The debate about guns in the U.S. has reached fever pitch. Recent massacres, especially that which took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, are some of the worst in American history. These events have spurred a new round of debate on how to prevent future gun violence.
In recent months, there has been some movement on the federal level in terms of modifying existing regulations. These possible changes would limit access to assault rifles, downsize magazine clips (basically limiting the number of bullets a gun can hold, which in the case of machine guns is A LOT), expand background checks and review mental health protocols, according to a USA Today article.
But here’s the question: Is it enough, or are we totally off base? The answer may be the latter, and for several reasons.
Scientific American Magazine published a study in its July 2013 issue that collected statistical data on killings, which included murders, man slaughters, and self-defense. The study found that men committed more than 90% of all killings, and that their weapon of choice was usually a gun. In 2010, the number of killings in the U.S. from gun shots was 11,450, compared to only 4,013 killings committed using other weapons such as knives or blunt objects.
The study’s findings should be an important part of the debate over what to do about guns because many people who oppose gun regulations say that guns aren’t the main cause for violence. They say, “Leave our guns alone,” because guns aren’t the problem. These people are very obviously wrong.
The other matter that should be part of the debate is that simply modifying existing regulations could be missing the point completely. The USA Today article took a look at the city of Camden, New Jersey and its ubiquitous gun violence. It said that in 2011, Camden’s murder rate — 61 per 100,000 people — was about 12 times the U.S. and New Jersey rates. In 2012 alone, sixty-seven homicides were recorded in the city. According to the article, Camden County Chief of Police Scott Thomson said:
“You have this paradox in that New Jersey has arguably the toughest gun laws in the nation, yet has a city within it that has gun violence at Third World country rates.”
Much of the reason for this is that 98% of crimes in Camden are not committed by assault weapons with massive magazine clips, but those are the guns that are a big focus of New Jersey’s regulations. Instead, in most shootings, semiautomatic 9mm handguns are used, and they are usually illegally obtained. People who want guns simply find a way around the laws.
A young man named Anderson Baker, a former gang member, was interviewed by USA Today for the story. What he had to say should also be entered into the debate:
“When I was younger, I would see my boys and cousins going into jail and when they got out, all the girls wanted them. So, I wanted to go to jail. I wanted to be like America’s Most Wanted. I wanted my name to be known on the streets.
Gun laws to people in Camden are like saying you’ll get a ticket if you jaywalk. It means nothing. Most politicians don’t get that.”
The regulations don’t say anything about getting girls or wanting your name known on the streets. They don’t address cultural factors or mindset. They don’t address what a young boy sees as he’s walking through his own neighborhood.
So it seems clear that not only are the components of the regulations irrelevant, but the regulations themselves. In truth, much of the debate is irrelevant, and will remain so until we start talking about what’s really going on.