Gun Control

Gun Control

Gun Control in the U.S.

Many opponents of gun control consider self-defense to be a fundamental and unalienable human right and believe that firearms are an important tool in the exercise of this right. They consider the prohibition of an effective means of self-defense to be unethical. For instance, in Thomas Jefferson’s “Commonplace Book,” a quote from Cesare Beccaria reads,

“laws that forbid the carrying of arms … disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes … Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”

Before the American Civil War ended, state slave codes prohibited slaves from owning guns. After slavery in the U.S. was abolished, states persisted in prohibiting black people from owning guns under laws renamed Black Codes.

The United States Congress overrode most portions of the Black Codes by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The legislative histories of both the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as The Special Report of the Anti-Slavery Conference of 1867, are replete with denunciations of those particular statutes that denied blacks equal access to firearms.

After the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1868, most states turned to “facially neutral” business or transaction taxes on handgun purchases. However, the intention of these laws was not neutral. An article in Virginia’s official university law review called for a “prohibitive tax…on the privilege” of selling handguns as a way of disarming “the son of Ham,” whose “cowardly practice of ‘toting’ guns has been one of the most fruitful sources of crime…. Let a Negro board a railroad train with a quart of mean whiskey and a pistol in his grip and the chances are that there will be a murder, or at least a row, before he alights.” Thus, many Southern states imposed high taxes or banned inexpensive guns in order to price destitute individuals out of the gun market.

A number of studies have examined the correlation between rates of gun ownership and gun-related, as well as overall, homicide and suicide rates internationally. Martin Killias, in a 1993 study covering 21 countries, found that there were significant correlations between gun ownership and gun-related suicide and homicide rates. There was also a significant though lesser correlation between gun ownership and total homicide rates A later study published by Killias et al. in 2001, based on a larger sample of countries found, “very strong correlations between the presence of guns in the home and suicide committed with a gun, rates of gun-related homicide involving female victims, and gun-related assault.” The authors suggest that the correlation between the presence of guns in the home and suicide and homicide of females is best explained as causal, i.e. the presence of guns is the cause of the mortality and not the reverse.

The study found no correlation for similar crimes against men, total rates of assault or for robbery, however, the authors note that the relationship between availability of guns and male homicide is complex, and the data may be affected by wars, organized crime, street crime and crime rates among various countries. They also note that, “the absence of significant correlations between gun ownership and total homicide, assault, or suicide rates…[leaves] open the question of possible substitution effects.” (In other words, other means could have been substituted for firearms used in the commission of homicide or suicide.)


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