New gun laws? Don't aim at only mass shootings like Sandy Hook.
We only take notice when gun violence is sufficiently spectacular, such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But on a typical day in the US, 33 people are murdered by guns, and 50 die in gun-related suicides. It's time to regulate.
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One other oft-heard argument in support of unrestricted gun ownership is that gun owners can stand against internal tyranny or external military threat. The idea that random Americans wielding personal firearms – or even a group or groups of armed Americans – might constitute a viable military force may work for Hollywood, but not in reality.Skip to next paragraph
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But even a recent historical example – Slovenia’s 1991 fight for independence from Yugoslavia – was entirely based on the mobilization of local Slovenian police and the country’s national guard in order to succeed. The better way to guarantee and participate in political liberty or national security in the US is through civic participation or military service.
The need to better restrict access to guns is urgent. Millions of Americans suffer from depression or have serious problems with controlling anger – a vast pool of people who potentially pose a risk of harm to themselves or to others that is needlessly exacerbated by the easy availability of guns.
And tens of thousands of Americans are seriously mentally ill, and categorically should not be allowed to own firearms. Yet we tolerate such seriously ineffective barriers to gun purchasing that even deeply troubled people can walk into a Wal-Mart and buy a Smith & Wesson. Background checks and data entries must be much more thorough.
Violent crime in America has been declining since the early 1990s. Still, it is far greater in the US than in other industrialized countries. This criminal violence is needlessly amplified by a thriving illegal black market in guns that is facilitated by lax regulation of gun sales. In effect, states such as Virginia that permit promiscuous, multiple gun purchases are exporting murder and mayhem into cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.
Legislators in such states must now respond to the facts, as reported by a study underwritten by 300 US mayors. The 2008 study found that states with lax gun laws had more sales of weapons used in crimes in other states than did states with more strict regulations (the lax states also had higher rates of handgun killings and of fatal shootings of police officers).
A rational analysis of the immense social costs of unregulated gun ownership shows they far exceed the benefits gun ownership confers. Arguing otherwise is to say a weekend hobby of hunting or target practice is more important than the lives of 20 schoolchildren or tens of thousands of other Americans. Or that profits from selling handguns by the dozen are more important than the rights of millions of inner-city residents to live in relative security.
Gun violence in America is a national plague that we urgently need to eradicate. Let Newtown be the new day for gun regulation, beginning with a return to outlawing assault weapons, the very kind that shooter Adam Lanza used to such devastating effect.
Mark Nuckols is a professor of law and business at Moscow State University Higher School of Business and at the Russian Academy of National Economy. He grew up in rural Virginia.