Gun Control Controversies: Between Restriction and Liberalization Free

The Politics of Gun Control


Since the late 1970s, the National Rifle Association and other defenders of the right to bear firearms have successfully struggled to make armed self-defense acceptable in the daily life of Americans. Today, the United States of America is the country with the most loyal gun control legislation. Thus, according to various estimates, the US citizens own from 230 to 270 million firearm units, which means that there are more than 84 weapons for every 100 people (Circo et al. 799; Kelsay et al. 1936; Kleck et al. 488; Spitzer 17). The number of weapons is explained by the ease of its legal obtaining, relatively low cost, as well as the establishment of the need for self-defense with the help of weapons as a social norm.

However, a result of the recent cases of mass shootings, as well as unauthorized use of weapons by inadequate students in schools, there was an active discussion of the possibility to restrict or prohibit the free flow of weapons. Indeed, according to assessments of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, nearly 115 thousand people are annually shot in the US in cases of violent crimes, accidents, suicides, and police interventions (Spitzer 153). Today, murder involving firearms is the second most common cause of death among young people aged up to 19 in the US, and the first most common cause among black young people (Circo et al. 804). Thus, for instance, 17 people became the victims of shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the city of Parkland, conducted by the 19-year-old Nicholas Cruz, who suffered from mental illness all his life. Another 17-year-old student, Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire in the Santa Fe school using the gun stolen from his father, resulting in the killing of 10 people. Overall, since 2013, there were 313 cases of shooting only in educational institutions, 43 of which, including the shooting in Santa Fe took place in 2018 (Spitzer 105).

Thus, ownership of weapons has a special impact on the number of murders: on the one hand, the law-abiding citizens with guns can protect their livers from attacks of criminals, but on the other hand, gun ownership increases the number of violent crimes as such. In this paper, we discuss whether the stricter legislative measures as opposed to further liberalization are able to result in the effective solution of the gun control problem, as well as explore the possibilities of alternative solutions.


Current gun laws in the US

The right of Americans to own firearms is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, adopted in 1791 and supported by a number of federal laws that regulate the procedure for the possession and use of firearms, including the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, the Gun Control Act of 1968, and Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 (Spitzer 33-44; 186-209). Generally, under current federal rules, handguns can be purchased only by people over the age of 21, shotguns or rifles and ammunition – after reaching the age of 18. Firearms cannot be sold to unregistered migrants or non-residents, previously convicted or imprisoned people, drug addicts and people with mental disorders, as well as former military servants discharged from the army for any dishonorable actions. In turn, dealers who want to sell firearms must obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL), and like in case with handgun owners, it requires reaching the age of 21. In addition to special premises for their business, they must immediately inform their local law enforcement official about applying for a FFL. The restrictions for obtaining the dealership license are the same as for obtaining the firearms described above. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 also requires holders of FFLs to conduct a background check on firearm purchasers, in particular, fill out a federal form known as the ATF 4473.

However, most of the rules to own or possess firearms are set individually by US states. Thus, for instance, in 46 states there are no restrictions on the number of purchased guns, and only four states have a rule according to which an individual can obtain one firearm item per month (Spitzer 238). In 43 states, the purchase of weapons does not require any purchase permits for handguns or registration (Spitzer 239). In 27 states, the buyer’s background check includes not only the federal criminal database but also the databases of the state itself; it means that in 23 states, the inquiry for such check is sent only to the federal authorities (Spitzer 239-40). 44 states also have no regulation over the secondary market of weapons, which means that any gun owner can easily sell it to anyone (Spitzer 240). Furthermore, only 38 states fully prohibit bringing weapons into the school grounds, 16 have established such a ban on university campuses, while some leave these rules to discretion of the universities (Spitzer 102-107).

The varying state laws currently continue to create numerous controversies, and the existing ambiguity is the probably the underlying reason for the actuality of debates on changing gun control laws.


Legislative loopholes and the need for gun control restrictions

Despite the fact that each state has its own laws and restrictions on the possession of weapons by civilians, in most parts of the country weapons are very affordable. Numerous expects call both federal and local laws weak due to a multitude of loopholes that are easy to use. For instance, any individual without a FFL is still allowed to sell firearms if one’s motive does not include making profit through repeated sales; other exception includes individuals giving their personal firearms as gifts (Spitzer 227-30). This, in turn, means that not every purchaser undergoes the required background check, which leads to the situation when firearms may end up in hands of persons who are eligible to possess them, including underage children. In sum, according to the latest estimates, nearly 20% of gun-related transactions legally avoid background checks (Kelsay et al. 1941).

Moreover, when the background check is conducted, it is assessed to take under 10 minutes on average, with FFL holder typically receiving immediate answer from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (Spitzer 242). As a result, more than 95% of those who applied for the permission to buy a handgun or revolver receives it (Circo et al. 801). As Circo et al. (802) found, the ones who do not get it most commonly include those who suffered from the mistakes of a bureaucratic apparatus or have unpaid fines. In addition, if it is difficult to buy weapons in one state, nothing prevents you from going to another state to buy a gun there.

As a result of liberalization of state legislation, the number of cases of violence with the use of weapons, as well as mass shootings in the country is growing each year. From 2000 to 2014, there were 113 mass shootings in the United States; for comparison, in Germany there were only 6 (Kelsay et al. 1945). Furthermore, in recent FBI report, it was indicated that for the period of 2016-2017 there was a sharp increase in deaths and injuries as a result of mass shooting (Kelsay et al. 1946). This is mainly due to three incidents that include the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed, the Pulse night club in Orlando, where 50 people were killed, and First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where another 26 people were shot dead. Overall, in situations of active shooting, 943 people died. Of these, 221 people were killed and 722 died of injuries (Kelsay et al. 1946). For comparison, the agency’s report of 2014–2015 recorded 92 deaths and 139 injuries as a result of mass shooting (Kelsay et al. 1947).

Moreover, as Circo et al. (804) note, most often, the killers had never had any problems with the law and were not on the lists of people with mental disorders; therefore, they could buy weapons without any restrictions. According to Spitzer (230), 40% of rifles and handguns are sold without prior assessment of purchaser’s mental adequacy. Furthermore, according to Stanford University research, the states that have simplified the process of acquiring and registering firearms for their residents demonstrate higher level of non-fatal violent crimes than states that have restricted the right (Circo et al. 806-08). In addition, the number of weapons is directly related to the number of suicides and accidental deaths. Overall, per every case of gun use for self-defense, there are 1.3 cases of accidental death, 4.6 cases of use of weapon for committing a crime and 37 suicides accomplished via firearms (Kelsay et al. 1946-48).

As Circo et al. (816) and Kelsay et al. (1952) suggest, the increasing number of privately owned firearms can latently increase crime in several ways. First, while law-abiding citizens increasingly arm themselves, criminals follow their example, which leads to an arms race and violent crime involving more and more powerful weapons or their increasing quantity. In addition, citizens of states with liberal gun control laws generally realize that their neighborhood is filled with firearms, which gradually changes their perception of norms of safety and violence towards greater aggression.


The disadvantages of gun control restrictions

On the other hand, the situation in an unarmed society can be even more complex and tragic. Certainly, there are cases of deaths as a result of improper handling of weapons and, unfortunately, premeditated murders, as well as suicides. However, according to Lott (125), the incidence of using weapons for self-defense is 80 times the number of cases of the use of weapons for deliberate harm. For example, more than 200,000 women have used weapons for self-defense because of the attempted rape (Lott 127). Criminals also expressed fear of armed citizens. Thus, three out of five offenders say they would not attack an armed person (Lott 128). Citizens owning weapons effectively help police fight crime. In the US, the number of criminals liquidated by the police is 606, while armed citizens killed 1527 individuals who intended to commit a violent crime (Lott 213). At the same time, the rate of injury or death of random people from armed citizens is five times lower than that of the police (Lott 214).

Besides, the statistics show that in the mass shootings, armed citizens are more effective than the police. If there is an armed person among the victims of the attack, the offender will be able to take life of an average 2.3 persons, and if the victims are completely unarmed, that number increases to an average of 14.3 on average (Kleck et al. 489). In particular, according to FBI reports, armed citizens recently have prevented or stopped the mass shooting in a school in Pearl, Mississippi, in a school in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, in a restaurant in the town of Winnemucca, Nevada, and in the church in the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado (Kelsay et al. 1938).

Overall, the level of violent crime shows to be higher in those states where there is a strict legal regulation of the turnover of civilian weapons. For example, European countries where the population has a minimum number of weapons have a three times higher murder rate compared to the countries with a fairly large number of weapons owned by the population (Lott 303). For instance, when the British government introduced a ban on the possession of weapons in 1997, the number of violent crimes increased by 77%. Today, Britain is the deadliest country in the European Union with 2034 committed violent crimes per 100 thousand people per year. After the ban on the possession of handguns, the main instrument of crime is kitchen knives. For comparison, the number of violent crimes per 100 thousand people per year in the US is only 466 (Lot 310-315).

Moreover, according to the FBI, in the states that have provided citizens the right to carry concealed weapons, the number of homicides dropped by 8.5 %, rapes by 5%, robberies by 3% and aggravated assaults by 7% (Kleck et al. 501). For instance, in Virginia, where permission is obtained directly in the store without any waiting period, violent crimes are committed 34.6% less, murders 3.7% less, and robberies 76.9% less than generally in the country (Kleck et al. 502). In contrast, the recent 2017 experiment in Chicago on restricting the rules of licensing resulted in 10% growth of murders with using fire weapons as compared to the 2016 data (Kelsay et al. 1943).

Finally, according to NRA statistics, no more than 7% of the armed criminals have acquired weapons in a legal way, others use contraband and other illegal shipments (Lot 276). As a result, tighter rules for the purchase of weapons will not touch those who buy weapons on the black market. For example, the State of New Jersey has some of the most severe restrictions on the sale and possession of firearms, however, these restrictions have not led to a decrease in the crime rate. In its annual report for 2014, the organization Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gives examples of how anyone in New Jersey can purchase a weapon on the black market in a few minutes without having to fill in piles of documents and waiting several months for them to be checked (Spitzer 243). Many of those who buy weapons on the black market do not even know of the restrictions that exist in the state. Similarly, while there are about 70 thousand firearm items registered in New York, according to the police, people own at least 750 thousand handguns and rifles (Spitzer 244). Thus, more than 90%of weapons are purchased illegally.

In this way, despite the fact that removing weapons from the hands of criminals is a tempting goal and an attractive propaganda slogan, no one really knows how to approach its achievement. In fact, severe restrictions or a ban on the possession of weapons does not affect the possibility of its illegal access, and therefore it is possible that the solution should lie in a different area.


Future perspectives and alternatives

The above analysis shows that while restricting laws of owning firearms might not result in desired crime rate reduction, the main problem of current legislation is the existence of loopholes in obtaining permits and background checks, as well as the inter-state controversy of regulations. Thus, for instance, Steven Paddock, the shooter at the music festival, who killed 59 and injured 527 people, acquired all the weapons completely legal, as dealers did not find any grounds to refuse the purchase of weapons. Furthermore, even if someone from the hotel staff understood that Paddock carried weapons to the room, no one could stop him, because a law that would allow preventing it simply does not exist in the state. In the case of Nikolas Cruz, it should be noted that the student was expelled from school as a disciplinary measure, and his relatives and friends reported his inadequate mental condition, but these warnings were ignored, and he easily passed the background check. In turn, the juvenile shooter in Santa Fe had no difficulty to take his father’s gun as it is allowed to be kept in the free access without any special safe.

In this regard, possession of a firearm should also impose a high responsibility on their owners. Therefore, there should be a more severe punishment for those people, whose levity or negligence allows weapon fall into the hands of other people; in particular, there is a need for more careful regulation of online transactions and transfers by gift. In the fight against crime, preventive measures that limit the possibilities of criminals are also very important. For example, preventive checks of suspicious individuals by the police when patrolling criminal areas of New York and Kansas City have significantly reduced the crime rate in these cities, as Kelsay et al. 1952 report.

An alternative bill on gun control may include, in particular, such provisions as

– deepening the background checks, including retraining the licensed dealers to conduct them at a higher level;

– a mandatory waiting period of receiving weapons at purchase to prevent those who acquire it in anger or in a fit of illness, but does not have access to the black market;

– increasing the budget for monitoring mental health and empowering law enforcement agencies to confiscate weapons or prohibit their possession in the event of a suspicion that a person suffers from a mental disorder;

– introducing voluntary arming programs in schools, which allows school personnel to carry weapons at work after completing special training;

– extensive equipment of gun-free zones with alarm buttons.

In general, legislative efforts should be focused not on taking the weapons away from the law-abiding citizens and leaving them unprotected, but on providing a strong deterrent and preventive effect. In the meanwhile, reducing the number of crimes committed with firearms remains one of the most topical and controversial problems in the US.


Works Cited:

Circo, Giovanni M., Pizarro, Jesenia, and Edmund F. McGarrell. “Adult and Youth Involvement in Gun-Related Crime: Implications for Gun Violence Prevention Interventions.” Criminal Justice Policy Review 29.8 (2016): 799-822.

Kelsay, James D., Papp, Jordan, Wareham,Jennifer, and Brad W. Smith. “In Guns We Trust: A Reexamination of the Collective Security Hypothesis.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 45.12 ( 2018): 1936-1954.

Kleck, Gary, Kovandzic, Tomislav, and Jon Bellows. “Does Gun Control Reduce Violent Crime?” Criminal Justice Review 41.4 (2016): 488-513.

Lott, John R. More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws (3rd ed.). University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Spitzer, Robert J. The Politics of Gun Control (7th ed.).  Routledge, 2017.

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

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