In the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, made possible by a loophole in the law that allows semiautomatic weapons to be turned into automatic ones with a simple accessory, the American public appears to support increased gun control – at least for now. To find out what LVHS thinks about gun control, The Tiger Tribune conducted a survey with the help of Mr. Godoy. To see the results, scroll down or flip to the end of the article. First, let’s take a look at what’s being proposed, some statistics on guns, and the amendment that makes guns legal.
Guns are owned worldwide, but the United States has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world. (Switzerland also has a high gun ownership rate because of the way their military works.) In America, there are approximately 100 guns per 100 people, which adds up to over 300 million guns total. This is twice as many guns per capita as there were in 1968. This total includes all guns, many of which are small pistols or hunting rifles. Many of the assault weapons in circulation are owned by ‘super-owners,’ or gun owners who own many expensive and deadly weapons. Some of these owners collect guns simply because they like them; others are preparing for doomsday. According to a Harvard-Northeastern survey, 3% of the adult population of the U.S. owns 50% of all legally obtained guns.
After the Las Vegas shooting, there are renewed doubts about whether people should be allowed to own so many guns – especially assault weapons, which are designed for no purpose other than to kill people. Gun control is complicated, but the main measures proposed are( in no particular order): banning assault weapons, banning bump fire stocks (an accessory that allows a semiautomatic gun to fire much faster by changing the way the trigger is used), creating a national database to keep track of all gun sales, banning high-capacity magazines so that shooters must reload more often, and improving the integrity and comprehensiveness of the background checks required to buy most guns.
These would still be far less restrictive than other countries’ gun laws; in the United Kingdom, prospective gun owners not only have to be thoroughly evaluated by local police officers (not a computerized background check) but also have to present a valid reason for why they need the gun, such as hunting or defense from bears. Once granted approval, UK gun owners are still banned from assault weapons, pump-action guns, and many other classes of weapons that have been deemed too dangerous for the public. They also cannot concealed-carry any loaded gun.
The U.S. has experimented with various implementations of this, notably an assault-weapons ban during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The 1994 ban was not terribly effective, however, because of both significant loopholes and the simple fact that it wasn’t retroactive – all assault weapons that had already been bought previously were still legal. The ban only prevented future sales of assault weapons, and gun manufacturers got around it by slightly tweaking their guns to sidestep the law’s horrendously complicated definition of what an assault weapon was. The ban expired in 2004, and it’s unknown whether it had any effect on gun violence.
Many people believe there is a constitutional right to bear arms that cannot be infringed in any way, but the 2nd Amendment is not so clearly worded as that, and the Supreme Court has upheld gun control laws. The 2nd Amendment does clearly state that people should be able to carry guns, this brief passage says nothing about assault weapons or concealed-carry, as those did not exist when the Constitution was written. The wording is also vague; it suggests that guns should be legal as the basis for a ‘well-regulated militia’, which can be interpreted many different ways. It is definitely clear that gun owners, especially ‘super-owners,’ are neither well-regulated nor a militia. The gun culture of the U.S. has has moved away from the ragtag militias of the 18th century, towards a more ‘every man for himself’ approach. The only thing that is undisputed about the 2nd Amendment is that it does call for some form of civilian gun ownership to be legal.
Most of the people who own non-hunting weapons (besides super-owners) have them for defense from robbery and murder. The oft-repeated saying “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” sums up this view. However, recent studies suggest that this may not be true; according to an FBI review 160 past of active-shooter situations in the U.S.A., only one was stopped by an armed civilian. By comparison, 21 were stopped by unarmed civilians – usually while the shooter was reloading.
Because the best opportunity for a bystander – armed or not – to intervene is the few seconds when the shooter has no ammunition, smaller magazines have the potential of reducing fatalities by forcing the gun’s user to reload more frequently. High-capacity magazines have the opposite effect, allowing the shooter to cause massive casualties without reloading once. Therefore, one possible law that has been tossed around is banning these magazines, defined by the characteristic that they hold more rounds than the gun manufacturer intends for that model of gun. The Las Vegas shooter made use of high-capacity magazines, but also many other devices that increased the capacity and frequency of his many assault rifles.
As do all high-profile gun disasters, the Las Vegas shooting has had a significant effect on the percentage of Americans who believe gun control should be stricter. According to a Politico poll conducted shortly after the tragedy, that number is currently 64% of all respondents, including 41% strongly support increased gun control. Many respondents took a neutral position, and only 29% expressed opposition to stricter laws. This includes the 16% who were in strong opposition.
As usual, numbers were divided along partisan lines (though not as much as one might expect), with a whopping 83% of Democrats saying they support increased gun control. Independents, the middle ground, were 58% in favor, while 49% of Republicans took that position. Despite these seemingly high numbers across all parties, only 26% of all respondents said there is an excellent or good chance that Congress will act upon this shooting and pass stricter gun control laws.
Our survey conducted at LVHS provided similar results. 76% of respondents said they were in favor of stricter gun control, while only 15% said current gun control policies are effective. 55% said assault weapons should be banned, while only 15% were opposed to this (the other 30% chose ‘No opinion’).
“Right now, our gun control has allowed a person to get dozens of semi automatic weapons, tons of ammunition, and devices allowing those guns to become almost fully automatic,” said one pro-gun-control respondent explaining their opinion. Another wrote, “On one side, you have this idea about protection and wanting to own a gun in order to keep one’s self or family safe. But, when horrible, disgusting things like this happen, I believe we need to start to take action. This cannot happen again, and it should have never happened to begin with.”
Another respondent, who was pro-gun-control, appeared to deviate from their family’s opinions, saying, “A lot of my family would be extremely mad if guns were banned, but there is also a point that they need to be stopped from being used in the wrong way.”
Few students expressed actual opposition to increased gun control, with only a couple of long-answer responses submitted that expressed this position. One respondent who did take this position said, “It’s not the gun [we need to ban], it’s the people – a gun can’t shoot itself.” A respondent, who said that current gun control policies are effective, did see the need for gun control, but said, “People who want guns find them even if they are illegal.”
The Las Vegas shooting has indeed crystallized public opinion as to gun control, but this public support is likely to be short-term and will probably not lead to any action by Congress, because of the opposition to gun control has proven greater than the need in the past. The National Rifle association, however, recently said it is open to some new gun-control measures, namely banning bump fire stocks and other accessories that transform a legal gun into one that is just as dangerous as an illegal one. The gun-control story is likely not even close to over; before people even had a chance to recover from the Las Vegas shooting, another happened at a church in Texas. Twenty-six were killed, and the breakdown of the incident offered talking points for everyone – from the NRA to those who feel that guns should be banned entirely.