The futility of the war on guns, must turn focus to misuse



Jack LeBlanc

Enacting gun law reform will come from drawing a stark divide between criminal users and legal users.

The gun culture in the United States is one of the most notably unique aspects of this nation. Developed countries across the globe are perplexed—referring to it as an American obsession. Yes, Americans, by far, have the most guns per citizen. But the issue is not that we have a society with a deep seated appreciation for guns. The problem arises when that admiration fuels a culture of inaction toward gun violence, a dire public health issue.

Coincidence or not, the United States has the most guns and the most people that die from guns. In the United States, 30,000 people die, on average, every single year from firearms. What is equally true is that the majority of American guns are owned by honest patriotic citizens. They buy their guns legally with zero intent to cause harm to anyone. Advocates for gun safety are not targeting this type of ownership. There is a whole other category of gun possession that leads to atrocities like mass shootings. 

The history of America’s founding cannot be told without acknowledging the role of primitive firearms. The appreciation for the instrumental role that guns have played in the founding of this nation is not lost on anyone that correctly recognizes history. But, hundreds of years later, we must reassess the relationship that these weapons have with our society. 

America’s infatuation with firearms, no matter how justified, would not be so noteworthy if the implications of it were not so costly. There is nothing inherently wrong with the popularity of hunting and sportsmanship. Gun fandom by law-abiding citizens, in itself, poses no threat to the safety of our society. But gun rights advocates, unfortunately, are skeptical that legislation could bring down our unparalleled number of annual gun deaths without threatening their rights. 

The National Rifle Association and ardent Republicans in Congress are at the helm of opposition to any sort of laws targeting the American epidemic of gun violence. The narrative being told by these entities is simple and effective. They assert that any proposed measures to curb the startling number of gun deaths is an intrinsic threat to the right to own a firearm. Regardless of how one interprets the Second Amendment, there is no question that our country has cemented the legality of private gun ownership. So, in painting gun control as tyrannical, the patriotic thing to do, supposedly, is to oppose it vigorously.

This has been a remarkably effective political strategy. One need only look to the mountain of failed gun safety legislation to confirm it. From enhanced background checks to barring suspected terrorists from purchasing weapons, they have all failed. These measures are voted down time after time because the efforts of gun rights lobbies equate gun safety legislation with the imposition of tyrannical rule. When the idea of slightly more stringent gun laws, like the ones many other developed nations have, is equated with governmental overreach, the movement as a whole is delegitimized. 

Gun culture in the United States, at the moment, is a zero sum game. And until we promote the political space where one can respect the Second Amendment while also rejecting the deluge of gun violence, progress will be impossible.

Proponents of tighter gun laws must vocalize the fact that we all want gun ownership to be represented by the responsible, trained citizens that overwhelmingly account for the broader populations of gun owners. The proposed regulations are not meant to fundamentally change the gun ownership experience for the citizenry as a whole. The intent is to put safeguards in place so that those with violent tendencies and mental illnesses cannot easily get their hands on potentially deadly weapons. This is the legislation that congressional democrats staged a sit- in over in 2016—not drastic measures like a repeal of the Second Amendment. 

Going forward, the only hope for legislation aimed at promoting gun safety must start by recognizing and respecting that most Americans do not abuse the rights enshrined by the Second Amendment. There is plenty of basis for arguing against the premise that the Second Amendment is an absolute guarantor of the right to private gun ownership. But at this political stage of our country, that argument is futile. A war on guns as a whole has proved to be impossible. But a war on the misuse of guns, and recognizing the difference, has potential.

Enacting gun law reform will come from drawing a stark divide between criminal users and legal users. And until lawmakers recognize that gun control advocacy only targets one of those groups, we are doomed to repeat the failed policy initiatives aimed at creating a safer society.