In light of the many recent shootings in the United States—including attacks on schools, churches, and unarmed civilians—some Americans have begun to question the nation’s policy on gun ownership while others defend the right to bear arms, creating a national debate. According to the Second Amendment, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” and some use this to justify civilian firearm ownership.
Over the last decade, the United States has been host to several mass shootings. Some of the most notable include incidents in Aurora, Santa Barbara, Newtown, and Charleston, which together caused upwards of 50 casualties. Other deaths from gun violence include the fatal shooting of Tai Lam, a high school freshman, on a bus in 2008, and the 14 victims of the San Bernardino shooting in 2015. In the aftermath of these incidents, some Americans argue that the solution to mass shootings is to arm the citizens so they may defend themselves, as in the case of Jeanne Assam, who used her concealed firearm to incapacitate a man attacking members of a Colorado church in 2007. Moreover, they argue that current United States laws do not allow criminals to obtain firearms, and that law enforcement must better enforce the regulations.
Other concerns associated with private gun ownership, however, include accidents involving children. According to a study sponsored by Yale University, firearm incidents hospitalize or kill more than 7,000 children and adolescents in the United States each year. Some children also get ahold of guns owned legally by their guardians and then accidentally shoot others, as in the cases of a 5-year-old Kentucky boy who killed his younger sister, and the 4-year-old son of Jamie Gilt who shot his mother in the back.
Contrasting starkly with other developed nations, the United States faces disproportionately high levels of gun violence, while many European nations have far lower rates. This disparity exists mainly because of the differences in gun regulation between the United States and other developed regions, which are restrictive, strictly regulating possession of automatic or semi-automatic weaponry and several types of ammunition. Notably, Japan, with some of the lowest rates of gun violence worldwide, prohibits civilian possession of automatic and semi-automatic weapons as well as handguns. The United States, on the other hand, permits possession of all three with varying degrees of regulation and registration. Japan also requires those seeking gun ownership to provide a specific reason, and individuals undergo background checks and training to receive a permit that they must renew every few years—both of which the United States does not require.
In addition to the debate about civilian gun violence, concern has also developed over the use of firearms by the police. After the shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, as well as multiple other accounts of questionable use of firearms by the police, many worry about the number of individuals shot by law enforcement. Several documented accounts of police violence against innocent civilians exist, as in the cases of Rekia Boyd and Bettie Jones, bystanders whom the police killed while shooting at their targets. More controversy has erupted concerning law enforcement using excess and unwarranted force, as in the fatal shootings of individuals like Laquan Brown, who possessed no firearms at the time of his death. Many believe the actions of these officers are justified as they acted in self defense, although others argue that such use of force is unnecessary.
With the nation divided over this conflict and the upcoming presidential elections, the future of gun control in the United States may change. Republican contenders like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have both remained staunchly against gun control, while both Democratic candidates seek to strengthen it by closing several loopholes and potentially limiting civilian possession. While the outcome of the election is unknown, one thing remains certain: With such opposing viewpoints, the controversy over gun violence in the United States will not be easily resolved.