Gun Control Laws: America's Obsession to Master the Chaos
On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled some of the most aggressive, yet rather useless, gun control measures proposed in more than a decade following the fatal shooting spree in Connecticut that left 20 young children and six adults dead.
Yet, gun control laws fail to offer the security America so desperate seeks to master the chaos, the unknown, the lurking bad people in the world lying in wait until our backs are turned. They only temporarily restore our confidence in the face of another unpredictable crime against humanity.
Certainly, such laws dating back to 1837 have not been without merit. One study shows gun intervention strategies, particularly those in the Brady Law, may help weed out some dangerous would-be gun owners.
But those measures would not have stopped Adam Lanza, the shooter behind the Sandy Hook tragedy. He was not the owner of the weapons he used. He had no criminal record.
Understandably, the human grieving process demands answers, closure.
What caused this man to turn violent, killing his mother and more than two dozen strangers before turning the gun on himself?
Perhaps video games? The media? Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism? Theories abound but frankly, investigators still don't know what led to Lanza's shooting spree.
We may never know what set him off.
Yet, every "new" solution in the debate over the constitutionally-protected right to bear arms under the Second Amendment has been written with the best intentions as the most complete solution of its day.
This latest round of 23 solutions proposed by President Obama includes some mental health interventions, including freeing up frederal funding for school resource officers and counselors and requiring insurance plans and Medicaid to cover mental healthcare. Also in the plan, increased funding for law enforcement.
The U.S. history of gun control laws dates back to 1837.
Here are a few of the most high-profile attempts to regulate private gun ownership:
- National Firearms Act of 1934: Regulating fully automatic firearms
- Gun Control Act of 1968: Regulate firearm sales
- Armed Career Criminal Act: Increases penalties for the Gun Control Act of 1986
- Firearms Owners Protection Act: Establishes mandatory penalty for commission of a crime
- Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act: Bans "cop killer" bullets
- Crime Control Act of 1990: Bans manufacturing, importing of semautomatic assault weapons; established "gun-free school zones" penalties
- Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act: five-day waiting period; law enforcement conduct background checks
- Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act: Bans all sale, manufacture, importation, possession of specific assault weapons
- Printz v United States: Brady Law background checks declared unconstitutional
Each law followed fierce public outcry to keep firearms out of the hands of violent and disturbed people, like Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Sirhan Sirhan, and John Hinckley, Jr.
Have the laws succeeded?
To Brady proponents, it's been a "huge success:"
"Brady background checks have contributed to an historic decline in lethal assaults by blocking an estimated 2 million attempts by high-risk people to buy a gun from a licensed gun dealer, based on denials recorded through the end of 2009 (Department of Justice)... Academic research indicates that the Brady law is associated with reductions in homicide."
Back then, as we hear today, the National Rifle Association questioned whether the law violated Second Amendment rights.
For its part, the U.S. Supreme Court found the Brady bill's gun-control requirement that state and local law-enforcement officers conduct background checks violated the Constitution.
Yet, here we stand once more as a nation grappling with a horrible national gun-related tragedy and what it means to implement more and more sanctions on law-abiding citizens.
The Weekly Standard estimates that President Obama and Vice President Biden's proposed reforms could cost the American public at least $4.5 billion in new spending.
The article concludes with an interesting nugget:
"The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which included the assault weapons and high capacity magazine ban (that expired in 2004), authorized the expenditure of $30.2 billion dollars, or about $45 billion in today's dollars."
A hefty pricetag, but worth it - many would argue - if it worked.
With both the Gun Control Act and the Brady laws recently on the books, America still recoiled in honor at the 1999 Columbine High School shooting - the deadliest mass murder committed on a high school campus to date leaving 12 students and one teacher dead.
Back then, folks pointed to concerns of teenage depression, cliques and bullying, along with video game violence.
Neither of the assailants, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, had criminal records. Both assailants used firearms they did not purchase.
Like Lanza, they committed suicide at the culmination of the massacre.
What's to be done? Are there any legal corrections that could have prevented these crimes?
The NRA recently argued that armed police officers in every school would protect children. Yet, there was one assigned to Columbine during that shooting - he even exchanged gunfire with one of the shooters.
While Obama calls to ban assault weapons only, statistically used in less than 2 percent of crimes, others call for more extreme measures - even the unlikely banishment of all firearms that would essentially do away with the Second Amendment.
It would not be the first time.
A full gun ban "misfired" in Washington, D.C. back in 1976, according to a recent Wall Street Journal commentary by former District prosecutor Jeffrey Scott Shapiro who noted some concerning statistics:
"The gun ban had an unintended effect: It emboldened criminals because they knew that law-abiding District residents were unarmed and powerless to defend themselves. Violent crime increased after the law was enacted, with homicides rising to 369 in 1988, from 188 in 1976 when the ban started. By 1993, annual homicides had reached 454."
By 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the city's gun ban was unconstitutional.
What's more, the senior judge wrote in his majority opinion that:
"the black market for handguns in the District is so strong that handguns are readily available (probably at little premium) to criminals. It is asserted, therefore that the D.C. gun control laws irrationally prevent only law abiding citizens from owning handguns."
The Georgia town of Kennesaw, a quiet suburb of Atlanta, agrees. Since 1982, city law required every household to have at least one gun.
Officials say that crime plummeted since the law took effect. Recent crime statistics show the city is well below the national average for both violent and property crime - reporting no homicides
Crime remained low even as the population grew from 5,000 to 30,000. The top crime today: theft under $100 value.
In the last five years, Kennesaw has seen three murders.
Contrast that with the nearby, similar-sized town of Anderson that's seen 21 murders since 2006.
Nationally, the Congressional Research Service report that from 1993 to 2011, gun-related murders have been cut in half. In 1993, there were 17,073 gun kills, for a rate of 6.6 per 100,000 people.
Last year, that was cut to 9,903 murders for a rate of 3.2 per 100,000. Over the past decade, suicides by guns have outnumbered murders.
The complicated, emotionally and politically-charged debate over private gun ownership seems destined to rage on.
One day down the road when another horrific tragedy casts a pall across our land, we may well be examining the outcome of today's proposals, reliving shootings yet-to-be and wondering if we did enough and what we might do to stop the advance of more criminal behavior, to keep the bad people of society from carrying out unspeakable acts.
What seems imminently clear - these shootings leave us feeling vulnerable and afraid.
We cannot live with it, nor stand for it; we clammer for control, to master the chaos, even if only by adding more ineffective words in law books to help us sleep better at night.
Erica Holloway is a BlogHer contributing editor. Follow her @erica_holloway.