times the population of Australia but 23 times the rate of gun deaths for children (See Figure 1). And the trend is worsening; the United States’ rate is growing while its peers are reducing theirs. From 2018 to 2022, the US minor gun death rate grew by almost two percent while peer’s rate cruised at nearly zero (Figure 2). Britain, however, has had a very low gun death rate for years. This is because in 1987, they banned semi-automatic weapons after a mass shooting, and after a school shooting in 1996, they banned most handguns. They now have the lowest gun death rate in the developed world (NYT).

Figure 2: Source from KFF analysis of CDC Wonder and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Global Burden of Disease data

In this climate, gun regulation is following Senator Romney’s ideal path; liberal states are regulating guns, and conservative ones are expanding protections for them. For example, on July 1st, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two bills: prohibiting gun marketing to minors and restricting homemade ghost guns, including the parts used to make them. Later that month, he signed three more, which attempted to set up a code of conduct for the firearm industry and required gun manufacturers to register with the state before producing guns. Meanwhile, this March, the Republican State Senate in Tennessee proposed a bill allowing teachers to carry guns in school. Republican lawmakers proposed this action as a way to stop school shootings. However, analysis of mass shootings and the effect of armed bystanders on them has shown that this solution is entirely uninformed. An FBI study of 160 active shooter situations between 2000-2013 found that only one was stopped by an armed bystander. Another example is a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona; an armed bystander misidentified the shooter and almost shot a civilian.

Figure 3: Source from Statista Charts

Banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is a commonly proposed solution by Democrats. Assault weapons are designed for rapid fire and have features that enhance their lethality; they are the same weapon US soldiers used in Afghanistan. High-capacity magazines allow for extended firing without reloading, making it easier for a shooter to cause significant harm quickly. Banning these weapons and magazines would make it more difficult for individuals to carry out mass shootings, as they would not have access to the most deadly firearms. During the federal assault weapons ban, mass shooting injuries and deaths remained lower (Figure 3). According to Johns Hopkins’ Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, by strengthening gun licensing laws and banning HCMs, gun deaths in mass shootings will be reduced by 56%. A review of mass shootings from January 2009 to July 2015 carried out by Everytown for Gun Safety found that when an assault weapon or high-capacity magazine was used, 155% more people were shot, and 47% more were killed.

Other solutions include universal background checks that prevent convicted criminals and domestic abusers from gaining access to guns, requiring gun licenses for all purchasers, and establishing red flag laws that allow concerning individuals to block those who have suicidal or homicidal intent from gaining access to firearms. These would reduce gun deaths, increase gun safety, and even help reduce domestic violence. Therefore, Americans should call on their Representatives and Senators to pass common-sense gun laws. And if you believe the NRA has too much control over Republicans, vote them out and replace them with representatives who believe in gun control. If laws like these are passed, they would drastically reduce gun deaths, defend the country from extremists, and protect the next generation from these dangers.