Debate, Week 2: What the Fight Over Guns is Really About

Students in the summer offering of my Introduction to American Politics course were assigned to write their final paper on one of three contemporary political debates in the United States – the legalization of marijuana, access to guns, and the use of civilian drones. For the next two weeks, I will post a few especially good responses from my students on each issue. You can find the discussion about legalizing marijuana here.

This week, my students discuss access to guns in the United States. When students in the class were asked in a survey which response comes closest to their views about government policy on access to guns, 43% stated that the government should make it more difficult for people to buy guns that it is now, 50% agreed that the government should keep the rules about the same, and 7% stated that the government should make it easier for people to buy guns than it is now. No one reported not knowing their views on the issue. The responses below convey just how complicated the gun issue is.

Protect Second Amendment Rights

Response 1, Samuel A*

At a time when issues such as police brutality, border control and war on terrorism headline the everyday mass media sources in the United States, another pressing issue looms in the background. That is the issue of how accessible guns should be in the United States of America. As with every pressing issue, there are critics on each side, some in support of gun control and some that do not support it. What makes this issue unique, however, is that there seems to be a majority of extremists, both in support and not in support. The majority of those that support gun control seem to want guns abolished all together in the United States while those that support guns seem to want no controls or restrictions whatsoever. Though, there is admittedly more nuance than those two extremes. Another factor that makes the issue of gun control somewhat unique is that there are many logical arguments from each side that are very difficult to ignore or argue against. 

On December 17, 1791, the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution was ratified. This amendment stated that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed (Kelly, 2015). This is one of the most contended amendments in the entire Constitution. Some in support of this amendment argue that this amendment protects a citizen’s right to gun ownership, while others argue that this amendment was targeted towards militia in defense of the country rather than the individuals defending themselves from the government. This poses the question of whether or not it is still necessary in this day in age in the United States for the people to be able to defend themselves from the government.

Over the past decade, it has been well documented that the United States has more guns and more gun deaths than any other country, with 88 guns per 100 people and 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people. Japan has the fewest guns and gun-related deaths, with 0.6 guns per 100 people and 0.06 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people (Lupkin, 2013). There is a seemingly direct relationship in the 27 developed countries between the amount of guns in a country and the amount of gun-related deaths. With that being said, if one were to remove all guns from a country, would the people in the country simply use other means to commit crimes and murders? There is also the question of whether or not criminals would still be able to obtain firearms illegally to continue to commit the crimes at a similar rate. There are 45 million handguns in the United States. The ratio of people that commit handgun crimes each year to handguns is 1:400 (Kopel, 1988). That means that with guns far outnumbering the amount of people committing gun crimes, it would be nearly impossible to completely disarm criminals. If this posed to be true, how would citizens defend themselves from the criminals? The question of whether or not implementing strict gun laws would actually lead to lower crime rates also seems to be difficult to answer. In Russia, the murder rate is almost four times that of the U.S., even though Russia enforces very strict gun control on its people (McQuain, 2013).

I find it very difficult to ignore the Founding Fathers’ reasons for allowing for the right to bear arms. I feel that they did so primarily to give the people the power to protect themselves from the government. I feel that this is still very important even today. History provides much evidence of what could go wrong if the people are not protected from the government (NAZI Germany, Soviet Union, etc.). I also feel that it would be nearly impossible to disarm criminals, even with strict gun laws. I feel that this would be very similar to the success or lack of success in regards to the drug laws. Russia’s high murder rates and the United Kingdom’s increase in homicide rates after their most recent gun control law revision in 1997 also make me believe that implementing stricter gun laws does not necessarily lead to a reduction of crime altogether, but rather just gun crimes (Agresti, 2015).

Regulate but Protect 

Response 2, Angela L*

Within the span of thirty-seven days, fifteen people died as victims of mass shootings. On June 17, 2015, eight people died in the Charleston church shooting by a Glock 41.45-caliber handgun (Potter & William, 2015). About a month later (July 16, 2015), five members of the United States military died in Chattanooga by an AK-47-style-semi-automic rifle, a 12-gauge shot gun, or a 9mm handgun (McClam & Williams, 2015). One week later, two moviegoers were killed in a Louisiana movie theater by a Hi-Point .40-caliber handgun. And, these were just the stories heavily reported on during those thirty-seven days (Botelho & Ellis, 2015).

Obviously, gun violence and gun control are increasingly pressing issues in the United States, and with shootings getting closer to schools and churches, the surrounding debate is largely emotional. Advocates of civilian gun ownership stand for the civil liberties of the Second Amendment. Their attachment to their firearms comes from a desire for self-defense, an interest in shooting sport, and a longstanding tradition of owning guns. Those opposed to gun possession do not necessarily believe Americans should not own guns, although perhaps some of the extreme opponents do. Rather, they would like to limit the number and type of guns individuals can buy and what type of individuals can buy them (“Fight Over Guns,” 2013).

The debate begins here where opinions differ in what caliber of gun should be allowed in American homes and what criminal record or mental state a person must have to own one. And, while the National Rifle Association has created a stronghold of lobbying power on Capitol Hill, those fanning the flames of debate are the journalist and reporters. A report by Lacey N. Wallace appearing in The Social Science Journal explains that media focuses on the mass murders committed by atypical suspects—middle-class shooters in middle-class areas. This reporting inspires fear as people begin to believe that they too could experience a mass shooting. Their fears cause an increase in arms sales and concealed carry licenses, which in turn can lead to an increase in violence (Wallace, 2015).

As a member of the National Rifle Association and an Ohio Concealed Carry License holder, this issue is constantly present in my conversations. Growing up in rural Ohio in a home with guns, I am well aware of America’s gun culture. About a year ago, I would have stood firm against any such gun control laws; however, with the increasing number of mass shootings, I believe it’s time for the most fervent gun owners to reconsider. In twenty minutes, anyone that has not committed a serious crime could walk out of a store with an extremely dangerous weapon; this process must change.

Two important gun control regulation ideas are limiting the purchase of semi-automatic weapons and magazines that hold large amounts of ammunition and background checks for criminal records and mental health. A drawback of limiting purchases is that they can only be limited in gun stores and distribution centers. Any form of gun or equipment trade at certain gun shows and conventions, or even between friends, could not be regulated (Lacey 2015, 159). As for the background check of criminal and mental health records, this will only work for individuals who are being treated for mental health conditions. Also, the list of mental health conditions to disqualify an individual may be difficult to define and compile.

Aside from the mass shootings, peaceful citizens who buy firearms for self-defense are statistically more likely to become the victim of their own guns. A study in the city of Atlanta showed the victims were twice as likely to have their gun stolen from them than to be able to use it in self-defense (Donohue, 2015). Therefore, the best way to keep people safe is not to take away their firearms, but instead to educate them on how to use it more efficiently. From my experiences with shooting, firing a gun is much more than pulling a trigger—it takes large amounts of practice. Also, safe storage is essential for a gun owner not only for his or her family, but to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Gun control can be an extremely complicated issue, but new legislation must be made to create better education for gun owners.

Require Back-Ground Checks for Gun Purchase

Response 3, Shawn L*

The gun control debate has been surfacing for years now without much federal change. In one corner of the ring, advocates for gun rights claim that guns are essential for maintaining liberty and saving helpless people from danger. In the opposite corner, advocates for gun control generally see guns as dangerous, evil devices that snuff out innocent lives and whose benefits are outweighed by the dangers (Winkler, 2013).   Each side emphasizes certain statistics. Gun rights advocates stress the number of innocent lives that are saved by the defensive use of a firearm – these incidents are often not reported to the police and media, and are estimated to be between 100,000 and 2 million each year. Gun control advocates stress that countries with lighter gun restrictions suffer from more gun deaths each year. The U.S. is home to 30,000 annual gun deaths, or 10 per 100,000 people – far more than any nation with heavily restricted access to guns (Winkler, 2013).

"198a.GunControlMarch.WDC.26January2013" by  Elvert Barnes (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“198a.GunControlMarch.WDC.26January2013” by Elvert Barnes (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It seems the debate has reached a stalemate. According to Jessica Winter, “The next time a crazed man commits mass murder, and the next time . . . we will talk about gun control a little, but we will find a second conversation. Because those conversations are worthy and potentially fruitful, and also because we have given up” (Winter, 2015). She has a point. Since it has taken this long without anything happening, it is safe to say that the stalemate on legislation will not be uplifted unless the two sides can reach a compromise. Gun rights advocates seem to believe that gun control advocates are dead set on eventually taking all guns away, which makes it impossible to make a major step toward federal restrictions without massive backlash – hence the stalemate. I argue that background checks and certain restrictions on deadlier guns and on larger magazines can help reduce the number of innocent deaths (especially by massacre) but maintain the effectiveness of defensive gun use; people must recognize that guns are here to stay and that a successful rebellion against a tyrannical government is a pipe dream.

To make any progress, gun rights advocates must recognize that they have nothing to worry about – the guns are here to stay. Gun owners are highly unlikely to ever turn in the 300 million guns that are already in circulation even if ordered to do so. America once tried to ban alcohol during the Prohibition era and illegal drugs with the “war on drugs” – both failed. If anything is to be learned from these, it is that a ban on guns would fail miserably (Winkler, 2013).

Restrictions on deadlier guns and on larger gun magazines would still allow for effective self-defense. Most of the time when a gun is used defensively, it is against one or few people. An assault rifle is usually not necessary to do this job because it wouldn’t require a full 30-round magazine. Some may argue that owning deadlier weapons is necessary in case the American people ever need to rebel against a tyrannical government. Erwin Chemerinsky makes two good points, however – one is that the American people have never needed guns for this purpose, with the possible exception being the Civil War; two, the federal government now has stealth bombers and nuclear weapons, both of which make the likelihood of a successful rebellion rather laughable (Chemerinsky, 2004). Therefore, the “necessity for rebellion” counterargument in today’s world is irrelevant.

In conclusion, reasonable restrictions on deadlier guns would still allow for effective defensive uses and uphold Second Amendment rights, but would cut down on death count in future massacres. Before writing this, I thought I was going to make an argument completely against all gun restrictions, but now I find myself somewhere in the middle. Since recognizing that guns are here to stay and that the probability of a successful rebellion against tyrannical government is farfetched, regardless of gun type and size, I am all for restrictions that would limit deadly shootings.


What about you? What are your thoughts on access to guns in the United States? Leave your comments below.

*Responses shared with written permission from the authors. Replication in any form, without permission from the author, is prohibited.


  1. Samuel’s paper:
    1. Kelly, M. (n.d.). 2nd Amendment – Text of the 2nd Amendment. Retrieved July 27, 2015, from
    2. Lupkin, S. (2013, September 19). U.S. Has More Guns – And Gun Deaths – Than Any Other Country, Study Finds. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from
    3. David, K. (1988, July 11). Trust the People: The Case against Gun Control. Retrieved July 10, 2015, from
    4. McQuain, B. (2013, August 28). Harvard gun study concludes gun bans don’t reduce the murder rate – Hot Air. Retrieved July 22, 2015, from
    5. Agresti, J. (2015, June 19). Gun Control – Just Facts. Retrieved July 11, 2015, from
  2. Angela’s paper:
    1. Donohue, John. :How US Gun Control Compares to the Rest of the World.” The Conversation.”             The Conversation US, 24 June 2015. Web. 11 July 2015.   <        43590>
    2. Botelho, G. & Ralph Ellis. (2015 July). Lafayette Theater Shooter Bought Gun Legally, Police      Say. Retrieved from
    3. McClam, E. & Pete Williams. (2015 July). Chattanooga Shooting: Attacker had three guns,          Authorities Say. Retrieved from      shooting/chattanooga-shooting-attacker-had-least-three-guns-authorities-say-n394046
    4. Potter, M. & Pete Williams. (2015, June). Charleston Church Gunman Dylann Roof Bought         Pistol Locally: Officials. Retrieved from        church-shooting/charleston-church-gunman-dylann-roof-bought-pistol-locally-officials-     n380341.
    5. Wallace, Lacey N. “Responding to violence with guns: Mass shootings and gun acquisition.”        The Social Science Journal Volume 52(2) (2015): 156-167. Print
    6. “What the Fight Over Guns is Really About.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 6      January 2013. Web. 11 July 2015.                                                                                         <          really-  about>
  3. Shawn’s paper:
    1. Chemerinsky, Erwin. “Keynote Address: Putting the Gun Control Debate in Social     Perspective.” 73: 482. Accessed through OSU Library. Web. 2 Aug. 2015.      < t=faculty_scholarship>.
    2. NYT Room for Debate: What the Fight Over Guns is Really About:            over-guns-is-really-about
    3. Winkler, Adam. “Emotions About Guns Can Be Ratcheted Down.” NYT. 6 January 2013. 2 Aug. 2015.
    4. Winter, Jessica. “Why We’re Talking About Flags Instead of Gun Control .” Slate. 24   June 2015. Web. 2 Aug. 2015.             <            ontrol_debate_we_re_not_having_one_after_charleston_and_we_haven_t.html   #lf_comment=334557777>.

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