The logic behind gun control is simple—the fewer guns in people's hands, the fewer opportunities for gun violence and fatalities to occur. The goal is damage reduction, not the eradication of killing and violence altogether. That's never going to happen. Gun control is about making sure guns don't get into the hands of dangerous people. This means things like universal background checks, limiting the types of guns the public has access to, and other regulations.
Australia is an example of a country where gun control works. After 35 people died in the Port Arthur Massacre, Australia banned certain semiautomatic and automatic weapons. Australians are still allowed to guns if they get the proper permits and have a reason for owning the weapons besides personal protection.
The government introduced a buyback program which dramatically reduced the number of guns in circulation. Gun deaths across the board—homicide included—dropped dramatically. Here's what researchers found:
In 1997, Australia implemented a gun buyback program that reduced the stock of firearms by around one-fifth (and nearly halved the number of gun-owning households). Using differences across states, we test[ed] whether the reduction in firearms availability affected homicide and suicide rates. We find that the buyback led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates. The effect on firearm homicides is of similar magnitude but is less precise [somewhere between 35% and 50%].
A study that looked at global gun control studies also discovered gun control laws are associated with less gun violence. It's that simple. It found that countries usually passed a package of gun control laws at the same time. These countries would then see reductions in gun violence. Generally, countries required universal background checks, permits, and limited the ability to own powerful weapons—like automatic and semiautomatic weapons.
"Laws restricting the purchase of (e.g., background checks) and access to (e.g., safer storage) firearms," they write, "are also associated with lower rates of intimate partner homicides and firearm unintentional deaths in children, respectively."
"There's some other evidence that we didn't include in this review," he says, that finds attempting suicide is an impulsive decision that people regret (if they fail) and thus don't repeat. Firearms, because they're much more effective than taking pills or slashing your wrists, don't give people that option. Thus, reducing access to guns should (and empirically generally does) reduce the overall suicide rate.
Gun control is necessary because guns give people the ability to wreak havoc on others in ways that no other weapons can. It's time to rethink whether we want everyone to have access to such power. Here's how one researcher put it:
“Whenever there’s a violent interaction in the United States, there’s a chance that somebody may die,” Hemenway said. “In most of these other countries, the worst thing that might happen is somebody gets hit with fists, or a glass bottle, or even stabbed, and in those cases there probably won’t be any deaths. But when there’s a gun, it really makes it so much more likely that something terrible will happen.”
First, it's important to note that both gun violence and crime in general is at a historic low. Low enough that gun control shouldn't even be discussed, simply because crime rates are lower than they have been in a long, long time. That said, conservatives believe gun control won't happen in the U.S. for several reasons. The primary argument is that criminals are often the ones who engage in gun violence, and a couple of laws like background checks won't stop them.
There are so many misunderstandings that it’s hard to know where to begin. For one, we need to remember that we've have had a remarkable decrease in violent crime and gun crime in the U.S. since the early 1990s, even though the number of firearms has increased by about 10 million every year. There’s no simple correspondence between the number of firearms in private hands and the amount of gun crime, and I often find it somewhat strange that there seems to be a perception that things are worse than ever when, in reality, things are really better than they’ve been for decades.
Studies have found criminals sidestep the legal process to buy guns through black markets and social connections. That means there's an entirely separate pool of guns and markets that fuel crime. Things like universal background checks or gun bans won't do anything to address the criminal use of guns. It will only make it harder for law abiding citizens to get guns.
These ideas, while important, do not address the core of the gun-violence problem: male-on-male acts of aggression, largely by men with criminal records, sometimes quite extensive ones. Few career criminals get their guns from licensed dealers, where a background check would be run and records kept.
Inmate surveys indicate that criminals overwhelmingly get their guns through social connections instead. A recent study of 99 criminals facing weapons charges in the Chicago area revealed why they were more likely to have acquired guns through social connections than in private deals with strangers. Illicit gun sellers avoid doing business with strangers because they worry about being caught in a sting operation; buyers, meanwhile, are fearful of being sold a gun that has been used in a crime. Most of the guns that criminals use are old and change hands repeatedly, sometimes being borrowed rather than sold. However, legally purchased guns often quickly make their way to criminals; several inmates reported that gun suppliers bought weapons in stores, reported them stolen, and resold them.
Others argue even if universal background checks were implemented, it'd be a waste of time. Any major road blocks to gun ownership would eventually create a black market for guns. That's just the world we live in. People who want guns enough will get their hands on guns. Time and time again, we see prohibition doesn't work, no matter how tough the penalties are. Experts say there are better ways to reduce gun violence than gun control.
I think we need to work on law enforcement strategies aiming at the people who are most likely to commit gun crimes, so we’re looking at drug dealers, gang members, people who have engaged in violent crime in the past, and the areas in which they operate. We should also draw a line in the sand—a serious red line—that if you commit a gun crime, you’re going to do a lot of prison time. That policy is uncontroversial and we can work off that consensus.
Besides, there's the Second Amendment. Many people believe it's a constitutional right to own a gun. Period. Any law that encroaches on that right, no matter how well-intentioned it is, is fundamentally wrong. Guns are a part of this nation's foundation. The U.S. was created by an armed citizenry which overthrew a tyrannical government for their own self determination. The Supreme Court upheld this right in "District of Columbia v. Heller," where it found individuals have a right to possess firearms, including for self-defense in the home. No gun control legislation can contradict that.
Here's how support for gun control breaks down over time and across demographics.