The Rights and Wrongs of Owning Guns
The Rights and Wrongs of Owning Guns
The deaths of more than 30 people on the campus of Virginia Tech, in what is probably the deadliest incident of its kind in American history, should renew the debate on gun ownership in the United States. The Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva estimated that there are between 238 and 276 million guns owned by civilians in the United States. Unless more strict laws are enacted regarding gun ownership, thousands of innocent lives will continue to be lost to what has become a tragic pandemic in the U.S.The issue of gun ownership in the U.S. is centered on the Second Amendment to the Constitution: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Opponents of gun control emphasize the last part of the sentence, "...the right of people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed," neglecting to give much weight to the first part of the sentence pointing to a "well regulated militia" as the holders of this constitutional entitlement.
Average citizens are not the ones entitled to claim a constitutional right under the Second Amendment, but rather those belonging to a group of civilians trained as soldiers who, in case of an emergency, must become available to supplement the regular armies. Accordingly, in a 1982 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held: "Construing [the language of the Second Amendment] according to its plain meaning, it seems clear that the right to bear arms is inextricably connected to the preservation of a militia...We conclude that the right to keep and bear handguns is not guaranteed by the Second Amendment."
Self-defense is often cited to justify the people's right to bear arms, yet research has shown that a gun kept in a home is 43 times more likely to kill a member of the household or a friend than an intruder. Resorting to firearms to resist a violent assault has shown to increase the victim's risk of injury and death.
Gun violence places a significant burden on health and rehabilitation services. In some cities in the U.S., emergency rooms (nicknamed "knife and gun clubs") report frequent gridlock. Although non-lethal injuries caused by firearms have recently go down in number, this is most likely due to the fact that emergency room doctors and technology are now better equipped to deal with these injuries.
In a study by Dr. Arthur Kellermann published in The New England Journal of Medicine, it was found that, excluding factors such as previous history of violence, class, race, etc. a household where there is a gun is 2.7 times more likely to experience a murder than a household without one. It has been found that the number of teenagers who die from gunshot wounds in the United States is greater than for all other causes combined.
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, among 26 developed countries, 86% of gun deaths among children under 15 occurred in the U.S. In 1998 (the last year when this kind of statistic was compiled) 19 people were murdered with handguns in Japan, compared to 11,789 in the U.S.
Groups opposing gun control in the U.S. spend enormous sums of money lobbying elected and government officials. Thus, the Gun Owners of America spent $18 million between 1997 and 2003, and the National Rifle Association spent $11 million over the same period of time for those purposes.
According to the Children's Defense Fund, since 1979, gun violence has resulted in the deaths of 101,413 children and teens in the U.S. This is more than the total number of American fatalities since the end of World War II, including the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
There is no successful strategy for dealing with youth gun violence. The complexity of the phenomenon demands integral, comprehensive approaches flexible enough to adapt to specific circumstances. Educational, judicial and prison reform measures are necessary to control gun ownership, and to assess and monitor mass media's social responsibility.
The right to bear arms without restrictions is a step backwards to controlling violence. It contradicts experience and the belief of peaceful people everywhere that eliminating guns will lead to a safer, more humane world.
Dr. CÃƒ©sar Chelala is an international public health consultant and the author of the Pan American Health Organization publication "Violence in the Americas."