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The Great Gun Debate

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The Great Gun Debate

Introduction Among the more diverse issues in an already polarized society is a national perspective of guns (Hargrove & Perdue, 2015). The gun debate in the U.S. dates back to the 18th century, when the nation’s founders were crafting the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution, adopted in 1791 (Smith & Ross, 2013). All gun control debates turn on interpretations of the Second Amendment, the worst written and most bizarre part of the constitution (Eichenwald, 2015). The Second Amendment gave Americans the right to “bear arms;” however, for more than 200 years, people have disagreed over how to interpret the amendment (Smith & Ross, 2013). Heated debates over guns have created division among “we the people.” On one end of the divide are pro-gun extremists. On the opposite end of the divide are anti-gun extremists. Then, there is the rational middle—the group that is often left out of the debate. This group typically consists of average law-abiding citizens who do not believe that Americans should be stripped of their rights to bear arms, but, rather, that some laws should be tightened up to ensure that guns and deadly accessories, such as high-capacity magazines, stay out of the wrong hands. Over the years, numerous mass shootings in schools have forced lawmakers to assess and tighten gun-control laws, which has also reignited the fiery gun debate. This assessment will attempt to uncover a proper course of action via a rigorous analysis of constitutional law and ethical theories in order to restore the peace to a divided nation.
The Issue Historically, the issue of gun violence seems to have haunted the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms, especially when connected with schools (Arnold, 2015). The multitude of mass school shootings over the years has only proven this statement true. After several school shootings – from Columbine to the more recent Arapahoe High School shooting – the question emerges: what can be done to prevent, or at least limit the destruction and horrendous loss of life that occurs when madmen shoot at schools (Arnold, 2015)? The gun-free school zone act of 1990 made it a federal offense for any individual to knowingly possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows or has reasonable cause to believe is a school zone (Arnold, 2015). Although the gun-free school zone act does not go against constitutional rights, the law does make gun-free zones viable targets for criminals who do not abide by the letter of the law. The overarching issue is that our schools should be armed in some manner so that potential shooters know that they will face resistance if they attempt to go into the school with guns blazing. Utah is an example of how arming the good guys actually works better than stripping them of their armor. In Utah, citizens that have been issued concealed carry permits are allowed to carry weapons at any public school as well as any state college system (Arnold, 2015). The data from Utah campuses reveal no incidents of the slightest misuse of a firearm by a person with a legal permit; in addition, there have been no instances of attempted mass murders at any school in Utah (Arnold, 2015). This premise provides strong evidence that deterrence can be provided by arming the good guys rather than disarming them (Arnold, 2015). Rather than disarming our schools through the gun-free school zone act, lawmakers should instead focus on the repeal of that law and find ways to arm the good guys. Empowering people to defend themselves against evil is the heart of the Second Amendment, and that right should be sustained (Arnold, 2015). Ethical Theories For the purposes of this assessment, the writer will compare a worldview with a religious view. The two theories contrasted will be utilitarianism and religious fundamentalism. Under utilitarianism, the ultimate good is defined as actions intended to bring about the greatest utility (or greatest good) for the greatest number of people (Seaquist, 2012). The government and anti-gun lobbyists like to use the utilitarian perspective (Essays, 2013). However, the utilitarian approach does not respect that each individual has an inalienable right to life and liberty and a moral right and obligation to defend oneself (Essays, 2013). On the flip side of the debate is a religious perspective, which favors stricter gun laws. Christians have good biblical, theological, and philosophical reasons for favoring stricter gun laws (Austin & Gleason, 2013). This theory was chosen, as it is interesting to see two different sides of the Christian spectrum revealed. Austin takes more of a nonviolence stance, in support of stricter gun laws, based on theological views and scripture, while Gleason takes more of a pro-gun stance, in support of individual liberties, based on commandments and scriptures. By dissecting both pro-gun and anti-gun perspectives, the writer will be able to objectively analyze the great gun-control debate from an ethical standpoint.
Utilitarianism
Jeremy Bentham was a British philosopher who created the moral theory of Utilitarianism (Bush, 2013). Utilitarianism is the belief that true moral values derive from creating the most happiness for the greatest amount of people (Bush, 2013). At the heart of Utilitarianism is the moral belief that all individuals are governed by their own pain and pleasure, which ultimately creates their unwavering perspectives regarding gun control. Bush (2013) summarizes that pain is found in seeing the effects of allowing the wrong people to get ahold of guns. But, pain is also realized when victims stand helpless because they were not properly armed or able to protect themselves. Pleasure is found in ensuring that guns are inaccessible to those who intend to use them for evil, but also is found in the security of knowing that homes can be protected. Bush (2013) also asserts that Bentham further explains pain and pleasure and how they tie in with morally right and wrong actions. Bentham states that mankind is governed by pain and pleasure and that these two factors will determine not only what we ought to do, but also what we shall do (Bush, 2013) in terms of right and wrong and causes and effects. Therefore, the government could utilize pain and pleasure/causes and effects in order to create some peace between pro-gun and anti-gun extremists by creating a middle ground through the law. Under utilitarianism, the government implements gun control policies that limit the legal rights of individual gun owners to own, carry, or use firearms with the intent to reduce gun-related crimes. Although the government has sincere intentions to protect the greater good, such gun control policies actually dismantle the individual rights of gun owners that the Second Amendment grants. Therefore, it may be considered legal to regulate guns, but it is not necessarily ethical on utilitarian grounds (Essays, 2013).
Religious Fundamentalism Just as there are various ethical interpretations based on worldviews, two Christian theologians also took different positions on how biblical perspectives might relate to the gun control issue. Austin argues that we need to address the culture of violence and death in the United States not only legally, but also at the social, individual, and spiritual levels with the gospel of Jesus Christ – the gospel of life that also has important implications for the issue of gun control (Austin & Gleason, 2013). Austin’s (Austin & Gleason, 2013) argument is centered on the following assumptions:
1. Jesus is the exemplar for the Christian (Phil. 3:17; 2 Peter 1:3-11; 1 John 2:6; and 3 John 11); we are to model His examples via the application of virtues and moral values acquired through His teachings in scripture.
2. The ethics of the kingdom of God affirm the value of each human being as being made in the image of God, and because of this, Christian ethics essentially include a strong resistance to killing (p. 14).
Austin also uses three premises to solidify his assumptions. First, he argues that God longs for and works toward the realization of peace, justice, and compassion for all in our world (Isa. 32:15-18; 4:10; 60:17-18; and Rom. 14:17; p. 15). Gun violence is prominent in cases of economic struggle and domestic violence, which give Christians good reason to support stricter gun laws and limited accessibility to guns (Austin & Gleason, 2013). Second, Jesus insists on antiviolence in His teachings and examples all throughout scripture. As New Testament scholar Richard Hays puts it, “From Matthew to Revelation, we find a consistent witness against violence and a calling to the community to follow the example of Jesus in accepting suffering rather than inflicting it,” (Austin & Gleason, 2013). Third, Christians should consider the nature of courage based on biblical and theological information (Austin & Gleason, 2013). Austin describes that Christian courage is compared to that of a martyr rather than an action hero. Therefore, a thorough understanding of Christian courage would force one to reconsider the use of force and violence when aspiring to live courageously like Jesus. Austin recognizes that certain situations may require violence, and he also does not advocate for a total ban on firearms. However, given the scriptural foundation and an understanding of Christian courage, Christians should work toward a realization of nonviolence in their lives and the social structures in which they live and move (Austin & Gleason, 2013). Gleason assumes more of a reformed Christian perspective on the issue of guns and the Second Amendment. He asserts that guns and the Second Amendment are among many emotionally charged ethical matters. But, rooted in the gun debate is the question of whether or not self-defense and weapon use are biblically permissible, and if so, to what measure? In addition, what the Second Amendment clearly states is that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right granted by the Creator (Austin & Gleason, 2013). However, the government is attempting to disbar this right through the institution of harsh gun laws and possibly gun bans in certain cases. The current assumption is that if we ban assault weapons, such as the AR-15, America will be a safer place (Austin & Gleason, 2013). But Gleason testifies that this is not the case as the AR-15, or the like, was not the weapon of choice when Cain slayed Abel. Additionally, the first biblical murder account did not cause God to abolish any other potential weapon (stones, sticks, etc.). Studies have also shown that stricter gun laws and bans have not necessarily curtailed gun crimes. For example, Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and their gun violence is astronomical (Austin & Gleason, 2013). Gleason leverages the biblical truth about total depravity to satisfy the answer as to why one would require a weapon to protect oneself. His examples about where crimes occur in America as opposed to Great Britain are due in large part to the number of legal guns in America. The crime rates in Great Britain are double the rates of those in America because Great Britain has been completely disarmed by the government. The point that Gleason is making is that an armed society is a polite society, and also that it provides a necessary deterrent to criminals (Austin & Gleason, 2013). Gun-free zones and bans do not deter criminals—they make things worse. It is stated that these laws and regulations do not help because criminals do not abide by the letter of the law. Therefore, Gleason believes that every law-abiding citizen should have the ability and accessibility to protect themselves. Gleason argues that a common misconception among Christians is that Jesus was a thoroughgoing pacifist and that His views differed significantly from prophets and disciples (Austin & Gleason, 2013). But it was noted that the Israelis participated in wars, with weapons in hand, like any other nation would in the current day. Gleason also noted that the sixth commandment is quite explicit in that Christians are to protect themselves, their loved ones, the innocent and defenseless, and their property; that commandment prohibits murder but not killing (Austin & Gleason, 2013). Gleason’s governing point is that Christians should be able to protect and arm themselves if they so choose. After a thorough review of utilitarianism and religious fundamentalism, the writer believes that the theory that actually satisfies the greater good is Gleason’s form of religious fundamentalism. It could be acceptable to create stricter laws for non-law abiding citizens or those with serious medical conditions that limit common sense and reasoning. But people who follow the law and commandments should be punished for wanting to protect themselves and others. After all, murder and killing out of self-defense are two completely different things.
Law Review While the gun control issue relates to criminal law and tort law, the bulk of the debate revolves around interpretations of the Second Amendment and our constitutional rights. According to the Second Amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” (Vernick, Rutkow, Webster, & Teret, 2011). In 2008, the Supreme Court recognized that the Second Amendment guarantees a right of law-abiding, responsible adults to own firearms for self-defense; it therefore struck down the District of Columbia’s bans on keeping defensive firearms as violating that right (Kates & Moody, 2012). It thereafter struck down Chicago’s handgun ban, holding that the same right applies to states and localities (Kates & Moody, 2012). However, it has been emphasized judges’ previous decisions that individual rights are not unlimited. Although the Second Amendment confers on citizens the right to keep and bear arms, this right is not absolute (Dwarika, 2015). States are free to pass laws and regulations that promote public safety, as long as those laws do not unconstitutionally burden a citizen’s Second Amendment rights (Dwarika, 2015). Although the Heller and McDonald cases represent hallmarks in the gun debate, the Supreme Court failed to determine the level of scrutiny to be applied to such cases, which left lower level courts with minimal guidance. The Supreme Court’s ambiguity in both Heller and McDonald with respect to limiting and restricting Second Amendment rights not only led to confusion among the circuit courts regarding which level of scrutiny to apply, but also presented challenges for state courts when interpreting state laws and regulations (Dwarika, 2015). The uncertainty and ambiguity, in regards to reviewing Second Amendment cases, gives judges too much authority in determining which laws should be sustained. Dwarika (2015) asserts that the application of strict scrutiny across the board would give judges less power to invoke their personal policy preferences.
What We Miss & How We Can Improve Given the multitude of gun crimes an important question remains—how can we lower gun-related crimes while preserving the rights afforded to law-abiding citizens via the Second Amendment? A couple of reasonable actions would be to limit the amount of mass media attention and national exposure towards the criminals that commit such hateful gun crimes. According to Manson (2014), school shootings only account for 4% of all mass shootings, and yet they dominate the news media and get the entire country talking about them for weeks on end. All of the criminals have the same basic formula to generate fear and uncertainty because it will, in turn, generate more attention for the criminal. Additionally, for a country that is single-mindedly obsessed with terrorism, it is jaw-dropping that almost nobody recognizes that school shooters use the same exact strategies to disseminate fear and their twisted agendas throughout society (Manson, 2014). Terrorists use violence and mass media coverage to promote political or religious beliefs; school shooters use violence and mass media coverage to promote their personal grievances and glorification (Manson, 2014). Manson goes on to argue that we treat school shooters in the same manner as terrorists, yet we never see the next one coming. We fail to spot shooter after shooter because they are so close to us; they are our friends, neighbors, classmates, or even family members (Manson, 2014). Our blinders are usually on towards these people, and we miss the obvious signs and leakage of pertinent information. Manson (2014) affirmed that an FBI study concluded that most shooters do have serious mental health or emotional issues, but they all plan their attacks months or even years in advance. They all almost always leak important information prior to the criminal act. The point that Manson is trying to get across is that we almost always ignore the signs that something is wrong. Manson asserts that having empathy could potentially lower the mass shootings and related crimes experienced in our society. We have come to live in a culture where it is taboo or unacceptable to simply check in with people emotionally and offer some empathy and understanding (Manson, 2014). Perhaps if our callous culture learned how to be more empathetic, the number of mass shootings could have the potential to exponentially decrease. Aside from empathy, it could be time for the government to consider arming the good guys (school zones and other public institutions) so that they can have a hand in possibly lowering the number of mass shootings that occur. We do not necessarily need stricter laws against law-abiding citizens, but, rather, laws that empower “we the people” to defend ourselves when the going gets tough.

Concluding Thoughts The great gun debate will always be a prominent issue for our society until we decide to step up to the plate and give the good guys the power to protect themselves against harm. Stricter gun laws that limit law-abiding citizens are not necessarily the answer. Safe-zones, or gun-free zones, are not actually 100% safe in that they are easy targets for shooters or other kinds of terroristic threats and acts. Lawmakers should instead focus on how we can safely and responsibly arm the good guys to provide a certain level of resistance in such tragic scenarios. Criminals do not keep the law, so stricter laws would essentially be ineffective to boot. The aforementioned example of Utah is a shining example of how arming the good guys could serve to be effective. When such an example preserves the greatest amount of life and liberty, the decision to arm does not seem like a terrible idea. References
Arnold, G. (2015). Arming the good guys: School zones and the Second Amendment. Brigham Young University Education & Law Journal, (2), 481.
Austin, M., & Gleason, R. (2013). The gun control debate: Two Christian perspectives. Christian Research Journal, 36(6), 12-23.
Bush, J.M. (2013). Possible gun control laws and moral values. Storify.com. Retrieved from https://storify.com/Jaymarie0820/possible-gun-control-laws-and-moral-values.
Dwarika, L. (2015). Analyzing second amendment challenges: Getting strict with judges. Touro Law Review, 31(4), 723-741.
Eichenwald, K. (2015). The bullet initiative. (Cover story). Newsweek Global, 165(4), 36.
Essays, UK. (November 2013). The ethics of gun control. Retrieved from http://www.ukessays.com/essays/philosophy/the-ethics-of-gun-control.php?cref=1.
Hargrove, D. S., & Perdue, R. P. (2015). A broader perspective of gun control. American Journal Of Orthopsychiatry, 85(3), 225-227. doi:10.1037/ort0000066.
Kates, D. B., & Moody, C. (2012). Heller, McDonald, and murder: Testing the more guns = more murder thesis. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 39(5), 1421-1447.
Manson, M. (2014). How we all miss the point on school shootings. MarkManson.net. Retrieved from http://markmanson.net/school-shootings.
Seaquist, G. (2012). Business law for managers. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Smith, P., & Ross, B. (2013). The gun debate. Junior Scholastic, 115(14), 6.
Vernick, J. S., Rutkow, L., Webster, D. W., & Teret, S. P. (2011). Changing the constitutional landscape for firearms: The US Supreme Court's recent second amendment decisions. American Journal Of Public Health, 101(11), 2021-2026. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300200.

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...Gun Control Research Gun control is an ongoing, heated debate in America. Various states have decided to take action against guns as a deterrent to crime. Nevertheless, are guns really the main factor in causing crimes, or are the criminals themselves to blame? There are two sides involved with the gun debate. The anti-gun campaign with supporters like Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Cease Fire, and Mothers Against Violence in America are pressuring the government to have stricter laws or ban guns all together. On the other side of the debate, the most prominently heard voice it that of the National Rifle Association or NRA. However, there are others such as Women Against Gun Control and Gun Owners of America. The pro-gun lobbyists are trying to convince the government that outlawing guns will not affect the criminals but leave the honest individual defenseless. Guns are a necessary form of self-protection because the majority of the gun control laws we have are ineffective, criminals are able to obtain guns no matter how many laws we have against it, and the new “smart” technology will only hurt us in the long run. Guns, when used and operated correctly, can be a very effective form of self-protection. “There is only one police officer on patrol for every 3,300 people” (Polsby and Brennen 3). This is probably one of many reasons that “about 83 percent of the population will be victims of violent crime at some point in their lives” (Polsby and Brennen 3). ......

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How To Win An Argument About Guns By Nicholas Kristof Summary

...massacres, gun control has once again been thrust back onto the main stage in the United States. In a New York Times op-ed titled, “How to Win an Argument About Guns”, Nicholas Kristof takes on this very issue. According to his bio, Kristof has been a foreign correspondent and columnist for the New York Times since 2001. However, his bio says nothing about any involvement with firearm related topics. This makes his opinions less trustworthy than that of an actual expert on the issue. Kristof is very pro gun control and dispels five main myths from those that oppose his views on gun control. The author believes that greater restrictions and laws concerning firearms will lead to a safer country and far less casualties....

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