President Obama has announced that the topic of focus during his final year as president will be gun control. He has announced some factors that he believes contributes to our high rate of gun deaths. However, the president is continuing the failed rhetoric of previous gun control advocates. Part of which is flat out false, the rest is misleading.
The first thing the president says is that Americans are not more violent than other developed nations, but our citizens simply have more access to firearms. His statement is inherently flawed because the number of firearms and access to these firearms has never been linked to gun violence. As a matter of fact, the number of guns and gun owners in the United States has been increasing consistently over the last four years, while gun violence and almost all violent crime in general has been decreasing in that same time frame. It is important to note here however that correlation does not prove causation. Which is also relevant when I mention Switzerland. The Swiss have the second highest firearm ownership rate per capita in the world. Yet they have the one of the lowest violent crime rates in Europe. The Swiss have easy access to firearms. Almost comparable to the U.S, but with some different regulations. Until a few years ago Swiss firearm ownership was almost universal due to their practice of universal conscription. Again, the Swiss have had a strong gun culture and a high firearm ownership rate for a long time now, yet they still have a much lower crime rate than other European countries.
The second error in his statement is that easy access to guns is “the only variable” that separates the US and other developed nations. First off, the Swiss example disproves his statement outright. Another thing to keep in mind is that many European countries have been relatively homogenous nations. France is French. Germany is German. Britain is British. The US is not. We are made up of all of these nationalities and more. The US is a melting pot of culture and ethnicity. Though today we are closer to harmony than ever before, there has been a legacy of discrimination and oppression in this nation. If you look at the victims of gun violence they tend to be from these formerly oppressed groups. From minorities in the inner city. In the Democratic debate, when Sanders called gun violence an urban issue and not a rural issue he was not wrong. Neither was Hillary Clinton when she said it was a Black issue, not a white issue. Though she said that in an attempt to make Sanders appear racist, or insensitive. It is not entirely false. Of the thirty or so people killed each day in firearm homicides, over half are African Americans. Specifically those in cities like Detroit and Chicago. The real question should be why? Why is twelve percent of the population accounting for over half of the firearm deaths?
Gun control will not change anything. A prominent politician from Australia has come out and said that Australia’s model should not be followed. He said that since guns are now almost impossible to own as a private citizen “We are a nation of victims”. Meanwhile “There’s a very vigorous black market for guns, so it’s not made the slightest bit of difference; if you want a gun, you can get one.” This really hits home in the case of US gun violence. Most of the firearms used in crime are bought illegally or stolen. If we as a nation addressed the societal issues behind gun violence, then we could save lives without taking away constitutional rights.
Maryland has announced the discontinuation of one of its firearm laws. Firearms dealers will no longer be required to submit a spent shell casing to the police after they sell a weapon. The spent casing would be used to create a firearm fingerprinting system to prevent crime. The entire system has been a failure and soon will be gone.
The biggest problem the system faced was the sheer quantity of casings coming in, as well as the flawed software used to document them. Over three hundred thousand casings are sitting in a former bomb shelter in Maryland. Most of them have not been scanned since scanning was discontinued in 2007. It makes you wonder why they would keep collecting these casings if they aren’t recording them. The records stopped being kept once they realized that the software being used to document the shells was completely useless. Sometimes when used it would “spit out hundreds of matches” and leave police clueless. The software was so bad that “The state sued the manufacturer in 2009 for $1.9 million” and eventually settled out of court. The entire system was an attempt to copy the federal database that tracks firearms used in crime. The Maryland system tried to document all firearms in the state. It was doomed from the start and never really provided law enforcement with any useful data.
Besides the faulty software and overload of shell casings, the plan was doomed from the start. The idea that a shell casing from a new gun will act as a fingerprint is completely wrong. Yes, firearms do have a ballistic fingerprint, but it is not static like a human fingerprint. The unique engravings made on a shell casing change after use. Especially after the first few hundred rounds. “Normal wear from shooting would inevitably alter the surfaces leaving markings on the brass to such a degree that the original piece of brass would be useless for comparison” making the entire system flawed from the beginning. Also “Greater wear would inevitably cause an enormous number of false positives” as shown by the hundreds of results from police searches on the current system. New York also implemented a similar program to collect shell casings. They have also cut funding for their version of the program too.
Another serious problem with the law is that it required manufacturers to fire a round off from a new gun before sale. This is like driving a car before selling it. The value instantly decreases once it is used. This “Drove the gun collector’s nuts” and was a complete waste. Combine this with the huge surge in firearm sales once the 2013 ban was instituted and you have thousands of pissed off gun collectors buying more guns before a ban takes place, while the state law requires them to be fired and a shell taken. So the weapons then decrease in value and irritate the purchasers even more. The increase in sales also had the effect of flooding the already crowded registry with more casings that needed to be taken care of.
In the end, the system failed because it showed a clear lack of understanding in terms of firearm crime. Most weapons used in crime were “bought nearly 15 years prior” and acquired illegally. So the logic behind collecting new firearm sale casings from legal purchasers is illogical. Even If the firearms are used fifteen years down the road in crime, the ballistics of the weapon will have changed by then. The two million dollar attempt seems to be very far from paying back what was put in.
The Democratic candidates and NRA are finally addressing the overrepresentation of African Americans in gun violence. However, they are doing so in a highly inappropriate and harmful way. In both cases race is being used to define a prejudice that one candidate or another has, or even a hidden agenda by the president. Neither group is offering a solution to the problem.
During the Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders brought up the fact that gun violence is largely an urban issue. He mentioned this to explain his relatively lax position on gun control. Bernie Sanders is from a rural state with a strong gun culture, so taking a strong position on the issue would be tough to do while keeping the support of his constituents. After the debate, Hillary Clinton equated what Sanders said to effectively mean that gun violence is a “Black issue” in an attempt to make Sanders seem racially insensitive. Though she is right in bringing up that many of the victims of urban gun violence are African American, she did so in an attempt to discredit another candidate and did not offer any form of solution to the issue. She reframed what Sanders said from Rural vs. Urban to White vs. Black. Though African Americans are over-represented in firearm homicides it is hardly a black and white issue. I would have hoped that the issue would be framed as law abiding citizens vs. criminals, but in the cut-throat politics of today this is probably all we can expect.
The NRA also took its shot at making this a race issue. In a video released by Wayne LaPierre–the executive vice president of the NRA—he hints “that Obama is somehow conspiring with Chicago gangbangers to make the good, honest Americans living out in farm towns in Nebraska or Oklahoma live in fear”. He makes this argument because “Under the existing federal gun laws, he could take every felon with a gun, drug dealer with a gun and criminal gangbanger with a gun off the streets tomorrow and lock them up for five years or more” but “he won’t do it, his Justice Department won’t do it, and the media never asks why”. Though there are strict Federal Firearm laws in place for the illegal possession of a firearm and many of those caught are not prosecuted, or given light sentences. Claiming that our president is purposefully attempting to create heightened levels of gun violence in order to push through more legislation is absurd. Especially when it is his home city of Chicago that is suffering the most, and the people he is supposed to represent that are dying in unquestionably high numbers. It doesn’t add up.
Gun violence is not a race issue. It is a public health issue that needs to be addressed. The best way to fix a public health issue is to find the roots of its existence. In the case of gun violence poverty, drugs, and a culture of violence are to blame for the high crime rate in urban centers, while affluence, education, and a culture of gun ownership can explain the lower gun crime in rural and suburban areas. Hopefully, the candidates and the NRA will wise up to the fact that pulling the race card won’t solve anything.