Addressing Handgun Control Essay, Research Paper
Good morning ladies and gentlemen! I first want to thank you for your interest in organizing your communities for gun control. Before you begin to organize for gun control, you should have a basic understanding of the dimensions of this issue. Many members of existing groups believe that gun control is a unique issue, one that invokes even more emotional, gut-level responses than other controversial subjects such as abortion or school busing. You may or may not find this to be true, but you should approach the job ahead prepared for a wide range of responses, ranging from apathy to hate mail and death threats. To gain supporters for gun control, it is not enough to merely present data- even information supporting only the mildest form of control. Acceptance for any form of control does not rest simply on technical arguments about effectiveness; rather, positions on the issue are influenced heavily by values and personal belief systems. Thus, much of our energy will be devoted to changing these attitudes and beliefs- a difficult task under any circumstance. When views are linked to concerns for physical safety, they usually are unaffected by data and information. Yet a gun control group must try to deal with these concerns. How do we define gun crime as a social problem? Violent crime that threatens or abuses the physical safety of its victims lies at the heart of the crime problem in America today. In turn, the use of firearms to commit crime constitutes a major portion of the violent crime problem. Each year, approximately 85,000 American citizens die through the suicidal, homicidal, or accidental abuse of guns; several hundreds of thousands are injured (intentionally or accidentally); hundreds of thousands more are victimized by gun crimes (Wright, Ross, Daly 1992). Despite mounting evidence of handgun crimes and deaths, Americans in general and public policy makers in particular have failed to halt this ever-increasing national tragedy. These facts fail to diminish the increasing gun arsenal. Crime of all sorts impacts on a major portion of the nation s households. Victimization surveys show that one out of five households is victimized by crime annually. Although violent crime per se constitutes only about one-tenth of all crime, the remainder being property crimes in which firearms ostensibly played no role, it contributes considerably more than its share to the fear of crime and to the public s sense of crime as a serious problem (Rossi, 1992). Indeed, it can be argued that violent crime is the crime problem and that its reduction should be a matter of the highest priority on the enforcement and criminal justice policy agendas of the nation. The line between violent and nonviolent crimes is clear in some instances but hazy and indistinct in others. Homicide, manslaughter, assault, and robbery are, by definition, clearly violent crimes in which physical harm is either inflicted or threatened. But a burglary, ordinarily a nonviolent crime, can easily become violent if the burglar (or his victim) is carrying a gun. Similarly, a minor argument that would otherwise be no more serious than a disturbance of the peace can be transformed into an aggravated assault if one of the parties attempts to emphasize his or her views by brandishing or using a weapon. The main dimensions of the social problem of gun crime are often said to be the obvious consequences of these characteristics of firearms. Gun crimes cause more physical damage to victims; guns make crimes easier to commit, thereby increasing the crime rate; guns make it possible to undertake larger scale crimes, thereby increasing the overall social cost. Clearly, or so it is argued, if guns could somehow be abolished, both the scale of our crime problem and the physical damages associated with crime would decrease. Major reasons for our lack of strong gun controls are the perpetuation of the gun-culture mentally and the persistence of misconceptions about the relationship of handguns to violence. Columnist Jack Anderson commented on the gun culture in a June 26,1976, article on a study commissioned by The Remington Arms Company:Like a gun backfiring on its owner, a study funded by a giant firearms manufacturer has wound up blasting the National Rifle Association In stinging language, the study charges that the NRA die-hard supporters live in a make-believe world of sacred rights, ancient skills and coonskins like the inhabitants of Hitler s bunker in 1945, they talk only to themselves, reinforcing their own views. This make-believe world and the misconceptions on which it is based must be exposed. A group organizing for handgun control must be prepared to confront many myths and cliches, including the following: Guns Don t Kill-People Do! This clich persists, despite evidence of strong correlation between levels of gun crime and gun ownership (both handguns and other firearms), particularly in regions of the United States where firearm ownership is the highest. In an increasing number of murders and aggravated assaults, the weapon used is a handgun, and the presence or absence of this weapon is often a critical factor in the outcome of an argument ( Crime 17). Thus, while people do in fact kill one another, the point is that they do so much more easily and readily with guns (particularly handguns) than without them. I Need a Gun for Self-Protection. In reality, the handgun is rarely effective against the burglar or robber. A burglar typically avoids confrontations by entering an unoccupied home, and a robber can surprise and overwhelm a victim before the latter can mobilize a weapon in self-defense. It is more likely that the burglar will steal any available firearms or that holdup victims will find their own weapons used against them. The Public Won t Support Gun Control. A Gallup poll in early 1995 showed that 85 percent of the Americans interviewed favored some form of control on firearms. Previous Gallup nationwide surveys in 1994 showed 67 percent support for registration of firearms, and 41 percent support for prohibition of possession of handguns (Crime 19). As advocates of gun control we see in these statistics an enormous potential for practical limitations on what gun laws can be expected to accomplish. The Constitution Guarantees the Right to Bear Arms. The second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is invoked frequently, usually out of context or only partially. The Amendment reads as follows: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall be infringed. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted this amendment on four occasions to mean that the federal government cannot interfere with the maintenance of a state militia (qtd. in Wright, Rossi et al. 7). The amendment neither guarantees nor denies the right of individual citizens to carry guns or keep guns in their homes. How do we deal with the opposing side? Once we have assessed the emotional climate in which we are working we can then begin the task ahead. Advocates of gun control often mistake a person s opposition to a particular kind of gun control for opposition to all controls. The extent of handgun control opposition depends on upon the nature and severity of the control measures. Despite the overwhelming public sentiment favoring gun control, proponents have been loosely organized, poorly funded, and distracted by other social and political issues. Indeed, advocates of handgun controls tend to be involved in many social issues, while their opponents generally focus on the one issue. You will no doubt encounter various degrees of opposition to your efforts to control handguns. It is important to realize that individual opposition to these controls is diverse and motivated by complex believe systems. It is generally thought, for instance that people with extreme political ideologies oppose handgun controls out of fear of too much government intervention in their lives. They also may see handguns as a means of physical defense against enemies, both domestic and foreign. Members of the Black Panther Party, for instance, have carried weapons to protect themselves from what they call the white racist police , while Ku Klux Klan members have armed themselves against what they felt was a possible Jewish, Catholic, or Black uprising.Whatever the reasons for a particular individual s opposition to gun control, you must remember that most people are predisposed to espouse certain beliefs because of family training, education, and general life experiences- all of which tend to cluster around a certain defined set of values. These predispositions work through processes known as selective exposure, selective perception, and selective retention. These terms mean that individuals naturally filter out information and experiences which do not coincide with their basic beliefs about the inherent goodness or badness of an issue (qtd. in Rossi) . They are predisposed to support or oppose certain ideas and therefore seek out and collect information that verifies and reinforces their own beliefs.Thus, when you are confronting your opponents, you are dealing with strong emotional bonds to handgun ownership and individual rights that have been developed and nurtured since childhood. You probably will not be able to alter these emotional bonds, since the information selection process involved has been reinforced for years. At most, you may begin to expose your opponents to different beliefs and alternatives. We will now break for lunch and when we return we will further discuss, how to start your own gun control group within your communities.