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Controlling gun control in America

by William Scott Harralson
20 August 2013
It is not easy to explore the topic of gun control in America without the conversation quickly shifting from a casual public policy discussion to an intense and emotional debate.

A home is invaded by an armed burglar in the middle of the night. The inhabitant, who may or may not have a firearm, is shot by the intruder. Two individuals are engaged in a domestic dispute that spills onto a neighbourhood street. A shot is fired and an innocent bystander is killed by a stray bullet. Whether the incident was planned or the assault was random, the effects of violence are reasonably foreseeable: individuals are traumatised, communities terrorised, and the moral fabric of society is compromised.
It is no secret that the NRA spends massive amounts of money on lobbying activities and makes donations to members of the U.S Congess who support its agenda.

What do we know about the correlation between guns and violent crime? According to, as of 2007 there were an estimated 270 million guns owned by civilians in America. Between 2007 and 2011, there was an average of roughly 15,000 murders annually in the United States.1 One study concluded that on average, 80 Americans die from gun violence each day.2

Unfortunately there is also much that we do not know. We do not know the identity of every gun owner in the U.S. We do not know every individual’s motive for acquiring a firearm. Was it obtained for sport, self-defence, intimidation or retaliation?

We do not know who keeps a shotgun in their bedroom closet, an assault rifle in their garage, or a pistol in their purse. Some people still believe that what we don’t know won’t hurt us. I disagree.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) stands at the forefront of the pro-gun lobby. It is no secret that the NRA spends massive amounts of money on lobbying activities and makes donations to members of the U.S. Congress who support its agenda, namely, the obstruction or outright abolition of gun control measures.

That said, some members of Congress now find themselves faced with a dilemma.

On one hand they have a responsibility to enact legislation that seeks to mitigate the risk of violence in our communities. Yet Congress must also respect individual liberties, among them, a citizen’s right to possess a firearm consistent with the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Given the NRA’s substantial influence, will future voting decisions be driven by the need of some legislators to protect their own economic and political self-interests or will the public’s interests emerge as paramount?

A time-honoured passage of sacred scripture provides that no individual can serve two masters, particularly when one of them is money. Which ‘master’ will Congress submit to? Self-interest or public service?

Members of Congress must resist temptation by casting aside mammon and doing what is in the best interest of the body politic, namely, taking every reasonable measure necessary to protect the public. In order to achieve that end the influence of big money must be replaced by a higher moral calling borrowed from Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative.

A Pew Research Center/USA Today poll conducted in February 2013 revealed that 83% of those surveyed supported the concept of enhanced background checks for the purchasers of firearms. But the matter was not placed in the hands of the voters at-large. Instead, it was squarely placed in the lap of Congress.

On 17 April 2013, the U.S. Senate voted on a proposal to expand the scope of background checks. A minimum of 60 votes was needed to pass the measure. But it failed: 54 votes in favour and 46 against. Political pundits concluded that the NRA was the big winner.

The surviving family members and friends of those who have been killed by gun violence were the biggest losers. The time for enacting a broad range of effective gun control laws in America is long overdue. There are too many firearms in the hands of too many people with too few controls. One can only hope that Congress will eventually assume control over firearms once and for all.

1. United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the US (2011)
2. Reducing Gun Violence in Our Communities: A Leadership Guide for Law Enforcement on Effective Strategies and Programs, published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. (2011)
William Scott Harralson is a professional mediator and consultant in the United States. He also serves as an associate faculty member with the University of Phoenix where he teaches coursework in the areas of applied ethics and critical thinking.